President Donald Trump’s announcement not to attend the upcoming inauguration of successor Joe Biden and the sack of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob marks a division in the United States that has not been seen since the American Civil War.
The last time a sitting president refused to attend the inauguration of his duly elected successor – a major ceremonial event in US politics that also constitutes a formal transfer of power – was in 1869. The Civil War was from 1861 to 1865 because of the Ending Slavery The nation remained deeply divided.
“The similarities in political trends are really amazing,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston.
President Andrew Johnson, a divisive figure who, like Trump, was indicted by the House of Representatives but not removed by the Senate, did not attend the swearing-in ceremony of Ulysses S. Grant, who was elected in 1868.
Johnson, a southerner who became president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, had undermined efforts by the North to disenfranchise blacks and enforce anti-slavery governments in the former Confederate states. He attracted marginalized groups and created a complaint policy that addressed those southerners who wanted to litigate the civil war again.
The seventeenth US President Andrew Johnson, considered by historians to be one of the worst presidents in history, refused to attend the inauguration of Ulysses S Grant in 1869 [File: AP Photo]Grant had been the victorious general in the Union Army who defeated the Confederation. He was seen, like now Biden, as a unifier who could bring the country back together with an emphasis on fairness and decency, Rottinghaus told Al Jazeera.
Grant, unwilling to be associated with Johnson, refused to ride with him in the same carriage from the White House to the Capitol for the inauguration ceremony. Instead, Johnson held his own large rally with supporters on Inauguration Day, then March 4th. The 20th amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1933, postponed the presidential inauguration date to January 20th.
Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott urged Trump to “reconsider his decision to skip Biden’s inauguration”.
Scott, who was among the few Republican senators who voted against confirming Biden’s election victory, said he intended to attend. “It is an important tradition that demonstrates the peaceful transfer of power to our people and the world,” he said.
Speaking to reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said Friday, “It’s a good thing.” Trump will skip the inauguration.
Meanwhile, the January 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol by a group of Trump supporters is a reminder of similar post-Civil War events.
Tear gas is released into a crowd in clashes with Capitol Police as hundreds of protesters crossed security and stopped certifying the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]”We have never had this in our government headquarters,” said Jeremi Suri, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.
“But we have a long history of mob violence in America. We don’t like to talk about that, ”Suri said to Al Jazeera.
Suri compared the invasion of the US Capitol by pro-Trump forces to the “Colfax massacre” in Louisiana in 1873, when a white militia overthrew a democratically elected governor and killed 100 black freedmen.
It was the worst episode of racial and political violence in the post-civil war period, and reflected divisions that resulted in competing electoral rolls being submitted to Congress in the 1876 presidential election.
“It is extremely rare that the Capitol is fully attacked, and even more rare that a president gives it steam,” said Rottinghaus. “In fact, we haven’t seen a significant parallel.”
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’s chamber. Five US officials were injured but recovered. The Puerto Ricans were arrested and imprisoned until 1979.
Bullet holes can still be seen in a wooden desk on the floor of the house, and a bulletproof coating has been placed behind all the seats in the 435-person house to provide protection for members during Wednesday’s mob attack.
A forerunner of recent times was when heavily armed protesters briefly faced police and marched into Michigan’s state capital in March to protest Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order to stay home when the coronavirus pandemic broke out.
There are few other historical comparisons.
The British looted and burned the US Capitol and the White House in 1814 during the so-called “War of 1812” between the newly independent US and Great Britain.
In 1998, a lone gunman shot past a security checkpoint in the U.S. Capitol and reached the entrance to the house majority whip office. The man, later identified as a schizophrenic, exchanged gunfire with a police officer who was killed but the intruder wounded.
In the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks, the US Capitol was evacuated and high-ranking House and Senate leaders were moved to safe rooms after hijacked planes hit the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York.
Security has been tightened and new underground security rooms have been built to keep the guides safe in the event of another such emergency.
After the incident at the Capitol this week that killed five people, the U.S. appears to have shrunk in historical fashion, Rottinghaus said.
“We look like a third-rate power whose capital is vulnerable and whose democracy is in jeopardy,” he said.