Inauguration Follies

Andrew Jackson decisively won both the popular and the Electoral -College vote and thus the presidency in 1828. He had been the popular-vote winner in 1824 and received more electoral votes than his opponents, but not a majority. After some wrangling and deal-making, the House of Representatives awarded the presidency to John Quincy Adams.

The first to become president after losing the popular vote, four years later Adams achieved another first; the first president to be defeated in his bid for re-election. (John Calhoun was voted vice-president in both elections.)

Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson gained fame for his exploits in the War of 1812. He led U.S. troops against Creek Indians—who were allied with the British—and later repelled the British in the Battle of New Orleans.

The 1828 campaign was notable for its vituperation. Jackson and his wife Rachel were vilified with accusations of adultery and bigamy. (Rachael died shortly after the election.) Similar accusations were flung at Adams. Still, Jackson’s popularity with the working classes carried him to victory.

After taking the oath of office, Jackson went to the White House to host an open house, an inauguration tradition started by Thomas Jefferson. Twenty-thousand of his supporters showed up. Old Hickory quickly sneaked out and spent the night at a nearby hotel.

The guests tracked mud inside and walked on the furniture. The mob rummaged through White House rooms, breaking dishes and crystal worth thousand of dollars, and grinding food into the muddied carpet. Servants carried food and whiskey out to the White House lawn to draw the revelers outside.

Several decades and a few assassination attempts later, in 1885, the open house tradition was replaced with a celebratory parade for Grover Cleveland’s swearing in.

Andrew Jackson’s presidency was noteworthy for institutionalizing the spoils system, rewarding friends and supporters with government employment.

A slave-owner himself, Jackson supported expanding slavery into new states added to the Union.

Defying the Supreme Court, he ordered the removal of Native Americans from west of the Mississippi. Thousands died on the “Trail of Tears.”

He vetoed the renewal of the Bank of the United States’ charter. Ironically, Jackson’s image appears on the twenty-dollar bill.

Almost two centuries later, a different sort of pillaging marked the inauguration. Since Cleveland’s time, the inaugural celebration had evolved into a days-long bacchanal for financial supporters of the new president.

In 2016, for the fifth time, the candidate who had lost the popular vote, was the Electoral College winner. Like Jackson, this president-elect claimed strong populist support. Unlike Jackson’s, this president-elect’s working-class supporters were effectively kept away from the pay-to-play parties.

The new president’s inaugural committee took in $107 million in donations, more than double Barack Obama’s haul four years earlier. The 2017 celebration had fewer events than the 2013 inauguration. About $40 million of the $104 million is not accounted for.

Much was spent at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, at special inaugural exorbitant prices. The committee paid $26 million to WIS Media Partners—a firm set up forty days before the inaugural by a Melania Trump friend—which included $10,000 in makeup purchases.

Investigations into 2017 inaugural fraud are ongoing.

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