If he does the same, he would only be the fourth president to boycott the regular inauguration of his successor, and the first in more than 150 years to do so.
Two other presidents missed the regular swearing-in of their successors, Martin Van Buren and Woodrow Wilson. The reason for Van Buren’s absence is unknown, but historians do not regard him as an intruder and Wilson’s health.
Richard Nixon did not attend Gerald Ford’s inauguration at the White House after Nixon resigned midway through his second term in August 1974.
CNN has contacted many presidential historians for the background of this unusual event.
Three presidents are known to boycott regularly scheduled initiations of their successors, such as Thomas Balzersky, assistant professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University, wrote for CNN.com :
- John Adams was not present at the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson in 1801.
- John Quincy Adams was not present at the inauguration of Andrew Jackson in 1829.
- Andrew Johnson did not attend the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant in 1869.
Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, told CNN that the refusal to attend the inauguration of a successor was an unfortunate precedent created by Adams and not copied by her son until 1829.
For John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson, the political landscape was characterized by unusual animosity between parties, according to Elaine Kamark, senior fellow in the Governance Studies program of the Brookings Institution.
Other former presidents are known to have missed some or all of their successors’ initiations.
Van Buren was not present at the inauguration of William Henry Harrison in 1841. Balzersky told CNN that Van Buren would have travelled to Capitol Hill in a separate car behind Harrison, and historians don’t know why Van Buren missed the event. Richard Mentor Johnson, Vice President of Van Buren, was present.
In 1921, outgoing president Wilson, who suffered a stroke, accompanied his successor, Warren G. Harding, but did not stay for the event.
Andrew Phillips, curator and director of Museum Outreach at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, told CNN that Wilson had told his successor that he would not attend the event because the stairs to the platform were too steep for him. He made a joke about it and said: The Senate has knocked me down before, and I don’t want to knock me down now, Phillips told CNN, referring to the Senate’s defeat of the League of Nations plan and the Versailles Treaty.
Phillips added that the Washington Herald reported at the time that, for the first time in a century, the outgoing president had not witnessed the appointment of a new leader.
After Nixon resigned, he left Washington about an hour before Ford was sworn into the White House.
Perry told CNN that while Nixon was not present at the inauguration, Ford’s departure illustrates the symbolism of a peaceful transfer of power, even under the worst of circumstances – the resignation of the president.
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