Seven things to know about Joe Biden’s inauguration

The pandemic makes today's inauguration seem strange. But in US history, that is far from the case

A U.S. Capitol police officer stands on the West Front of the Capitol before Joe Biden's presidential inauguration in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

1) The Holy family heirloom 

Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president by Chief Justice John Roberts using a 127-year-old, 12.7-centimetre-thick Biden family bible. While the use of a bible is not mandated, and some opted to not use one, most presidents have typically chosen a family bible for the event.

Vice President Joseph Biden receives the oath of office administered by The Honorable Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, at the opening of the 57th Presidential Inaugural ceremony at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Monday, January 21, 2013. Biden's wife Jill stands at his side. Photo Ken Cedeno (Photo by Ken Cedeno/Corbis via Getty Images)

2) Trump is not the first absent POTUS

While it is the first time in more than 150 years that a sitting president has skipped his successor's inauguration, Donald Trump is not the first outgoing commander in chief to snub the ceremony. He joins the ranks of Andrew Johnson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren and Woodrow Wilson who all did not attend. But most of those former presidents reportedly had good reason, according to the White House Historical Association. For example, presidents Wilson and Van Buren were signing important last-minute legislation.

Only Andrew Johnson is thought to have abstained from going to Ulysses S Grant's inauguration in 1869 – the two men were reportedly bitter rivals.

3) This is not the first lockdown inauguration 


This is the second inauguration to take place in a locked-down Washington. After Abraham Lincoln's death – the civil war-era president was assassinated in 1865 – Andrew Johnson was sworn in amid a manhunt for suspected assassin John Wilkes Booth, which restricted travel in and out of the city.

4) Not all new presidents make a big opening speech

Joe Biden is the 46th president but only the 40th to give an inaugural address. Presidents who were sworn in during times of emergency often did not give an inaugural address – in most cases these were vice presidents who were sworn in after the sudden death of their predecessor. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Lyndon Johnson, whose inauguration took place on Air Force One after the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963.

Of note, president Gerald R Ford did not give an address upon taking office after Richard Nixon's resignation during the Watergate scandal. Spiro Agnew, who was vice president at the time, would have taken office – but also resigned because of the scandal, which involved a bungled plan to steal information from the rival Democrat party's offices.

5) No after-party this time 

Unlike most years, because of Covid-19 there will be no parade through the city or any inaugural balls for the new president. The tradition of inaugural balls dates back to 1809 and since then, they have grown vastly in scale and grandeur.

Barack Obama's inaugural balls in 2009, for example, are thought to have cost $45 million, although many attendees paid steep prices to get a ticket and the bulk of funding came from donors. Mr Trump's inauguration was similarly expensive, thought to have cost more than $107 million, an astonishing $6.5 million of which was spent on hotel space, about half of which went unused.

6) But there will be, kind of ...

The absence of large crowds has not stopped organisers from putting on entertainment. On Wednesday night, Tom Hanks will present a 90-minute programme, Celebrating America, which will feature comments from Mr Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris. On the day, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and country singer Garth Brooks are all lined up to perform hits.

7) Troops mobilised

About 25,000 members of the National Guard are now in Washington, three times the number of troops normally used for inaugurations, after fears that ardent supporters of Mr Trump will try to disrupt proceedings – on January 6, five protesters and a policeman were killed after a large mob of demonstrators stormed Capitol Hill. "We're not taking any chances," said Maj Gen William Walker, the commanding officer in charge of security in the capital.

An astonishing 2,300 US Marshalls also travelled to the capital to be sworn in for duty, bolstering security for the event. This was captured in stunning images on the official twitter account of the US Federsl Marshalls.