On this day in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt is inaugurated for the second time as president, beginning the second of four terms in the office. His first inauguration, in 1933, had been held in March, but the 20th Amendment, passed later that year, made January 20 the official inauguration date for all future presidents. (The Constitution had originally set March 4 as the presidential inauguration date to make sure election officials had enough time to process returns and allow the winner time to travel to the nation’s capital.)
Since 1933, Americans have witnessed, either through radio or television, the swearing-in ceremonies of more than ten presidents. Some have been more memorable than others.
For his 1953 inauguration, President Eisenhower chose to recite a prayer he composed himself. In 1961, John F. Kennedy famously urged Americans, Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. Following Kennedy’s death, Lyndon Johnson became the first president to ride in a bullet-proof limousine from the Capitol to the White House for his 1964 inauguration. Thirteen years later, Jimmy Carter refused a limousine altogether, choosing instead to walk the traditional route with his family.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic inaugurations occurred in 1981, when former actor Ronald Wilson Reagan became the 40th President of the United States. Minutes later, Iranian captors released 52 American hostages taken prisoner during the Carter administration.
In 1979, a group of radical Islamic students took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and imprisoned embassy workers in retaliation for America’s support of the nation’s former shah. The new Islamic Republic of Iran, led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, rejected the shah’s hated westernized government and formed a new one based on Islamic law. The students demanded that the shah, at that time undergoing cancer treatment in the U.S., be returned to Iran for trial. The U.S. government refused.
In response to the hostage crisis, President Jimmy Carter froze Iranian assets held in the U.S. and ordered a rescue attempt, which was botched and ended in the deaths of eight U.S. soldiers. After the shah died in exile in Egypt, and with Iraq poised to invade Iran, the Ayatollah quickly lost the motivation to hold Americans hostage. President Reagan had won the election largely on a platform of aggressive foreign policy and increased defense spending. The Iranian government likely realized it could not defend itself against Iraq and a world superpower at the same time. The timing of the release sparked allegations that a covert team of Reagan advisors had met with Iranian officials immediately after Reagan’s election in November and made a deal to give arms to Iran in exchange for the hostages, asking the Iranians to wait until the day of Reagan’s inauguration to release the hostages so that it would occur on Reagan’s watch instead of Carter’s. The allegations remain controversial and unproven.