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I was looking at Wikipedia's article on Justice Potter Stewart and was surprised to read:

On January 20 and 21, 1985, Stewart administered the oath of office for Vice President George H. W. Bush.

(He was Reagan's vice president.) Likewise the Wikipedia article on that inauguration begins:

The second inauguration of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States was held in a small televised ceremony on Sunday, January 20, 1985, at the Grand Foyer of the White House, and was to be repeated the following day, January 21, 1985 at the West Front of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., before being moved to the Capitol's rotunda.

It does not, however, explain why there were two oaths administered. Wikipedia's article on the oath of office also lists dual swearings-in for Reagan's second term, as well as for a few other presidential terms, but doesn't give a reason.

I'm particularly curious about Reagan's, because the article quoted above indicates that the first ceremony was "televised" so (a) there's seemingly no point in the second ceremony since everyone there had seen it already and (b) the second ceremony seemingly would be absurd since everyone there would know it was a sham. So why was Reagan sworn in twice for his second term as president?

Note that I'm not asking why there were two celebrations — people like to celebrate. I'm asking why the oath itself was administered twice.

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    Weather and public expectations; you can't have a parade for a televised event. (Macy's notwithstanding). – Mark C. Wallace Aug 20 at 9:50
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    Note that Obama was given the oath twice by Justice Roberts in 2008, because they screwed up the first one. – T.E.D. Aug 20 at 13:27
  • If weather were the reason, they would have delayed that second oath even longer in 1985. I seem to recall it barely made it above 0 F in Washington that day. – C Monsour Aug 20 at 23:34
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    @uhoh - I was watching it live, and IMHO Roberts seemed super nervous. He had never done anything like this before, and likely 10's of millions were watching live. A lot of people forget politicians are still human beings, not self-serving robots. When he messed up, it threw off Obama. This kind of thing happens in plays too when a line gets messed up, the weirdity can cascade until everyone manages to find their way back on script. There's probably an interview somewhere where Roberts talks about it in detail though. – T.E.D. Aug 22 at 4:50
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    @T.E.D. thanks! I should give it a watch. I think of jurists as different than politicians, but certainly the swearing in of a president for the first time isn't something one practices in law school :-) – uhoh Aug 22 at 6:03
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You will see from the Oath of office WP page that this pattern of two inaugurations always has the first ceremony labeled as "private". The POTUS has to be sworn in on the first day of office.

But having a public ceremony where people could actually attend (instead of watching on TV), where parades could be held and such, is not always possible on that first day. In recent times, this was usually because that first day of office fell on a Sunday.

WhiteHouseHistory says as much (the first oath being private because it fell on a Sunday).


Other entries -- Chester A. Arthur, Calvin Coolidge -- point towards the new POTUS not being in Washington for the first oath, which is also a good reason to have a second ceremony in the capitol a couple of days later.

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    Personally, I don't consider repeating an oath to be a "sham". Certain people put a lot of weight on those; some on the fact who is administering it, others that it be taken in public, some that it be taken in a certain location and so on. So to each his/her own, I'd say. – DevSolar Aug 20 at 10:01
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    People go to church on big wedding anniversaries (25y, 50y, so on) and renew their wedding vows publicly. Why can't a President give his oath twice? Or why couldn't any oath be repeated on any occasion where it makes sense? It's better than forgetting it :-) – Luiz Aug 20 at 16:55
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    Out of curiosity, why does "the first day of office being on a Sunday" make it harder for people to attend? I'd have thought it would make it easier - no need to try to negotiate time off work! – Harry Johnston Aug 20 at 19:57
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    @HarryJohnston: Some Christian thing perhaps? I don't know either, it's what the WhiteHouseHistory site stated. – DevSolar Aug 21 at 7:23
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    Taking an oath twice doesn't negate anything. It lets more people witness it and hold you to it. The oath doesn't grant power. It constrains it. US Military people take the same oath of allegiance to the constitution all over again when they're promoted in rank. – candied_orange Aug 21 at 9:29
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The 20th amendment says "The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January ... and the terms of their successors shall then begin". The body of the constitution (article II, section I) says: "Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: [the oath]".

As a result, the president always takes the oath right around noon on January 20th. But, throwing a big inauguration shindig at noon on a Sunday isn't considered appropriate -- it pulls people away from church. So, when January 20th falls on a Sunday, the incoming president takes the oath in private at noon. The ceremony is repeated the next day in order to satisfy the need for pomp and circumstance.

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    "The President must always" Not necessarily. The President doesn't need to take the oath right around noon on January 20th. There is only the need to take it before he or she performs any duties in their official capacity as President. And even that is debatable since the 20th states (after your quoted section ends) that the President-elect's term starts at noon on the 20th day of January. It has not been determined by SCOTUS (because the question has been been raised in court) whether the Oath of Office must be taken before you can do POTUS stuff since the 20th Amendment was ratified. – TylerH Aug 21 at 7:09
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    @TylerH. I've updated my answer slightly based on your comments. Thanks – Flydog57 Aug 21 at 13:26

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