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Top 10 Inauguration Day Gaffes

It wouldn't be surprising if President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team lost sleep worrying about potential gaffes on Inauguration Day. Despite the meticulous planning that goes into the official debut of the new commander-in-chief, things often go awry (as Scottish poet Robert Burns might say).

Here are the top gaffes from inaugurations past.

1. Washington Was Cash-Strapped

 Emanuel Leutze American Schwaebisch GmuendWashington D.C. Washington Crossing the Delaware Google Art Project

George Washington found himself so strapped for cash in 1789 that he had to borrow money to make the trip to New York, where the first presidential inauguration was held. Staging the event in Washington, D.C. became a tradition later on.

2. Adams Ditched Jefferson's Inauguration

John Adams

Nowadays it's customary for outgoing presidents to attend the inaugurations of their successors. But that wasn't always the case. John Adams -- America's second president -- bailed on Thomas Jefferson's inauguration because the two founding fathers had become bitter political rivals since working together on the Declaration of Independence.

3. Pierce Refuses to Swear Oath of Office

Screen Shot 2017 01 20 at 1.10.47 PM

Another time-honored inauguration tradition is swearing in the president-elect. But Franklin Pierce went rogue in 1853 and insisted on affirming rather than swearing to execute the duties of president. Basically, he refused to take the oath of office on the bible, and scholars still aren't sure why. Biographer Peter Wallner suggests that the 14th president might have had qualms with religion, or perhaps he felt unworthy to take such an oath.

4. James Buchanan's Spoiler

George Peter Alexander Healy James Buchanan Google Art Project

For most presidents, Inauguration Day is a highlight in their political careers. But James Buchanan acted like he couldn't wait for the festivities and his term to be over. Buchanan used his inauguration speech in 1857 to announce that he would not seek reelection

5. Grant's Frozen Canaries

Ulysses S. Grant seated by Brady cropped

Ulysses S. Grant's second inauguration was tragic for bird lovers. The day was so cold that hundreds of canaries that were brought in to add a little natural music to the event froze to death in their cages

6. Roosevelt's Unconventional Oath

TR smiling in automobile

Franklin Pierce's inauguration wasn't the only one performed without a bible. Teddy Roosevelt simply raised his hand and swore when he became president in 1901. But there might not have been a bible on hand when officials rushed to swear him in following the assassination of President William McKinley. 

7. FDR's Canceled Parade

Signing Of The Social Security Act

Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law, August 14, 1935.

In the pivotal days of World War II in 1945, Franklin Roosevelt canceled his own Inauguration Day Parade due to gas rationing and lumber shortages connected to the war effort. But that was his fourth inauguration, so it's not like he hadn't done the whole parade thing before.

8. Robert Frost's Inspiring Gift

Robert Frost

During the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, American poet Robert Frost read The Gift Outright. That was the plan, at least, but Frost struggled to read his verses due to the glaring sun and unruly wind that day. But instead of giving up, the 87 year old writer managed to recite the text from memory. Which made the event even more inspiring.

9. Nixon's Stool Pigeons

Nixon and Zhou toast

Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai toast during Nixon's 1972 visit to China.

Nixon was so worried about pigeons pooping on his limo during his second inauguration that he had organizers spend $13,000 to coat trees along the parade route in bird repellant. But that backfired when the chemical proved toxic. So instead of bird droppings, the streets were littered with dying pigeons. 

10. Obama Swears in Four Times

Obama family portrait in the Green Room

Franklin Roosevelt wasn't the only president to be sworn in four times. Barack Obama also had that honor -- or inconvenience since only two of them counted. In 2009, the wording of the oath was messed up during the proceedings, so Chief Justice John Roberts and Obama redid the oath two days later. Then in 2013, Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday, so the 44th president took his oath privately on January 20th and then in public on the 21st, as is convention. 

h/t Mental Floss

Banner image: The first inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States took place on Tuesday, January 20, 2009. The inauguration, which set a record attendance for any event held in Washington, D.C. (


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