How many presidents have not attended the inauguration ceremony of their successor?

The 45th commander in chief is set to become only the fourth to skip the ceremonies 

Gino Spocchia
Wednesday 03 February 2021 15:35 GMT
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Donald Trump will become the fourth president in United States history to boycott their successor’s inauguration, and break 150 years worth of precedent in the process.

There had been speculation he would stay away as Joe Biden was sworn-in on 20 January, with weeks spent wrongly alleging that November's election was “stolen”.

Only after the US president’s supporters stormed the Capitol last Wednesday, did he concede the election, commit to an "orderly transition,” and announce his decision to stay away on Mr Biden’s inauguration day.

He wrote on Twitter: "To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

The tweet would turn-out to be among his last, after Twitter banned him for election disinformation and inciting the mob who stormed Congress, some hours later on Friday.

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Mr Trump will be the first US president since Andrew Johnson in 1869 to boycott a successor’s inauguration, and only the fourth to do so.

Johnson, who became president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, was so unpopular with his own party that he was impeached by the House of Representatives, and went on to lose the 1868 election to Ulysses S. Grant.  

The 1868 election loser remained in the White House to sign legislation even as his arch rival was sworn-in to replace him, some meters away.

Historians say Johnson refused to participate because Grant declined to ride in the same carriage on the way to the inauguration.

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As Thomas Balcerski, an associate professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University told CNN, the situation at that time was “highly polarised” and inaugural boycotts were “poor form even then”.

John Adams (in 1801) and his son John Quincy Adams (in 1829) also stayed away as their successors were sworn-in, after election contests that were widely considered to be low points - even by today’s standards.

Adams, the second US president and first to lose an election, simply refused to attend the inauguration ceremony of Thomas Jefferson in 1801, whose supporters had referred to Adams as “hideous [and] hermaphroditical.”

But as Mr Balcerski told CNN, “By avoiding Jefferson's inauguration, Adams was perhaps motivated by a desire to cool the political temperature in the capital.”

Adam’s son, John Qunicy Adams, would become the second president to boycott their successors’ inauguration, after an election rematch Andrew Jackson in 1828.

Two other presidents, Martin Van Buren (in 1841) and Woodrow Wilson (in 1924), were also not seen at their successors’ inaugurations, but those absences are not considered boycotts in the same way.

Historians argue that there was no animosity between Van Buren and William Henry Harrison, and Wilson and Warren G. Harding, with poor health among the reasons.

Van Buren’s son was believed to be ill at the time of his successor’s inauguration, while Wilson rode with his successor to the ceremony, but did not stay, having suffered the effects of a stroke.

Richard Nixon did not attend Gerald Ford's inauguration after Nixon resigned in the middle of his second term in August 1974.

According to the White House Historical Association, “While the sitting president was not there, this occasion was considered a presidential succession and not a traditional inauguration.”

This article was amended on 3 February 2021 to correct the date on which Andrew Johnson lost to  Ulysses S. Grant

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