By Don Allen
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, today is a big day in American politics. At around 11:00 (in Washington D.C.), Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. Forty-three men before him have taken the oath that President Trump will take. A few have been immortalized as some of the greatest men in American history. Others have been vilified as some of the most corrupt. Most fall somewhere in between, neither really good nor really bad. Names like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln roll off the tongue of every American as the very symbols of what the Presidency is supposed to stand for. All three of those men are on Mount Rushmore, along with another well respected President, Theodore Roosevelt. Names such as James Buchanan, Richard Nixon and even Ulysses S. Grant reverberate off the walls as examples of what can happen with a weak or corrupt President in office. What space President Trump will occupy on that list only time will tell. But being President of the United States itself is a fascinating position, with a long and interesting history. For example:
– When the office of the President was created, what to call the President was vigorously debated in Congress. Vice-President John Adams felt that the title of Majesty should be applied to both the President and Vice-President. Others called for the use of Highness or Electoral Highness. Today “Mr. President” is the most common title, with “The Honorable (Name), President of the United States” used in formal situations, and although it is used far less often and only in certain international situations, “His Excellency” is also an official title for the President. For a fantastic read about this debate, click here.
-Neither Election Day in the United States nor the Inauguration date was originally mandated by the US Constitution to fall on a certain date. The current Election Day, which is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, was not set by law until the 1840’s, although it is still not Constitutionally mandated and in fact can be changed by Congress whenever they see fit. The current Inauguration date, January 20th, would not be set until 1937, after the passage of the Twentieth Amendment moved it from the traditional March 4th date.
-The Inaugural Address, traditionally the first speech given by the new President, has often been memorable. John F. Kennedy’s inaugural Address included the famous line “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first Address told Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. And William Henry Harrison’s speech was the longest ever given, running for two hours, where after he contracted pneumonia and died 30 days later, becoming the shortest serving President in history. For a book of the Inaugural Addresses of American Presidents, click here.
John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address
-The President of the United States is also the Commander-In-Chief of the United States Military, although this power, as with most Presidential powers, is curbed by Congress. While the President has direct control over the military and its strategic plans, Congress has to authorize any mobilization lasting longer than 60 days. Congress also controls military spending, and is technically responsible for the declaration of war. The last official war to date was World War II, as every armed conflict since, starting with the Korean War and regardless of the name (Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq War etc), has yet to be declared a war by Congress. For one, of many, books available in the 2nd Memorial on the United States at war, click here.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s December 8th, 1941 “Infamy Address” asking Congress to declare war on Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor
– It is a well-known fact that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only person to serve as President for more than two terms, winning four elections and serving just over twelve full years in office, dying three months after his fourth term began. He was not, however, the only person to try. While George Washington set the precedent for serving only two terms, no one was legally prohibited from serving more until the Twenty-Second Amendment was passed in 1951. Ulysses S. Grant and Woodrow Wilson ran for what would have been third terms, and Harry S. Truman was specifically “grandfathered” out of the restriction of only two terms by the Twenty-Second Amendment, though he decided against running for what would have been a de facto third term in 1952. Theodore Roosevelt ran in 1912 for what would have also been a de facto third term, as he ascended to the Presidency on the assassination of William McKinley six-months into McKinley’s term.
Presidents Ulysses S. Grant (18th President), Theodore Roosevelt (26th President) and Woodrow Wilson (28th President)
– Donald Trump will become the 45th President, but he will be the 44th person to take the office. Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd (1885-1889) and 24th (1893-1897) President of the United States. Benjamin Harrison (23rd President, 1889-1893) defeated Cleveland in 1888, but lost to Cleveland in 1892, making Cleveland the only person to serve two non-consecutive terms. This is a matter of some debate, as many think that even though Cleveland served two terms interrupted by the term of Harrison, he should still only be counted as a single President. Most historians, and the US Government, count his two terms as two different Presidencies.
Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President of the United States
For books on all these topics and more, come check out the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library.
All Presidential portrait photos (Washington, Grant, Roosevelt, Wilson and Cleveland) courtesy of The White House official Presidents site.