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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XIX - The Inauguration
by Tumulty, Joseph P.


A presidential inauguration is a picturesque affair even when the weather is stormy, as it frequently is on the fourth of March in Washington. It is a brilliant affair when the sun shines bright and the air is balmy, as happened on March 4, 1913, when Woodrow Wilson took the oath of office at noon, delivered his inaugural address a few minutes later, reviewed the parade immediately after luncheon, and before nightfall was at his desk in the White House transacting the business of the Government. To the popular imagination Inauguration Day represents crowds and hurrahs, brass bands and processions. The hotels, restaurants, and boarding houses of Washington overflow with people from all parts of the country who have come to "see the show." The pavements, windows, and housetops along Pennsylvania Avenue from the east front of the Capitol to the western gate of the White House are crowded with folk eager to see the procession with its military column and marching clubs. From an improvised stand in front of the White House, surrounded by his friends, the new President reviews the parade.

Every four years the newspaper boys describe Inauguration Day, but I am not aware of any novelist who has put it in a book. Why not? It offers material of a high order for literary description. "Human interest" material also in abundance, not merely in the aspects of the retiring and incoming Presidents with their respective retinues of important officials, but in the comedies and tragedies of the lesser figures of the motley political world. Familiar faces vanish, new faces appear--especially when a change of administration brings a change of party control. An evacuating column of ousted and dejected office-holders, prophesying national disaster at the hands of parvenus, meets an advancing column of would-be office-holders rejoicing in general over their party's success and palpitantly eager for individual advantage. As in life, so in Washington on Inauguration Day, humour and pathos mingle. Inauguration Day is the beginning of a period of uprooting and transplanting.

So it was when the Democrats came into office on March 4, 1913, after sixteen years of uninterrupted Republican control and for only the third time in the fifty-two years since Buchanan had walked out of the White House and Lincoln had walked in. Hungry Democrats flocked to Washington, dismayed Republicans looked on in silence or with sardonic comment. Democratic old-timers who had been waiting, like Mr. Micawber, for "something to turn up" through long lean years, mingled in the hotel lobbies with youths flushed with the excitement of a first experience In the political game and discussed the "prospects," each confident that he was indispensable to the new administration. Minor officeholders who had, so they said, been political neutrals during the past administration, anxiously scanned the horizon for signs that they would be retained. "Original Wilson men" from various parts of the country were introducing themselves or being introduced by their friends. And there were the thousands, with no axes to grind, who had come simply to look on, or to participate in a long-postponed Democratic rejoicing, or to wish the new President Godspeed for his and the country's sake. It is not my business in a book wholly concerned with the personal side of Woodrow Wilson's political career to attempt a description of Inauguration Day, with its clamours and its heartaches and its hopes. To the new President the day was, as he himself said, not one of "triumph" but of "dedication." For him the occasion had a significance beyond the fortunes of individuals and parties. Something more had happened than a replacement of Republicans by Democrats. He believed that he had been elected as a result of a stirring of the American conscience against thinly masked "privilege" and, a reawakening of American aspiration for government which should more nearly meet the needs of the plain people of the country. He knew that he would have to disappoint many a hungry office-seeker, whose chief claim to preferment lay in his boast that he "had always voted the Democratic ticket." Among the new President's first duties would be the selection of men to fill offices and, of course, in loyalty to his party, he would give preference to Democrats, but it did not please him to think of this in terms of "patronage" and "spoils." With the concentration of a purposeful man he was anxious chiefly to find the best people for the various offices, those capable of doing a day's work and those who could sense the opportunities for service in whole-hearted devotion to the country's common cause. His inaugural address met the expectations of thoughtful hearers. It was on a high plane of statesmanship, uncoloured by partisanship. It was the announcement of a programme in the interest of the country at large, with the idea of trusteeship strongly stressed. There was nothing very radical in the address: nothing to terrify those who were apprehensive lest property rights should be violated. The President gave specific assurance that there would be due attention to "the old-fashioned, never-to-be-neglected, safeguarding of property," but he also immediately added "and of individual right." Legitimate property claims would be scrupulously respected, but it was clear that they who conceived that the chief business of government is the promotion of their private or corporate interests would get little aid and comfort from this administration. The underlying meaning of the President's progressivism was clear: the recovery of old things which through long neglect or misuse had been lost, a return to the starting point of our Government, government in the interest of the many, not of the few: "Our work is a work of restoration"; "We have been refreshed by a new insight into our life."

A deep humanity pervaded the message. To the thoughtful hearer it must have been clear that the President's mind was more occupied with the masses than with special classes. He was not hostile to the classes. He was simply less interested in them. He suggested a social as well as a political programme: "Men and women and children" must be "shielded in their lives, their very vitality, from the consequences of great industrial and social processes which they cannot alter, control, or singly cope with." "The first duty of law is to keep sound the society it serves." Such was the first utterance of the President who in a few weeks was to appear as the champion, not of the special interests, native and foreign, in Mexico, but of the fifteen million Mexican people, groping blindly, through blood and confusion, after some form of self-government, and who in a few years was to appear as the champion of small nations and the masses throughout the world in a titanic struggle against the old principles of autocracy.

Mingled with the high and human tone of it all was a clear and itemized forecast of proposed legislation: a revised tariff, a federal reserve banking system, a farmers' loan bank. And all who knew Woodrow Wilson's record in New Jersey were aware that the Executive would be the leader in the enactment of legislation. The executive and legislative branches of the Government in this administration would, all informed people knew, be in partnership in the promotion of an enterprise as practical as it was inspiring.

After Chief Justice White administered the oath of office, the President read the brief address, of which the following are the concluding words:
This is not a day of triumph; it is a day of dedication. Here muster, not the forces of party, but the forces of humanity. Men's hearts wait upon us; men's lives hang in the balance; men's hopes call upon us to say what we will do. Who shall live up to the great trust? Who dares fail to try? I summon all honest men, all patriotic, all forward- looking men, to my side. God helping me, I will not fail them, if they will but counsel and sustain me!


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