The Thing About Today – January 20

January 20, 2020
Day 20 of 366


January 20th is the twentieth day of the year. It is Heroes’ Day in Cape Verde and Martyrs’ Day in Azerbaijan. It is also Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States, which is celebrated on the third Monday in January.

In the United States, it is “celebrated” as National Buttercrunch Day, National Cheese Lover’s Day, and National Disc Jockey Day.


Historical items of note:

  • In 1649, Charles I of England went on trial for treason and other “high crimes”.
  • In 1841, Hong Kong Island was occupied by the British.
  • In 1887, the United States Senate allowed the Navy to lease Pearl Harbor as a naval base.
  • In 1920, actor DeForest Kelley was born. He was best known as Dr. Leonard McCoy in the Star Trek franchise.
  • In 1923, American country and western singer-songwriter and musician Slim Whitman was born.
  • In 1929, In Old Arizona was released. It was the first full-length talking motion picture filmed outdoors.
  • In 1930, astronaut, pilot, and colonel Buzz Aldrin was born. He was the second human to walk on the surface of the moon.
  • In 1934, actor Tom Baker was born. He portrayed the Fourth Doctor on Doctor Who.
  • In 1936, King George V of the United Kingdom died. His eldest son succeeded to the throne, becoming Edward VIII.
  • In 1958, KUED TV began broadcasting. It is the PBS affiliate in Salt Lake City, Utah, found on channel 7, and is the repository of so many hours of my childhood and teenage years.
  • In 1959, author R. A. Salvatore was born.
  • In 1986, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was celebrated as a federal holiday in the United States for the first time.
  • In 2008, Breaking Bad premiered on AMC.


“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
—Article II, Section One, Clause 8, of the United States Constitution.

In the United States, the presidential inauguration takes place on January 20th at noon, Eastern Standard Time. It occurs every four years, in odd-numbered years, immediately following years divisible by four. The exception for the public ceremony is when January 20th falls on a Sunday, forcing the ceremony to occur on the following day. In that case, the official swearing-in occurs in a separate ceremony and the term of office still begins on the 20th.

Inauguration Day is not a federal holiday, but it is recognized as such for government employees working in the Capitol region.

Since 1937, the ceremony has taken place on January 20th at noon Eastern Standard Time. The inauguration of George Washington, the first President of the United States, took place on April 30, 1789. Afterward, every regular inauguration between 1793 and 1933 was held on March 4th to commemorate the day of the year on which the federal government began operations under the Constitution in 1789.

Following the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution in 1933, Inauguration Day was moved to January 20th. Since 1801, the inauguration has typically taken place at the United States Capitol Building.

Of course, there are exceptions with both historical models. March 4th fell on a Sunday in 1821 (James Monroe’s second term), 1849 (Zachary Taylor), 1877 (Rutherford B. Hayes), and 1917 (Woodrow Wilson’s second term), so the public ceremony was held on March 5th. Since moving the event to January, the Sunday exception was used in 1957 (Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term), 1985 (Ronald Reagan’s second term), and 2013 (Barack Obama’s second term).

In extraordinary circumstances, a special inauguration was held.

  • John Tyler, the tenth President of the United States, was sworn into office on April 6, 1841, following the death of President William Henry Harrison. President Harrison died from pneumonia after only 31 days in office.
  • Millard Fillmore, the thirteenth President, was sworn into office on July 10, 1850, following the death of President Zachary Taylor. President Taylor died from a digestive ailment after serving 16 months in the office.
  • Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth President, was sworn into office on April 15, 1865, following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
  • Chester A. Arthur, the twenty-first President, was sworn into office on September 20, 1881, following the assassination of President James A. Garfield. President Garfield was shot in the back 79 days before his death, but the assassin had implicated Vice President Arthur in the shooting. Garfield remained in a weakened state for the duration, effectively leaving the country without a leader until his death.
  • Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth President, was sworn into office on September 14, 1901, following the assassination of President William McKinley six months into his second term.
  • Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth President, was sworn into office on August 3, 1923, following the death of President Warren G. Harding. President Harding suffered a heart attack while on a western tour in San Francisco.
  • Harry S. Truman, the thirty-third President, was sworn into office on April 12, 1945, following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson, the thirty-sixth President, was sworn into office on November 22, 1963, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  • Gerald Ford, the thirty-eighth President, was sworn into office on August 9, 1974, following the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Gerald Ford became Vice President after the resignation of Spiro Agnew, appointed under the terms of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. President Ford is the only person (so far) to hold the offices of Vice President and President without being elected to either.

The oath of office is typically taken by raising of the right hand and placing fo the left hand on a Bible or other book. In 1789, George Washington took the oath of office with an altar Bible borrowed from the St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons lodge in New York. He kissed the Bible afterward, establishing a tradition that lasted through Harry Truman’s inauguration. Dwight Eisenhower broke that tradition in 1953 when he said a prayer instead of kissing the Bible.

Theodore Roosevelt did not use a Bible when taking the oath in 1901. John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce both used a book of law, symbolizing swearing their oaths on Constitution. Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in on a Roman Catholic missal on Air Force One while Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump each swore the oath on two Bibles.

The inauguration includes plenty of pomp and circumstance outside of the required oath of office, including speeches, songs, poems, parades, and more. As a national ceremony, it also serves as a milestone for advances in communication, with improvements to mass media technologies allowing for greater and greater access. Andrew Jackson spoke to approximately 10,000 people at his 1829 inauguration while Barack Obama’s 2009 ceremony reached nearly two million live attendees and tens of millions via television and internet streaming.

  • 1801 (Thomas Jefferson): The first newspaper extra of an inaugural address, printed by the National Intelligencer
  • 1845 (James K. Polk): The first inauguration to be covered by telegraph, and first known newspaper illustration of a presidential inauguration (via The Illustrated London News)
  • 1857 (James Buchanan): The first inauguration known to have been photographed
  • 1897 (William McKinley): The first inauguration to be recorded on film
  • 1905 (Theodore Roosevelt): The first time that telephones were installed on the Capitol Grounds for an inauguration
  • 1925 (Calvin Coolidge): The first inauguration to be broadcast nationally by radio
  • 1929 (Herbert Hoover): The first inauguration to be recorded by a talking newsreel
  • 1949 (Harry S. Truman): The first inauguration to be televised
  • 1961 (John F. Kennedy): The first inauguration to be televised in color
  • 1981 (Ronald Reagan): The first closed-captioning of television broadcast for the hearing impaired
  • 1997 (Bill Clinton): The first time that the ceremony was broadcast live on the Internet

The next regular presidential inauguration is scheduled for Wednesday, January 20, 2021, following the November 2020 general elections.


The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.




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