The History Of The U.S.'s Peaceful Transition Of Power

By | January 18, 2021

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The "President's House" in 1807. (White House/Wikimedia Commons)

For as long as the U.S. has had a government, a peaceful transition of power has been fundamental to American democracy: Without it, the whole thing comes crashing down. That doesn't mean the transition of power from one party to the next has always gone off without a hitch, however.

The First Peaceful Transition Of Power In The U.S.

It's no surprise that the initial transition of power from President Washington to President Adams took a while. Not only were they just figuring out how to even do that, there were no means of quick communication across distances longer than your average ballroom. It took weeks for telegrams with information about the transition to travel across the country and then more weeks for Adams and his people to actually get to Washington. As a result, it took three months for Adams to officially become president and move into the White House after his election in December 1796. As the years went on, technology sped up the process, but that doesn't mean that the transition became easier.

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Hoover and Roosevelt on Inauguration Day, 1933. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

The Danger Of A Lengthy Transition

Today, it's customary for the outgoing president to brief the president-elect on exactly what situation they're walking into, but following the 1932 election of President Roosevelt, he straight-up refused to meet with then-President Hoover to discuss the crisis of the Great Depression or pretty much anything else. It wasn't just that Roosevelt didn't like Hoover, although he absolutely didn't. Mostly, he didn't want his hands tied by the previous president when he entered the White House.

It was no easy task, either. At this point in the United States, presidential inaugurations still took place in March, so Roosevelt had to go out of his way to avoid his predecessor for months. That's probably why, following Roosevelt's first go around the White House, he pushed all future presidential inaugurations up from March to January.