Discuss as:

Like Reagan, Obama will take oath of office twice

Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library

President Ronald Reagan is sworn in for his second term in a private ceremony on Jan. 20, 1985, with his wife, Nancy Reagan, at his side and Chief Justice Warren Burger administering the oath in the White House Cross Hall, Grand Staircase.

Updated at 12:15 p.m. ET: For the first time since Ronald Reagan’s second term, a president has taken the oath of office for a term first in a private ceremony at the White House.


The Constitution says that the president must take office on Jan. 20. But if that's a Sunday, public inaugural festivities -- which for Obama will include a re-enactment of the swearing-in from Chief Justice John Roberts -– are saved for Monday.

So, Obama's swearing-in Sunday was a brief private affair in the Blue Room of the White House, an ornate oval room often used to receive official guests. Only Obama’s immediate family and a few reporters attended. The ceremony was televised live and streamed live on the Internet.

Reagan’s official ceremony took place at the grand North Entrance Hall to the White House, a roomy foyer where tours of the home exit onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Still, seating was limited so guests included family members of Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush as well as a smattering of legislative leaders and reporters.


The 1985 swearing-in of the president known as the Great Communicator was televised live. The ceremony was strikingly brief -- a few minutes at most. Reagan placed his left hand on a Bible given to him by his mother, then clearly repeated the 37-word oath recited by Chief Justice Warren Burger.

Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library

President Reagan being sworn in for second term by Warren Burger during the "private" ceremony held at the White House

He then gave first lady Nancy a kiss, posed for a picture and briskly walked with Bush to the North Portico, where the two waved at White House press corps reporters outside.

That Sunday, however, might be better remembered for Super Bowl XIX between the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins, which was played at Stanford Stadium in California.

A former California governor, Reagan made the opening coin toss from the White House. It was broadcast on TV via satellite hookup.

Quarterback Joe Montana, MVP of the game, threw three touchdown passes and ran for another in a 38-16 win over the Dan Marino-led Dolphins. The game was watched by some 85 million people.

Obama was sworn in well before kickoff of Championship Sunday games, in which teams vying for this year's Super Bowl will take the field. 

So, why not just skip the rerun swearing-in on Monday?

According to Meena Bose, a professor and presidential scholar at Hofstra University in New York, since the Constitution calls only for a presidential transition at noon and the oath -- and nothing more -- that’s possible. But inaugural celebrations are a tradition that goes back to George Washington.

“It would be a big problem politically for the president and his supporters and fundraisers. I'm not sure it would make a big difference to the public at large if there were no big celebrations, especially for the second inauguration,” Bose said.

“In the 1980s, there was a sense that celebration was good," Bose said. "These are much tougher times now for the country, so it’s certainly an occasion for celebration, but it’s a more workmanlike state of mind now than it was 28 years ago.”

In fact it was so bitterly cold in Washington in 1985 that the traditional outdoor inauguration was moved indoors to the Rotunda at the Capitol.

Reagan's son Ron Reagan, who provides commentary on msnbc, recalls the unusually severe temperatures and how they affected the events that Monday.

"Privileged attendees ended up packed like anchovies under the Capitol dome: family members, justices, new Cabinet members, scoundrels," Ron Reagan said in an email. "At least some of the parade was canceled over concerns that brass instruments would freeze to the lips of young marching band trumpeters, creating a grisly and appalling spectacle."

Obama will take it outdoors to the plaza at the Capitol, where he will take the oath again and give his inaugural address. The inaugural also coincides with Martin Luther King Day. An estimated 1.8 million people, the most ever to attend a inaugural ceremony, attended Obama's first inauguration, and more than 600,000 are expected to attend on Monday. 

The weather forecast is partly cloudy with a high of 42 degrees and a low of 23, according to The Weather Channel.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president to be sworn into office on a Sunday, according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies website. Wilson took the office privately in the President's Room in the U.S. Capitol by Chief Justice Edward D. White. First lady Edith Bolling Wilson noted in her diary that she was the only woman present among the officials there that day.

"This simple ceremony (I was the only woman present) was more to our taste than the formal Inauguration which followed on Monday, March 5th," she wrote.

Abraham Lincoln swore the oath in front of an incomplete Capitol dome. Lyndon B. Johnson became president on Air Force One next to a dazed Jacqueline Kennedy. A collection of photographs from past presidential inaugurations.

Related stories