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Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 inaugural, the first held in the city of Washington, bore little resemblance to modern extravaganzas. Avoiding monarchical touches, Jefferson, after walking to the Capitol for his swearing-in, read his address, then returned to his boarding house. As time passed, simple civilian and militia escorts eventually evolved into fancy inaugural parades.

Grover Cleveland’s 1885 inaugural parade lasted three hours and showcased 25,000 marchers. Eighty years later, Lyndon Johnson’s parade included 52 select bands and was viewed by one million people. Indoor inaugural parties have also become elaborate.

During Andrew Jackson's 1829 public reception, 20,000 people created such a crush at the White House that Jackson had to escape through a window. Nevertheless, White House receptions continued until lengthy afternoon parades created scheduling problems. Reviving the idea in 1989, President George H.W. Bush invited the public to a "White House American Welcome" on the day after the inaugural.

The scope of inaugural balls has also broadened, reflecting a cross-section of the American population. By 1981, the Reagans attended eight balls, all broadcast via television to other regional inaugural parties. Today this national event invites Americans to celebrate a new president, the republic’s peaceful transfer of power, and the continuum of a democracy.

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