STOP BY THE WHITE HOUSE
FOR A PIECE OF CHEESE
Presidential Inaugurations are a very big deal. The larger audiences seem to accompany Democrats, Bill Clinton’s attracted 800,000 (1993). Until 2009 the largest crowd to witness an inauguration was for Lyndon Johnson at 1.2 million. That record was broken by Barack Obama’s ceremony that drew 1.8 million. George Bush’s ceremony (2005) drew a paltry 400,000.
In 1829, our seventh and newest president, Andrew Jackson, left Nashville, Tennessee, for the three week trip to Washington and his inauguration. Large crowds greeted him at every stop. He was the first “frontier” president and a favorite among the common citizen. On March 4th, a crowd of 20,000 assembled outside the East Portico of the Capitol to view Andrew Jackson taking the oath of office for his first term. This was a very large crowd for the time.
They were excited but remained well behaved for the most part. The ceremony began about 10:00 am. Jackson bowed to the crowd to thunderous cheering then began reading his address. The crowd remained silent so as to hear him. At the conclusion of the speech, the Chief Justice administered the oath (this order is reversed today). The people pushed forward over the barriers to get a closer look. The new President had planned to exit from the opposite side of the building but he had one more thing to say to the crowd.
Now today after an inauguration ceremony finishes, most people just go on home and the cleanup crews begin their work. Only a select few are invited to attend the reception. But President Andrew Jackson had received a large 1,400 lb cheese from an admirer in New York and he, being a man of the people, invited all 20,000 ceremony attendees over to the White House for a meet and greet, and to have a bite of the cheese. . . and they all came.
Jackson rode a white horse from the Capitol to the White House followed by most of the 20,000 on foot or in wagons. Many were poor, wearing homemadeclothes and shoddy shoes. The crowd included men, women, and children; white and black; farmers and merchants.
The crowd was so large that the President’s guards could not keep it out of the White House proper. People forced their way into the building in search of food and drink, and to shake Old Hickory’s hand. The crowd pushed themselves through all the rooms. Many who got in could not now get out and were followed by still others looking for the President to congratulate him. When they found him, Jackson was pushed up and pinned against the wall by well-wishers. Those in the back stood on the furniture in muddy shoes to get a look at him. Thousands of dollars in glasses and china were broken by the crush of the crowd. The cheese lasted only for a few hours with many bits of it ground into the carpet.
The mass of people descended into a largely drunken mob; fighting broke out. Ladies fainted. The White House staff carried buckets of punch and whiskey out onto the front lawn in an effort to lure the visitors out. Jackson himself had to flee the situation through a side door and spent the night at a nearby hotel. After some period of time, things began to settle down.
Andrew Jackson, the “People’s President,” thinking that he had made a simple kind gesture to the assembled citizens, unintentionally brought on a riot. No good deed goes unpunished, however, and Jackson received a new nickname - “King Mob.”