Patriots braved this weekend’s blustery weather to witness the swearing in of the fifth United States president – or at least a festive reenactment of it.Saturday’s bicentennial commemoration of the inauguration of President James Monroe drew a couple hundred people, said Lynda Allen, public programs coordinator for The James Monroe Museum, which sponsored the event. Several others watched the event live-streamed.
Flanked by fellow historic reenactors in handmade period costume – tri-corner hats, billowing dresses and military uniforms – James G. “Jay” Harrison III portrayed Monroe, delivering an excerpt from the inaugural address Monroe gave on the same date, March 4, back in 1817. While the original ceremony took place outdoors at the “Old Brick Capitol” in Washington, D.C., Saturday’s event was held on the steps of the University of Mary Washington’s Monroe Hall.
“It was very moving to see this moment from history come to life,” said Scott Harris ’83, director of The James Monroe Museum. “It was a true team effort.”
The Monroes – James and wife Elizabeth, portrayed by Heidi C. Stello – arrived on campus in a horse-drawn carriage. The soon-to-be first couple climbed the steps of Monroe Hall, where Chief Justice John Marshall, portrayed by Jarod Kearney, administered the oath of office. The Madisons – James, played by Charles Wissinger, and Dolley, portrayed by Katherine Spivey – were there to hand over the presidential reins.
Welcoming the crowd were Harris, Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw and UMW President Troy Paino, who spoke of the important role of Monroe – and of UMW – in our representative democracy. Virginia Del. Robert Orrock and Christopher Snider, district representative for Rep. Dave Brat, also delivered remarks.
The Society of the War of 1812 in Virginia presented the color guard, and the Historical Trumpets and Flutes of the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps presented period music.
Fittingly, toward the end of the ceremony, a turkey vulture flew from a tree beside nearby Willard Hall and soared over the crowd, taking a cue from the 1817 inauguration, when it was reported that a large bird did just the same thing.
Located on Charles Street in downtown Fredericksburg, The James Monroe Museum marks the site where a young Monroe began practicing law in 1786.
Video of the bicentennial commemoration of the inauguration and a listing of events marking the 200th anniversary of Monroe’s first term as president are available on the museum website.