Editor’s noteThis is the third of three articles in a series reviewing the history of presidential inaugurations in the United States. Read the second article here.

With each transfer of presidential power, a new chapter in the American experience begins. Although every previous presidential inauguration has had its unique moments, events preceding the 2021 inauguration have already assured that it will clearly have an unprecedented storyline.

Joe Biden will not only be the oldest person to take the presidential oath but the most experienced. Since 1789, of the 44 men who have served as president, 26 had prior service in Congress, but none came close to Joe Biden’s 36-plus years on Capitol Hill. In addition, Biden on Jan. 20, will become only the fourth president to have eight years of seasoning as a vice president prior to winning the presidency.

At the 2021 inauguration, America will also witness something that has never happened before: Kamala Harris, a woman — the mixed-race daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica — will raise her right hand and be sworn in as vice president of the United States. Harris carries the hopes of women and non-white Americans thrilled by her ascension.

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Together, Biden and Harris will begin their historic national journey to preserve, protect and “defend the Constitution of the United States” facing a delicate set of challenges. They inherit a deeply divided nation experiencing economic insecurity, social unrest, a crippling pandemic, the worst assault on the U.S. Capitol since the War of 1812 and a departing president reluctant to leave office.

Historian Robert Dallek, author of “Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life,” says the parallels between when Roosevelt took office in the middle of the Great Depression and “now can be overdrawn, but there is a common thread — a president facing pressure to restore faith in democracy itself.” The challenges ahead for Biden, Dallek feels, are “not so far removed from what Franklin Roosevelt faced. He understood, as he said in his ’33 inaugural address, ‘(This nation is asking) for action and action now.’ And I think the same adage will be in the forefront of Joe Biden’s mind.”

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An anxious citizenry, as well as much of the world, will be watching and listening intently to see how President Biden and Vice President Harris move America forward from the current unprecedented political chaos and begin to restore the country’s global leadership and democratic ideals.

Although it is probably unfair to expect Biden to deliver a timeless inaugural address like Lincoln, FDR or Kennedy, his speech should change the tenor in Washington and set the tone for other leaders to begin the difficult process of healing.

A pandemic inaugural

Even before those shocking images emerged from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, COVID-19 had dramatically altered plans for this year’s inauguration. Events have been significantly curtailed, and Americans are being urged to avoid traveling to Washington and limiting gatherings at the inauguration.

Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris still plan to take their oaths on the west front of the Capitol, overlooking the Mall (a tradition that started with President Ronald Reagan in 1981), but only about 1,000 instead of 200,000 tickets will be available to attend the ceremony. Attendees will have to wear masks and maintain social distancing within the ticketed parameters, and COVID-19 testing may be required for anyone seated on the main platform near Biden and Harris.  It’s likely the choir that is usually positioned on risers behind the president will not be feasible, but the Marine Band, which has played at every inauguration since 1801 is still scheduled to participate.

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The viewing stands that had been constructed along the traditional parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue have been taken down, and organizers say they will host a “virtual parade” featuring people from across the country, much like the virtual roll call at the Democratic National Convention in August.

The Biden inaugural committee is also planning a lighting ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to honor those killed by the coronavirus on the evening of Jan. 19. The committee has invited communities around the country to join Washington in lighting up buildings and ringing church bells at 5:30 p.m. in “a national moment of unity and remembrance.”

There has been some discussion of having a more festive celebration around July 4, given the limited ability to celebrate right now.

Capitol siege raises security concerns

The all-important question right now, however, is whether there will be a peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 20. President Trump’s announcement that he will not attend the inauguration certainly does not guarantee that his followers will not attempt to disrupt the ceremony. Security measures have been sharply stepped up around the U.S. Capitol in the aftermath of the violent assault on the Citadel of Liberty, including large National Guard presence and 7-foot-tall, non-scalable, fencing.

The risk of Biden and Harris, three former presidents, the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court, and most members of Congress “being exposed to a repeat attack on the Capitol by an incited mob is beyond contemplation,” in the words of The Guardian.

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On several previous occasions Americans have protested incoming presidents, but those demonstrations have been quite tame compared to what is happening right now. Three other presidents — John Adams, Adam’s son, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Johnson — chose not to attend their successors’ inauguration due to animosity between the president and president-elect.

The first “known time that protesters tried to countermarch at an inaugural,” according to Jim Bendal, an inaugural historian, was when a small group of unemployed people tried to disrupt Franklin Pierce’s parade in 1853.

According to the Library of Congress, more than 5,000 marchers, including women from countries where women had the right to vote, marched along Pennsylvania Avenue in a massive suffrage parade at Woodrow Wilson’s first inauguration. At the height of the Vietnam War, thousands of anti-war activists massed in Washington for both Richard Nixon’s first and second inaugurations. CBS News reported that 80 Congressmen joined the demonstrations in 1973 and boycotted the inaugural ceremonies.

We should fervently hope that with the change in our nation’s leadership on Jan. 20, the strength of American democracy will begin to be restored.

The demonstrations at George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001 were the first major protests at a presidential inauguration since the anti-war protests, according to the New York Times. At least 20,000 people demonstrated in Washington and along the inaugural parade route in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling that determined Bush won a razor-thin presidential race against Democrat Al Gore.9 Four years later, demonstrators again headed to Washington for Bush’s second inauguration, this time largely to protest the Iraq War.

In 2017, the Women’s March diverted attention from the inauguration of Donald Trump and made headlines.

“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger,” John F. Kennedy said at his inaugural. “I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.”

Biden wants to bring new light to a dark period like Kennedy did during the Cold War (1947-1961). We should fervently hope that with the change in our nation’s leadership on Jan. 20, the strength of American democracy will begin to be restored.

Stephen W. Stathis was a specialist in American history for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress for nearly four decades. He is the author of “Landmark Debates in Congress: From the Declaration of Independence to the War in Iraq,” and “Landmark Legislation: Major U.S. Acts and Treaties.”