President Donald Trump’s refusal to attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20 is not a new concept, but it has been 152 years since a president has not attended the swearing-in ceremony of his successor.
This was probably predictable. Nils Gilman, vice president of programs at Berggreun Institute, said in November that he could not see Trump participating in the formalities of his predecessors.
“It’s hard to imagine Trump graciously welcoming Biden to the White House on the morning of January 20th, then doing the traditional ride with him down Pennsylvania Avenue, then sitting behind him on the podium and politely clapping as Biden gets sworn in,” Gilman told Newsweek in early November. “Presiding over the ceremonial celebration of his own political failure doesn’t seem at all in character.”
That prediction came true. Trump finally acknowledged, however, in a video released Thursday evening, that there will be a new president on Jan. 20. He also pledged a “smooth, orderly, seamless transition of power.”
Bitter presidential campaigns are common, but most presidents have maintained decorum by watching their successors take the oath of office. However, John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson are three presidents who refused to attend. The Adamses left town, while Johnson worked in the White House until his term officially ended. Martin Van Buren also did not attend his successor’s inauguration, although the reasons are not clear.
Because he served two non-consecutive terms, Grover Cleveland had the double indignity of going to his successor’s inauguration twice -- in 1889, when Benjamin Harrison succeeded him, and in 1897, when William McKinley was sworn in.
Since then, all one-term presidents have witnessed the men who defeated them take the oath of office.
Trump’s refusal to attend means he will not escort Biden in a motorcade to the Capitol, another break with tradition. The first president to escort a president-elect to the inauguration ceremony was James Monroe, CBS News reported. The outgoing president and John Quincy Adams rode in separate carriages in 1825. It was not until 1837 when Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren rode in the same carriage.
Here is a history of inauguration no-shows:
Once the best of friends, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became bitter political enemies. When Jefferson won the 1800 election, it marked the first transition of power between political parties in the United States.
On March 4, 1801, Adams, the second president of the United States, left Washington, D.C., under cover of darkness. He declined to attend Jefferson’s inauguration.
There certainly were questions about whether Adams would hand over the reins of power gracefully, The Washington Post reported. Although Adams declined to attend Jefferson’s inaugural, he left office and headed home to Massachusetts without incident, the newspaper reported. The new president then tried to unify Americans in his first inaugural address, saying, “We are all Republicans; we are all Federalists.”
Adams was beaten, but he still left his mark in the final days of his administration. He made several key Federalist judicial appointments, including the appointment of John Marshall as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Marshall’s views would dominate the court until he died in 1835.
The “Revolution of 1800” had an added twist of drama. Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, received the same amount of electoral votes. Until the ratification of the 12th Amendment in 1804, electors did not vote separately for president and vice president. That led to a tie between Jefferson and Burr. The election was thrown into the House of Representatives, and Jefferson won the presidency on the 36th ballot.
John Quincy Adams
Like his father, John Quincy Adams refused to attend the inauguration of his successor. Historian H.W. Brands wrote in 2017 that the inauguration of Andrew Jackson as the seventh president in 1829 “marked a distinctly hostile takeover of the government.” Jackson and Adams had tangled before as presidential rivals in 1824. While Jackson won the popular vote, he only had a plurality, not the required majority, of electoral votes and was thrown into the House of Representatives. In what Jackson called “the corrupt bargain,” he accused candidate Henry Clay of throwing his support to Adams in exchange for being appointed as Secretary of State.
The 1828 election was just as contentious. The Atlantic called the campaign “nasty, even by today’s standards.” Jackson’s marriage became a campaign issue, along with his ownership of slaves.
Adams’ supporters accused Jackson of being a military tyrant and a bigamist. Rachel Donelson Jackson’s divorce to Lewis Robards in 1793 had not been granted, which technically made her an adulteress. She was granted a divorce the following year, but Adams’ camp claimed Andrew Jackson was morally unfit to serve as president.
Three months before her husband’s inauguration, Rachel Jackson died of a heart attack. She was 61.
Andrew Jackson walked to the Capitol for the ceremony on March 4, 1829 -- Ash Wednesday -- accompanied by 15 veterans of the Revolutionary War, Time reported. The subsequent party at the White House was so wild he had to “escape” out a window, according to CBS News.
Martin Van Buren
Unlike other contentious Inauguration Days, it remains a puzzle why Martin Van Buren did not attend William Henry Harrison’s inauguration on March 4, 1841.
There was plenty of cordiality between the two men. Harrison arrived in Washington in February 1841, occupying the National Hotel on Pennsylvania, according to the White House Historical Association. On Feb. 10, Van Buren met with Harrison at the White House. Two days later, Van Buren hosted a dinner for the incoming president at the White House.
“So we shall have the rising and the setting sun in the same horizon,” The Baltimore Sun reported at the time.
When the National Hotel became overcrowded, Van Buren offered to vacate the White House and allow Harrison to move in early, but the president-elect decided to take a brief trip to his native Virginia before the inauguration, according to the White House Historical Association
Johnson despised Ulysses S. Grant, his successor. The two had clashed during Johnson’s term. Johnson’s racist views were offensive to Grant, who was the head of the Army, the Post reported. Grant also resisted Johnson’s efforts to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. When Johnson was impeached after firing Stanton, Grant was in favor of Johnson’s conviction.
That would not have made for a cordial trip to the Capitol in 1869 when Grant was sworn in.
Inauguration officials attempted a compromise, having Johnson and Grant ride to the Capitol in separate carriages.
The compromise, the Washington Evening Star observed on the eve of the inauguration, “was a brilliant idea worthy the genius of Talleyrand.”
However, Johnson scuttled that idea. “President Johnson, however, declined to accept this position, and accordingly the program was changed,” the Evening Star reported.
“Andrew Johnson had a Cabinet meeting while Grant’s inauguration was going on,” Quinnipiac University history professor Philip Goduti told the New Haven Register the day before Trump’s inauguration in 2017. “He was very obstinate.”
Stubbornness can be a presidential trait. It appears it will be evident again on Jan. 20.