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This Day in History: The Odd Timing of Ronald Reagan’s Second Inauguration

On this day in 1985, Ronald Reagan is publicly inaugurated for the second time.


Wait. What? Aren’t Presidents always inaugurated on January 20th? Why was Reagan inaugurated a day late?

Reagan’s public inaugural inside the Capitol Rotunda.

Don’t worry. It’s not as bad as it sounds. January 20 fell on a Sunday that year, so that changed the schedule a bit—but only a little bit! The Constitution provides that presidential terms begin and end at noon on January 20, so something had to be done to satisfy the constitutional requirement. Thus, Reagan was inaugurated in a private White House ceremony on Sunday the 20th. His public inauguration occurred the next day, on Monday the 21st. Chief Justice Warren Burger administered both oaths.


The calendar was not the only hiccup that year. The weather wouldn’t cooperate, either. As it would turn out, January 21, 1985 was the coldest inauguration day on record. At noon on Inauguration Day, it was only 7° F! You won’t be surprised to hear that the ceremony was moved indoors.


Also pretty unsurprising? Reagan cracked a joke about the situation in his inaugural speech.


“We stand again at the steps of this symbol of our democracy,” he told the assembled crowd, “well, we would have been standing at the steps if it hadn’t gotten so cold.” As the crowd laughed, he concluded: “Now we’re standing *inside* this symbol of our democracy.”


The closing of Reagan’s speech was typical of our ever-optimistic President.

History is a ribbon, always unfurling. History is a journey. And as we continue our journey, we think of those who traveled before us. . . . [W]e see and hear again the echoes of our past: a general falls to his knees in the hard snow of Valley Forge; a lonely President paces the darkened halls and ponders his struggle to preserve the Union; the men of the Alamo call out encouragement to each other; a settler pushes west and sings a song, and the song echoes out forever and fills the unknowing air.
It is the American sound. It is hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent, and fair. That’s our heritage, that’s our song. We sing it still. For all our problems, our differences, we are together as of old.

Perhaps it is a good reminder of what we, as Americans, are striving for: To be a people, united in our shared history and common values, focused on our similarities, and minimizing our differences. Above all, remembering that we are a people tied together by our heritage of perseverance, hope, hard work, and love of liberty.


Primary Sources:

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