Imagining 1/20/09 from 1829

Last spring I was sufficiently confident about the election to purchase plane tickets to BWI for 1/20/09. I’ve never been to an inauguration and wondering what to expect I found this description of Andrew Jackson’s first inaugural in 1829– the first to which the public was invited. (Jackson’s election marked a significant opening in political participation, too.) From H.W. Brands’ biography.

Yet precisely such unsophisticates, an entire army of them, were descending on Washington. Jackson’s election inspired many thousands of his supporters to visit the capital. Having rescued the republic, as they saw it, by electing their hero, they came to install him, just to make sure. Their arrival astonished the residents of the city. “No one who was at Washington at the time of General Jackson’s inauguration is likely to forget that period to the day of his death,”  one resident declared. “It seemed as if half the nation had rushed t once into the capital. It was like the inundation of the northern barbarians into Rome, save that the tumultuous tide came in from a different point of the compass. Th West and the South seemed to have precipitated themselves upon the North and overwhelmed it…Strange faces filled every public place, and every face seemed to bear defiance on its brow.” Other observers…likened the arrival of the Jacksonians to the time when “the mighty Xerxes ferried or marched his mob of an army over the Hellespont, or Peter the Hermit led on his rabble of Christian vagabonds to drive the Musselmans from the Holy Sepulchre.”


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