John Adams (books by this author) was inaugurated on this date in 1797. He became the second president of the United States, succeeding George Washington in the first peaceful transfer of power between elected officials in modern times. His rival for the office had been Thomas Jefferson, and because Jefferson had received the second highest number of electoral votes, the Electoral College named him vice president.
The ceremony took place on a sunny day at Philadelphia’s Congress Hall. George Washington entered the packed Chamber of the House of Representatives to applause, followed by the vice president, Thomas Jefferson. Adams was last, dressed in a suit of gray broadcloth. He must have looked frumpy next to the tall and elegant Jefferson, who was clad in a long blue frock coat, and the stately Washington, dressed in black velvet.
“A solemn scene it was indeed,” Adams later wrote. “Methought I heard [Washington] think, ‘Ay! I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!'”