How Does the American Inauguration of a President Compare to the British Coronation of a Monarch? (The following consists almost entirely of the text from a transcript conveying the words expressed by Dr. Albert Mohler during a podcast he shared on Tuesday, January 19, 2021.) When viewing the American inauguration of a president, one is witnessing a peaceful transfer of power. As of the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. of Delaware, the 46th President of the United States (the 59th presidential inauguration scheduled in the history of the United States of America) the oath of office was given 78 times to 45 different people. Since Donald J. Trump was the 45th President of the United States, one might wonder how Joe Biden became the 45th man to hold the office. The reason is that Grover Cleveland served as both the 22nd and the 24th President of the United States, and thus, he is counted twice. So, before Biden, only 44 men had ever taken the oath of office. Hence, Joe Biden became only the 45th separate individual to serve as president, though this was the 46th time there was a change in the person filling the office. Now, we need to step a good deal further back than just considering the fact that this is a part of our constitutional order. We need to go back to the fact that every single government and every single government leader of considerable power has to be understood as holding power by some authority. The question is, by whose authority? Well, if you go back to the divine right of kings, you understand, just to give an example, that the British monarch rules and reigns, in so far as the British monarch currently rules and reigns, by the divine right of kings or queens as it is known. It is a divine sanction that is claimed, and that's made very clear in the coronation of a British monarch, but the president of the United States is not a monarch. The president of the United States does not gain legitimacy by the divine right to presidents. There is no such thing, but in the view of God and the entire nation, the President of the United States, having been elected to office, takes office on behalf of the governed. It is the consent of the governed that is at the very center of the American constitutional order, but let's go back to Britain. Let's go back to England for just a moment. What does it mean that a British monarch is crowned in the process of what is known as a coronation? The word "coronation" actually only means crowning. It's the official commemorative crowning of a British monarch. It has taken place over and over again in England, now Britain, down through the centuries, and it follows a very traditional majestic pattern. Now, as you're thinking about the coronation of the British monarch, the crowned monarch also makes an oath, the coronation oath, and it takes place not in view of the entire British people but actually, behind a screen in which the only participants are limited to the monarch whose coronation is taking place and the head of the church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury or whoever the church has deputized to undertake this responsibility. Following the example of Samuel with Saul in the Old Testament, the monarch is anointed with oil, invoking not only a political and regal but a ministerial duty on behalf of the people. In recent coronations, the music that has been played and sung in the background to the most intense moment in which the coronation oath is given and taken, it is William Frideric Handel's Zadok the Priest, making an intentional, even musical connection between the kings of Israel and the monarchs of the United Kingdom. What is invoked is a biblical solemnity and the divine right of kings, God's anointing through a priest of the monarch. It is a very meaningful event, and it is central to the identity of the United Kingdom. It is central to the history of England, but it is against that monarchial pattern that the American experiment and constitutional self-government was devised, but how would there be an American transfer? In the British system, there is a great deal of pageantry, and the coronation actually takes place in Westminster Abbey, which is a place of worship, one of the most historic places of worship in all of Christendom. The music that is played during a British coronation is some of the most beautiful in the entire English language. As a matter of fact, one of the central anthems that is used in a coronation and recently in royal weddings is a piece that is drawn from the 122nd Psalm, which is known as "I Was Glad," as in, "I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord." The most spectacular arrangement of that Psalm is by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry in the anthem that was written for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. Similar arrangements for coronations had been done by composers William Boyce and Henry Purcell. In any event, the music is absolutely majestic, and the context is worship. I am an American. I am not British. I am not a monarchist, but I do love the music of the English church and in particular, the majesty of the biblical language that is put to tune and to anthem for the context of ceremonial occasions in Britain such as the coronation of a monarch, but the British coronation of a monarch is in the background. In the foreground is, how we would, in the United States in a constitutional Republic, how we would commemorate the investiture in office of the nation's new chief executive, the new president of the United States? Would it be a service of worship? No. Presidents have generally participated in worship services, but the inauguration ceremony itself is not a worship service although in every single inauguration, some kind of prayer has been given. There is formality. There's a certain kind of secular liturgy, a constitutional liturgy that has been involved, going all the way back as so many things presidential go all the way back, to the nation's first chief executive, George Washington around whom, frankly, the founders at least partly invented the office of president of the United States. It's also interesting to watch the nomenclature, a British monarch is crowned in a coronation ceremony. An American president is merely invested in office in what is known as an inaugural or an inauguration ceremony. Inauguration in this sense just means the beginning of the term. Now, behind that is also a great deal of interest because as a matter of fact, until 1937, presidents of the United States, having been elected back before the end of the previous year, were not inaugurated until March the 4th of the year following their election. Now, how did that work? Well, it was not by accident. March 4 of 1789 was the first operational day of the new constitutional republic known as the United States of America, and thus, the day, March the 4th, 1789 becomes day one of America's constitutional government, but it created a problem that became very apparent by the early 20th century. That was that the period of time that a newly elected president had to wait to enter office was simply too long. It made more sense back in the horse and buggy age when it took some time for a newly elected president even to know that he had been elected, much less to assemble a government, but by the time you get to the 1930s, the problem is the opposite. There are urgent matters of national attention that need movement, and that movement in presidential leadership can't happen if you have a lame duck president for a matter of long months. The same thing was true of Congress. There was a lame duck Congress in office for far too long, so the United States passed what became known as the 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, moving the opening day of the new Congress to January the 3rd and the first date of a new presidential administration to January the 20th and not only January the 20th, but January the 20th at exactly noon, Washington time. At noon Washington time, a new presidential term begins, but it doesn't begin with the newly elected president or the re-elected president merely serving in a passive role. Rather, the one singular focus of the Constitution ceremony has to do with an oath of office. The one thing that must happen in a presidential inauguration is that the president must receive and must respond to the oath of office. He must, to use the language, take an oath. That oath of office is just a few words. It comes down to this. The president must state, "I do solemnly swear 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, so help me God." Now, the words so help me God are not in the constitutional language, and furthermore, the updated constitutional language allows a president to affirm rather than to swear the faithful execution of the office of president of the United States and the entirety of the oath of office, but nonetheless, no matter what verb or noun may be used here, it is indeed an oath of office. It is required of the president of the United States, and without that oath of office, the president is not invested with constitutional responsibility. That's very interesting. That is the one thing that must happen in an American presidential inauguration, and it is the one thing, which is common to both the coronation of a British monarch and the inauguration of an American president. It is the giving and the taking of an oath. In early years of the American presidency, the president could merely say I do, but now, as is the case also in most formal wedding ceremonies, the vow must be not only affirmed but repeated so that the words have particular import, and the words are coming from the President of the United States himself. Now, just to go back to the math for a moment, there have been 77 administrations of the oath of office, but there are only 45 presidents of the United States including Joe Biden who will be the 78th to take the oath of office. Why is the one number so much larger than the second? Well, it is because those presidents who have become presidents because of the death of the president when they were vice-president, they have not been inaugurated, but they have taken the oath of office. Similarly, the same thing was true of Gerald Ford in 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, and Ford became the new president of the United States. By the way, as a footnote, the only individual to become president having been elected neither vice-president or president of the United States.