Why We Celebrate the Inauguration
The story of an inauguration that shocked the world
I’d like to tell you why I’m excited about America’s presidential inauguration — not just this one, but our whole American inaugural tradition.
Our nation has now been peacefully transferring power from one President to another for over two hundred years. If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, you need to consider how unique this blessing is and to count your blessings. Because this isn’t how things used to be done in the world.
Let’s talk about how Thomas Jefferson became our 3rd president — because it shocked the world.
The background to the story actually begins with an earlier stunner for the world a little earlier — when George Washington, the victorious general in America’s Revolutionary war declined to become America’s king. We started with a President Washington and not our own King George.
Then Washington surprised people again when he chose to serve only two terms — voluntarily laying down his power…but he was followed by his own Vice President and political heir apparent, John Adams. So their Federalist Party had always run the show.
But then came the campaign and election of 1800 — and it was nasty. It wasn’t just the dirtiest campaign America had ever seen until that point — although it was that. The Jefferson-Adams campaign of 1800 was arguably the nastiest US campaign ever, before or since.
It’s difficult to overstate how ugly the campaign of 1800 was. The whole country picked sides. Tragically, some supporters of each side announced that the opposite side was probably going to hell. Jefferson and Adams had dramatically different views on foreign policy, the relationship of the federal government to the states, and the direction of this young country. Both camps were at each others’ throats, launching one vicious, personal attack after another.
In the end, Thomas Jefferson defeated the sitting President.
It’s hard to overstate the uncertainty. The whole world waited and wondered: was our country — our constitution — strong enough to peacefully transition power from one party to another? Would John Adams step aside? Could he hand the executive branch over to a party who had called him a weakling and a British sympathizer? Would his party let him?
Or would there be blood? Would Massachusetts and Virginia array militias against each other somehow?
The answer… was peace. No one drew their swords. And that’s why we’re here today.
Thomas Jefferson, was sworn in on March 4, 1801. On Inauguration Day, president John Adams — actually now-former president John Adams — cleaned his stuff out of the White House. He laid down power, voluntarily. And then he journeyed home to Massachusetts to return to life as a private citizen — an equal in a country of opportunity. Jefferson called this peaceful transition of power “the Revolution of 1800.”
In America, we are blessed with the opportunity for a peaceful change every four years when we debate big issues in the ballot box — and not at the barricades. Regardless of party — Republican or Democrat — we celebrate the fact that all of us follow John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s examples. Win or lose, we celebrate in the fact that our government is limited. An Administration doesn’t last forever. And its powers don’t reach into every crevice of life — Most of life is not about government power, but rather about freedom, about persuasion, and about love.
Majority or minority, we both rededicate ourselves to the defense of our constitution’s system of checks and balances, not because we’re obsessed with the past but because we’re obsessed with freedom. And limited government and checks and balances are the framework that is the best defense of freedom.
As you watch this Inauguration — and you pray for our new president and his advisors — think about how beautiful our freedom is. The leader of the free world will hand over power and responsibility to the next and join us as a fellow citizen. There’s nothing like it.
That’s why each and every one of us should celebrate Inauguration Day. God bless our new President. God bless the United States of America.