It's 3:00 in the morning, April 5, 1861, and a New York Times correspondent sits down at the National Hotel in Washington to write a reflection of the day's events. His words follow an almost biblical cadence, echoing the historic nature of the day, underlining the threat of war.
Monday was, as you may imagine, an exciting day, and as well an interesting one, particularly to those who have sympathized with Republican movements, and who, being National men, were anxious that everything should pass off pleasantly and peaceably....
Rumors of war, of insurrection, of conspiracy, of treason, of murder and assassination, had been rife for weeks. It was certain to the eyes of many a good old man and woman that he would certainly be shot or stabbed as he rode to the Senate Chamber, and it was equally certain to the eyes of the military chieftains here in charge, that trouble might be apprehended, so much so that soldiers clad in all the panoply of war, surrounded the city, promenaded the avenues, and aided greatly in keeping up the feelings of insecurity and danger that were so prevalent among the white residents of the city.
Despite the threat of ambush from the South, the first inauguration of Abraham Lincoln went smoothly. Dark rain clouds even dematerialized into a bright sunny sky in time for the new president's speech. As the Times correspondent wrote:
By nine o'clock the sun had so gained the bright ascendency as to render it certain that the day on which ABRAHAM LINCOLN was to be inaugurated President of the United States was to be bright, cheerful, sunny, and peaceful....
Soon the sound of brass and leather announced that President BUCHANAN was approaching, and sure enough, looking from the window, we saw the old man in his barouche, surrounded by soldiers of a sanguinary appearance. In a few moments Mr. LINCOLN was with him, promptness and exact obedience to engagement being with him imperative rules of life.
Not every inauguration takes place under the threat of war, but they are all staged to have a grand historic impact.
Below, find historic pictures of past inaugurations, complied from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Associated Press.
Crowds gather for Lincoln's second inauguration on March 4, 1865. (Library of Congress)
The inaugural ballroom is decorated for President McKinley in 1901. (Library of Congress)
A panorama of the inauguration of President Theodore Roosevelt, March 4, 1905. (Library of Congress)
Photographers gather to capture the swearing in of President Taft, March 4, 1909. (Library of Congress)
Workers assemble the platform for Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in 1913. (Library of Congress)
The day before President Wilson's inauguration in 1913, suffragist demonstrators march on the Capitol. As a New York Times article described it, "The invasion of the Capitol by the woman suffragists has begun.... This pageant or parade, coming as it does on the day before the inauguration of President Wilson, is planned to bring before the country in the most public manner possible the 'nation-wide demand for an amendment to the Constitution of the United States enfranchising women.' " (Library of Congress)
A suffragist poses as Columbia during the demonstration. (Library of Congress)
Pennsylvania Avenue is illuminated the night before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in 1913, 100 years ago. (Library of Congress)
Like bits of iron to a magnet, spectators are drawn to the Capitol to hear President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inaugural address in 1933. (AP Photo)
President Eisenhower is lassoed by a cowboy while reviewing the inaugural parade in Washington in 1953. (National Archives)
President Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy leave the Capitol on Jan. 20, 1961, after he took oath of office and delivered his inaugural address. (AP Photo)
A Pershing missile mounted on a tank-like carrier catches the sunlight during the inaugural parade for President Kennedy, Jan. 20, 1961. (AP Photo)
The motorcade bearing President Lyndon B. Johnson to the Capitol for his inauguration moves along Pennsylvania Avenue, Jan. 20, 1965. (AP Photo)
A spectator views the U.S. Capitol, reflected on the lenses of his binoculars, where Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th president, Jan. 20, 1969. (AP Photo)
The crowd watches Jimmy Carter take the oath of office on Jan. 20, 1977. (AP Photo)
This Jan. 20, 1981, image, shows a wide-angle view from the Capitol balcony as Ronald Reagan, visible at center, addresses the nation following his swearing-in ceremony in Washington. Reagan was the first president to be sworn in on the west side of the Capitol. (AP Photo)
President George H.W. Bush strains to see the crowd as his wife, Barbara, waves to well-wishers during a pre-inaugural ball on Jan. 18, 1989. (AP Photo)
Presidentl Clinton gives a high-five to Chuck Berry (right) during the finale of the Presidential Gala at the Capital Center, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 1993, in Landover, Md. At left are Michael Jackson, crouched, and Chelsea Clinton. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta/Pool)
President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush wave as they walk down Pennsylvania Avenue during the inaugural parade, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2001. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
President Obama stands with his family in the moments before his swearing in, Jan. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Chuck Kennedy)