Washington, by his own admission, says it was the one after him that counted

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

No, it’s not the second inauguration of Barak Obama that we’re talking about, though that is certainly a big thing in and of itself. After all, less than 25 of the 44 presidents have succeeded themselves in office. Winning a second term is no easy task.

George Washington, on the occasion of his own inauguration, said it wasn’t that one that was important – it was the next one. That’s the one in which John Adams succeeded Washington as president.

It was important because it proved that the experiment, hatched by Washington and Adams and other patriots in 1979 worked. Power could actually be transferred peacefully, willingly, without a coup, without threats or gunfire or plot. Power could be transferred from one man to another at the will of the people in an organized, informed manner with the ballot, not the bullet.

What an immense thing that simple transfer of power was, when it happened in March of 1797, when the words of the Constitution parchment, which detailed the changing of a president became physical reality. With barely a ripple, Washington ceded power and Adams, Washington’s vice-president, accepted it, and the Republic continued with a new man at the helm.

It was the first time in the history of the world that governmental power had been transferred peacefully in such a civilized manner.

Not only that, but four years later, Adams having been unsuccessful in seeking a second term, it happened again. Adams, bowing to the will of the people, ceded power to his own vice-president, and Thomas Jefferson became the lessee of the mosquito-infested President’s House in the new Federal city.

And every four years since then, the presidential oath has been administered – usually, but not always, on the portico of the U.S. Capitol – and the reins of power have been taken up according to the will of the electorate.

Fifty-seven times, we as a nation have celebrated the transfer or the affirmation of power. Two hundred and thirty seven years after Independence, the noble experiment in self-government works still!

By Jay Zimmer