Since 1901, all inaugural ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol have been organized by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. The U.S. Armed Forces have participated in inaugural day ceremonies since George Washington, because the president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Since the first inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, that participation has been coordinated by the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee (now called the Joint Task Force-Armed Forces Inaugural Committee).
The oath of office is traditionally administered on the steps of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. The vice president-elect takes the oath of office at the same ceremony as the president-elect. This tradition began in 1937. Before then, the vice presidential oath was administered in the Senate. The Vice-President-elect takes the oath first:
I do solemnly swear [or affirm] that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same: that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.
At noon, the president-elect becomes president. At about that time, the president-elect takes the oath of office, traditionally administered by the Chief Justice of the United States, using the form mandated in Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
According to tradition, in the first inaugural, President Washington added the words "so help me God" when reciting the oath, although there is no contemporary evidence of this. The words have been thereafter repeated by some presidents (as well as some vice presidents, while taking their oaths), including all since Franklin D Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt, for example, chose to conclude his oath with the phrase "And thus I swear." Only Franklin Pierce has chosen to affirm rather than swear. It is often asserted that Herbert Hoover also affirmed, because he was a Quaker, but newspaper reports prior to his inauguration state his intention to swear rather than affirm.
Immediately following the oath, the bands play four ruffles and flourishes and "Hail to the Chief", followed by a 21-gun salute from howitzers of the Military District of Washington. The President delivers an inaugural address, setting the tone for the new administration. Should January 20 be a Sunday, the President is usually administered the oath of office in a private ceremony on that day, followed by a public ceremony the following day.
Since 1953, the president and vice president have been guests of honor at a luncheon held by the United States Congress immediately following the inaugural ceremony. Other than at State of the Union addresses, Red Mass, and state funerals, it is the only time the president, vice president, and both houses of Congress congregate in the same location.
Since Thomas Jefferson's second inaugural on March 4, 1805, it has become tradition for the president to parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. The only president not to parade down Pennsylvania Avenue was Ronald Reagan. He paraded down Pennsylvania Ave. during his first inauguration, in 1981, amidst the celebrations that broke out across the country because of news just minutes into his term that the 52 American hostages held in Iran for the previous 444 days had been released. Reagan did not do so in 1985 due to freezing cold temperatures made dangerous by high winds. In 1977, Jimmy Carter started a new tradition by walking from the Capitol to the White House, although for security reasons, subsequent presidents have only walked a part of the way.
The inaugural celebrations usually last ten days, from five days before the inauguration to five days after. However, in 1973, the celebrations marking Richard Nixon's second inauguration were marred by the passing of former president Lyndon Johnson two days after the inauguration. The celebrations came to an end as Washington began preparations for the state funeral for Johnson. Because of the construction work on the center steps of the East Front, Johnson's casket was taken up the Senate wing steps of the Capitol when taken into the rotunda to lie in state. When it was brought out, it came out through the House wing steps of the Capitol.
Inauguration Day is a Federal holiday observed only by federal employees who work in the District of Columbia; Montgomery or Prince George's Counties in Maryland; Arlington or Fairfax Counties in Virginia, or the cities of Alexandria or Fairfax in Virginia, and who are regularly scheduled to perform non-overtime work on Inauguration Day. There is no in-lieu-of holiday for employees who are not regularly scheduled to work on Inauguration Day. The primary reason for the holiday is to relieve traffic congestion that occurs during this major event.
The security for the inaugural celebrations is a complex matter, involving not only the Secret Service, but other Federal law enforcement agencies, all five branches of the Armed Forces, the Capitol Police, and the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC). One issue is the ability of protesters to express their Constitutionally protected rights while providing protection for the government officials at risk for assassination or bodily harm. In 2005, protesters believed the area selected by the MPDC was too far from the parade route.
Also, in 2005, a small group of commandos from the Joint Special Operations Command allegedly deployed to support security at the Presidential inauguration under a secret counterterrorism program named Power Geyser.