This Day in History: Andrew Jackson’s raucous inauguration
On this day in 1829, Andrew Jackson is inaugurated for the first time. The event was a raucous affair that would surely never be allowed today. Can you believe that people were even jumping out of White House windows by the time the party was over?
The inauguration came on the heels of a contentious presidential election. The 1828 election was effectively a rematch of the 1824 election, which John Quincy Adams had barely won. Unsurprisingly, hard feelings remained between the two sides. And, perhaps making matters more interesting, the 1828 election was influenced by one other factor: Several states had relaxed laws that previously allowed only property owners to vote.
Unsurprisingly, then, Jackson’s victory left many voters feeling that he was the first President to represent the common man.
People poured into Washington, D.C. for Jackson’s inauguration. Hotel rooms were expensive—and packed! Makeshift camps were set up all around the city. Jackson’s inauguration was the first fully public ceremony, and it took place in front of the Capitol on the east side. As many as 30,000 people attended.
One Washington socialite, Margaret Smith, later wrote: “Thousands and thousands of people, without distinction of rank, collected in an immense mass round the Capitol, silent, orderly and tranquil, with their eyes fixed on the front of that edifice, waiting the appearance of the President in the portico.”
Except the “silent, orderly and tranquil” crowd did not stay that way for too long. After Jackson’s inauguration speech, a cable separating the public from the Capitol steps broke. Smith described the crowd that broke through: “[T]hey rushed up the steps all eager to shake hands with [Jackson]. It was with difficulty he made his way through the Capitol and down the hill to the gateway that opens on the avenue. Here for a moment he was stopped. The living mass was impenetrable.”
Jackson rode his horse back to the White House with the crowd close behind. By tradition, the executive mansion was open to the public on inauguration day. In the past, relatively small receptions had been held, but in 1829, the White House was completely overrun! People flooded the mansion, knocking over furniture, spilling beverages, and breaking china. At one point, Jackson was basically backed up against a wall, completely surrounded by well-wishers.
Smith’s description continues: “Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses and such a scene of confusion took place as is impossible to describe,—those who got in could not get out by the door again, but had to scramble out of windows.” Jackson himself was finally forced to climb out a window so he could escape to a local hotel.
To be fair, it should be noted that some Jackson supporters later claimed that the tales of drunkenness and damage at the inaugural party were a bit exaggerated by his political enemies. But neither side disputes that an enormous crowd descended upon the White House, forcing the new President to make an escape.
No presidential inauguration before or since has been quite so raucous! Smith noted that such a crowd had not been expected: “But it was the People’s day, and the People’s President and the People would rule.”
Logistical note for those who care:
I’ve referenced the “White House” throughout this post, but just a note that the White House actually had various names in the early 1800s (e.g., Executive Mansion, the President’s House, or the President’s Palace). The name “White House” was sometimes used, but the name didn’t really take hold until Teddy Roosevelt’s administration.
For More Information:
My book, The Indispensable Electoral College, discusses Jackson and his presidential elections in much more detail.