WASHINGTON — Question:
Would President Trump be the first outgoing president to skip the inauguration swearing-in ceremonies?
No. This has happened three other times in American history, including in 1801, when outgoing president John Adams skipped the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson. President Trump would be the first outgoing president to break from this tradition, since 1869.
- Allan Lichtman, Distinguished Professor of History at American University
- Gary Nordlinger, Political Professor at The George Washington University
- Senate Website, "Procession To The Capitol"
- White House History Website, "The Revolutionary Inauguration of Thomas Jefferson"
Less than two weeks before the historic inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, President Donald Trump announced that he would not be attending via Twitter.
The announcement prompted questions from many on social media about whether this has ever happened before. So the Verify team turned to historians and political experts for insights.
Allan Lichtman, a distinguished professor of history at American University, said that just three other outgoing presidents have skipped an inauguration before this.
"You've got to go far back in our history to find presidents dishonoring the tradition of attending their successor's inauguration," Lichtman said. "It's never happened in the last 150 years or so of American history."
The first outgoing president to skip a ceremony was President John Adams, who served as president from 1796 to 1800. In the election of 1800, his vice president, Thomas Jefferson would emerge victorious after a bitter electoral battle.
The White House History website described the scene on that inauguration morning in the following way:
“On the day of Jefferson’s inauguration, President Adams quietly vacated the President’s House at four in the morning. Several historians have suggested that Adams left early because he believed his presence might provoke violence; others reasoned that Jefferson never invited himi to attend the ceremony and Adams, too proud to ask his successor, departed as a courtesy. One scholar even speculated that Adams simply needed a full day’s time to make the forty-mile trip to Baltimore before heading home to Massachusetts.”
The other two outgoing presidents who skipped the inauguration were John Quincy Adams in 1829, and Andrew Johnson in 1869. The website for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies described the 1869 ceremony in the following way:
“In 1869, Andrew Johnson became only the third President who did not join the President-elect in the procession to the Capitol, nor did he attend the Swearing-In Ceremony. He remained at the White House, signing last-minute legislation until his term expired at noon.”
Politics professor Gary Nordlinger from The George Washington University said that this tradition has remained for more than 150 years since then. There were other exceptions, such as when Woodrow Wilson was too sick to attend the ceremony itself.
"The vast majority of presidents do go and attend the swearing-in," he said.
Lichtman said this decision to skip the inauguration could have symbolic importance.
"It doesn't have legal significance," he said. "Joe Biden will become president on January 20th, even though Donald Trump isn't there. But it has symbolic significance. We are the world's longest-running democracy. And one of the things that bind Americans together and makes our democracy work is the peaceful transition of power."