Mr. Maryland at the Inauguration

LOUIS L. GOLDSTEIN

January 20, 1993|By LOUIS L. GOLDSTEIN

ANNAPOLIS — Annapolis. -- To a 16-year-old country boy in brown corduroy knee pants, that day with the parade, the crowds and the big-city atmosphere was the most exciting since our family got its first Atwater-Kent radio.

I was one of a school bus full of Calvert County boys and girls making my first visit to our nation's capital, and I didn't waste any time staking out the lamp post on the southeast corner of 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue as the best place to watch the action.

It was March 4, 1929, and Herbert Hoover was being sworn in as America's 31st president by Chief Justice (and former President) William Howard Taft.

That was the first of 15 inaugural ceremonies I've attended, eight for Republican presidents and seven for Democrats. The only one I missed was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's fourth inauguration in 1945, when I was a United States Marine serving in the Pacific theater of World War II.

As Marylanders, we all share a rich inaugural tradition and heritage that dates back to George Washington's swearing-in ceremony in 1789. When our first president traveled through Maryland on his way to New York for his first inauguration, he was honored and feted nearly every step of the way.

And when George Washington sought a more central and convenient location for the nation's capital, Maryland donated the choice land which is now the site of Washington, D.C., and America's inaugural ceremonies every four years. Since that time, Maryland's location adjacent to Washington, has given our state a real economic as well as emotional stake in presidential inaugurations.

One of the earliest technological advances affecting inaugurations came in 1845 when James K. Polk's swearing-in was the first to be reported by wire, with accounts telegraphed to Baltimore by Samuel F.B. Morse.

President Polk was one of seven presidents to be sworn in by Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, a Marylander. He administered the oath of office to Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln, as well as Polk -- almost half the presidents who had served our nation to that time.

Today, I'll have the privilege of seeing Bill Clinton sworn in as our 42nd president. He'll be the 11th man I've witnessed ascending to that pinnacle of power and responsibility -- more than a quarter of the men who have ever held the office of president. And, believe it or not, I'll be just as excited as that 16-year-old in knee pants was, because it is a privilege to watch history in the making.

For example, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inaugural, which I attended, was the last to be held in March. At that ceremony, the Bible had been forgotten and a White House policeman saved the day with a personal copy. I also witnessed the only third-term presidential inauguration, FDR's in 1941. I attended the inaugurations of both the youngest and oldest men elected to the presidency, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Lyndon Johnson was the first to take the oath while his wife held the Bible.

Richard Nixon's inaugurations were the only ones I've attended in which a Marylander took an oath, Spiro Agnew as vice-president.

But more important than history in the making is democracy at work. Today every American will be witness to the peaceful transfer of political power from one man to another, and from one political party to another, that we take for granted but that is unknown in so much of the world.

By the way, the lamp post I clung to in 1929 is still there. I saw it when I passed through Washington a few weeks ago, on my way to opening ceremonies for the 103rd session of the U.S. Congress. Maybe another boy or girl will hang on to it today, as I did, and tell us all about it a few decades from now.

Louis L. Goldstein is comptroller of Maryland.

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