As security fears gripped its capital and a global calamity continued to claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, the United States braced for a presidential inauguration unprecedented in its history.
As the United States’ participation in World War II entered its fourth year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that time demanded a simple ceremony for its fourth inauguration on January 20, 1945. To save money and Labor at a time when the country was rationing supplies like gasoline and lumber, Roosevelt decided that there would be no gala for his swearing-in. No concerts. No inaugural balls. No fanfares and fancy floats parading down Pennsylvania Avenue. “Who is there to parade?” he responded to reporters asking for groundbreaking plans.
Abraham Lincoln had been the only previous president to be sworn in during wartime, but even his inauguration included many traditional pitfalls, much like Roosevelt’s first inaugural in the depths of the Great Depression in 1933. This time, however, the president saved.
Although Congress allocated $ 25,000 for its inauguration, Roosevelt pledged to spend less than $ 2,000. Bypassing the traditional inaugural location of the U.S. Capitol, he chose instead to hold the public swearing-in ceremony at the White House. Roosevelt, who suffered from heart failure, also had his health in mind when he decided to hold a nude inaugural, which would be historic not only for being the first time a president was sworn in in four times, but to be one of the shortest. checked in.
READ MORE: How FDR completed four terms as US President
A small crowd attended the fourth inaugural of FDR
LISTEN: Fourth inaugural address by Franklin D. Roosevelt
The overcast skies that enveloped Washington, DC on the morning of January 20, 1945, reflected the gloomy wartime mood of the country. Although the rain and sleet that fell on the nation’s capital overnight had ended, Roosevelt was not impressed with the weather conditions. “It’s a bad day,” proclaimed the president after putting his head outside.
James Roosevelt didn’t think his father looked so good himself. “Old man, you look like hell,” he said. The president laughed and replied, “I’m a little tired, that’s all. A few days in Warm Springs will fix me up.
It emerged that many of Roosevelt’s supporters heard his call not to come to the capital for the inauguration. The crowd was nowhere near the 150,000 or so who saw him take office in 1933. With their black overcoats placed against the white snow beneath their feet, the spectators who gathered outside the doors of the White House on the Ellipse to listen to the ceremony through speakers sounded like salt and pepper that had been sprinkled in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Nearly 8,000 ticket holders, including injured servicemen from local hospitals, walked through the doors of the White House and stood in the slush, packed snow on the south lawn, which was devoid of any chairs.
At noon, the US Navy band launched “Hail to the Chief” as Roosevelt appeared on the south portico without a hat, cape, or coat despite the high temperatures. The president’s frail appearance frightened former first lady Edith Wilson, the widow of former president Woodrow Wilson. “I feel horrible,” she told Labor Secretary Frances Perkins. “He looks exactly like my husband when he went into decline.
PHOTOS: Presidential inaugurations throughout history
After the summons, there was a bit of awkwardness when Vice President Henry Wallace, who had been dismissed as Roosevelt’s running mate for Harry Truman, swore in his successor. (This would be the last time a Vice President took the oath of office from his predecessor.) Then it was the President’s turn. Partially paralyzed by polio, Roosevelt wrapped his arms around the neck of his son James and a Secret Service agent who lifted him from his seat. Gripping the lectern to steady himself, Roosevelt turned to face Chief Justice Harlan Stone and took the oath.
The president then addressed his fellow Americans as his right arm and body shook from standing. “You will understand and, I believe, will agree with my wish that the form of this inauguration be simple and its words brief,” he said before speaking of the challenge facing the country. “We Americans today, along with our allies, are going through a period of supreme testing. It is a test of our courage – of our determination – of our wisdom – of our essential democracy.
Roosevelt was true to his promise to be brief. After just 558 words, the second shortest inaugural address in American history was over. (Only George Washington’s 135-word second inaugural address was more concise.) The entire inauguration lasted only 15 minutes. “The dog hunters have taken up their duties with more pomp and ceremony,” said Roosevelt’s Chief of Secret Service Mike Reilly.
Roosevelt died less than three months later
Rather than the traditional post-speech lunch with members of Congress, Roosevelt instead hosted a modest buffet of chicken salad, unbuttered buns, unglazed cakes and coffee for 2,000 attendees. Struck with throbbing chest pains and hating the prospect of making lunch attendees happy, Roosevelt told James, “I can’t take this unless you bring me a drink.” You’d better sort it out. The president’s son smuggled a bottle of bourbon from his father’s room, and Roosevelt drank it to ease his pain before entering the reception.
Death was not far from Roosevelt’s mind on the day of the inauguration. He had insisted that his 13 grandchildren be present, according to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, “realizing very well that this would certainly be his last investiture, perhaps even insisting that he would not be with us very long. The President discussed his will with James, told him about a letter locked in a safe with instructions for his funeral, and spent 40 minutes visiting the White House doctor after hosting a tea party at the afternoon with members of the Electoral College.
Two days after the inauguration, Roosevelt left on a five-week trip to meet British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin at the Yalta conference.
READ MORE: How the ‘Big Three’ started the Cold War at the Yalta conference in 1945
Just 82 days after Roosevelt took the presidential oath in the White House, Truman would do the same after Roosevelt’s sudden death on April 12, 1945, at the age of 63. With the 1951 ratification of the 22nd Amendment, which limited presidents to two elected terms or one if they had already served more than two years of a predecessor’s term, Roosevelt became the last president to be invested four times.