All that cash will pay for lots of pomp and circumstance, which is what Americans really want. Despite Thomas Jefferson’s pleas for “republican simplicity,” the citizens of the republic have generally favored loud and lavish festivities when they install a president – and even when they re-elect one. The only questions have been who gets to participate, and who picks up the tab.
The first great “people’s president” was Andrew Jackson, a war hero who lacked the wealth and privilege of Jefferson and other prior leaders. Fittingly, then, Jackson’s 1829 inaugural was also the first truly mass celebration in Washington, D.C.
And how the masses did celebrate! Jackson was overrun at the Capitol by a huge mob, which broke through a chain and pursued him all the way to the Executive Mansion. Crowds later rushed into the mansion, breaking china and tearing draperies as they fought to shake hands with the new president. Jackson was forced to escape through a window, while his admirers – fueled by orange punch – continued to party into the night.
To America’s more traditional elites, all of this merrymaking demonstrated the folly of popular rule. “I never saw such a mixture,” declared Supreme Court justice Joseph Story. “The reign of King Mob seemed triumphant.”
Similar worries marked the second inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, when hungry visitors raided an invitation-only buffet and made off with silverware, candlesticks, and punch bowls. But poet Walt Whitman – perhaps the era’s best-known tribune of democracy – was charmed rather than alarmed by the revelry. “Never before was such a compact jam in front of the White House,” enthused Whitman, who rushed forward with the crowd.
So did the great African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, but he was stopped at the door and told that blacks weren’t allowed any further. Douglass sent word to Lincoln, whom he had met a few months earlier, and the president ordered guards to let him in. “Here comes my friend Douglass,” Lincoln exclaimed. “I am glad to see you.”