Washington, January 10 (RHC)-- U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will not attend successor Joe Biden’s upcoming inauguration and the sacking of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob mark a level of division in the United States not seen since the American Civil War.
The last time a sitting president refused to attend his duly elected successor’s inauguration -- a major ceremonial event in U.S. politics that is also a formal transfer of power -- was in 1869. The Civil War had been fought from 1861 to 1865 over ending slavery, and the nation remained deeply divided.
“The similarities in the political trends are really astounding,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston. President Andrew Johnson, a divisive figure who like Trump had been impeached by the House but not removed by the Senate, did not attend the swearing-in of Ulysses S Grant, who was elected in 1868.
Johnson, a southerner who became president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, had undermined the efforts of the north to enfranchise Blacks and impose anti-slavery governments in the former Confederate states. He attracted fringe groups and created a grievance politics that appealed to those southerners who wanted to re-litigate the Civil War. The seventeenth president, Andrew Johnson is considered by historians to have been among the worst presidents in history, now joined by Donald J. Trump.
Grant had been the victorious general of the Union Army that defeated the Confederacy. He, like Biden now, was seen as a unifier who could bring the country back together with an emphasis on fairness and decency, Rottinghaus told reporters.
Grant, who did not want to be associated with Johnson, refused to ride in the same carriage with him from the White House to the Capitol for the inauguration. Instead, Johnson held his own huge rally with supporters on Inauguration Day, which was March 4th back in those days. The 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1933, moved the presidential inauguration date to January 20.
Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott urged Trump “to reconsider his decision to skip” Biden’s inauguration.
Scott, who was among a few Republican senators who voted against certifying Biden’s election win, said he planned to attend. “It is an important tradition that demonstrates the peaceful transfer of power to our people and to the world,” he said. Speaking to reporters in Wilmington, Delaware earlier on Friday, Biden said “it’s a good thing” Trump will skip the inauguration.
Meanwhile, the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 by a mob of Trump supporters recalls similar events at the state level in the post-Civil War period. “We have never had this at the seat of our government,” said Jeremi Suri, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. "But we have a long history of mob violence in America. It’s something we don’t like to talk about."
In 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists entered the U.S. Capitol and fired bullets at members of Congress from the visitor’s balcony in the House chamber. Five U.S. Representatives were injured but recovered. The Puerto Ricans were arrested and imprisoned for over 25 years, until 1979.