When President-elect Joe Biden is officially sworn in on Wednesday, Jan. 20, his predecessor won’t be in attendance. Considering President Trump has reportedly planned to hold an early morning send-off just hours before Biden’s ceremony, you might be wondering if presidents have to attend the inauguration. While it’s unusual, Trump won’t be the first to snub the swearing in ceremony of his successor.
President Trump confirmed he was planning to skip out on Biden’s inauguration in a tweet shared on his since-suspended Twitter account on Jan. 8. Considering his message, which read, “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th,” came on the heels of the Capitol riot just two days earlier, Twitter deleted the tweet based on its glorification of violence policy.
Although Vice President Mike Pence has confirmed he will be attending the ceremony as a symbol of a peaceful transfer of power, Trump’s decision puts him in the company of a few former presidents who, like him, were not happy to be unseated by a competitor after their first term. One — Andrew Johnson — was impeached in 1868, much like President Trump, who is now facing his second impeachment following claims he incited his followers to storm the Capitol.
Trump’s absence at Biden’s inauguration will mark the first time in over 150 years that an incumbent hasn’t in some way been present to pass the mantle on to his successor. Notably, all the snubs have come during political and social turmoil, particularly characterized by disputes between the departing and incoming presidents.
The first time it happened was in 1801 with John Adams, the second president of the United States. After losing re-election to another founding father, Thomas Jefferson, Adams left for Baltimore the morning of the inauguration. The 1800 presidential election had been particularly dirty, even from the retrospective of 2021 (fun fact: this was the election where Adams’ supporters accused Jefferson of being dead), and it’s unclear whether Adams was trying to make a statement, avoid more drama, or just get an early start on moving day.
His son, John Quincy Adams, pulled a similar move when conceding defeat to Andrew Jackson in the `1828 election. The pair did not have a good relationship due to the results of the 1824 election, in which Adams and Jackson also competed against each other. Jackson, a war hero who’d won the popular vote but didn’t have a majority of Electoral College votes four years earlier, had accused Adams and his ally Henry Clay of “corrupt bargains” to put Adams into power. The night before Jackson’s 1829 inauguration, Adams moved out of the White House and skipped the inauguration.
Most recently, in 1869, President Andrew Johnson made sure he was scarce during President Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration. Johnson had been impeached in 1868 over his attempt to appoint a new Secretary of War without the approval of Congress. While he was acquitted (by one vote) in the Senate, the backlash was enough to deny him his party’s nomination in that year’s election, when Democrats picked Horatio Seymour. Grant won the election, and Johnson skipped the transfer of power.
During a news conference on Jan. 8, President-elect Biden said that it was a “good thing” Trump wouldn’t be attending the ceremony, calling it “one of the few things he and I have ever agreed on.” He told reporters, “It’s a good thing, him not showing up.”
However, he said he was happy Vice President Pence was attending to help make the transition as normal as possible. “He’s welcome. I think it’s important that as much as we can stick to what have been the historical precedents of how an administration changes should be maintained. And so Mike, the vice president, is welcome to come. We’d be honored to have him there, and to move forward in the transition,” Biden said.
While it may be unusual, it looks like President Trump’s decision to quietly bow out of the White House by skipping the inauguration is a welcome move on both sides.