WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s decision to skip President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration is not without precedent, though one must go back to Andrew Johnson in 1869 to find the most recent example.
John Adams and John Quincy Adams also opted not to participate in a tradition that began with George Washington.
The White House Historical Association points out that John Adams was never formally invited by his successor, Thomas Jefferson, to the event and perhaps didn’t want to impose. The association also noted it was the first time the presidency was transferred to an opposing party and “he may have wanted to avoid provoking violence between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans.”
Following in his father’s footsteps, John Quincy Adams officially departed the White House on the evening of March 3, the day before the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson. Jackson has been in Washington for about three weeks. He did not call on Adams, nor did Adams invite Jackson to the White House.
Some four decades later, President-elect Ulysses S Grant refused to ride with President Andrew Johnson from the White House to the Capitol for the ceremony. When it was suggested that two carriages carry them separately, Johnson said he would simply not attend the ceremonies, remaining instead at the White House with friends and colleagues and signing last-minute legislation.
“To me, he is much, much different from the two Adamses in that they truly were statesmen and they just had their reasons to be bitter. But they weren’t bad men,” said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia. “Johnson was a bad man and a bad president.”
Perry said she is “quite forgiving” of the first Adams because the tradition of attending a successor’s inauguration was just beginning, but less so for his son.
She said that over time it has become important symbolically and substantively for outgoing presidents to attend the inauguration of their successor. It reinforces the concept of a peaceful transition of power, but it also tells potential adversaries to be wary of trying to take advantage of the change. (AP)