A look back to when a Minnesotan was sworn in to the White House

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This MPR News with Tom Weber feature takes a look back to January 20th, 1977, when Minnesota’s Walter Mondale was sworn in as the Vice President of the United States. Segment includes interview excerpts, descriptions of Inauguration Day, and audio of the complete swearing in of Mondale.

Transcripts

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TOM WEBER: This is MPR News, I'm Tom Weber.

SPEAKER 1: CBS News coverage of the presidential inauguration continues. This portion is sponsored by your savings and loan association, your family financial center. Here again are Walter Cronkite and Roger Mudd.

WALTER CRONKITE: Roger, I think we're--

TOM WEBER: Tomorrow, January 20, is inauguration day. The audio there is from inauguration day 1977, 40 years ago, when Minnesotan Walter Mondale was sworn in to be the nation's vice president.

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: I, Walter F. Mondale, solemnly swear--

TOM WEBER: Now, of course, the center of attention for inauguration day wasn't Mondale as much as it was Jimmy Carter being sworn in as president.

JIMMY CARTER: I, Jimmy Carter, do solemnly swear--

TOM WEBER: Carter spoke in his inauguration speech of a new spirit for the country, then did the thing that most people who were alive remember from that day, he walked the length of the parade route from the Capitol to the White House instead of staying in a limousine. But because the history books fittingly focus on the presidential, let's not leave this 40th anniversary without taking a few minutes to remember the vice president's moment on inauguration day.

Because of Watergate and other scandals earlier in the '70s Walter Mondale, 40 years ago, became the fourth vice president this nation had in four years. The ceremony that January day with temperatures around 28 degrees happened on the East Portico of the US Capitol, that was the last time an inauguration was held there. They have all since been on the West Portico, the side facing the National Mall.

There are a few differences in how the vice president and president are sworn in. For one, the Chief Justice of the United States always administers the oath of office to the president, but vice presidents get to pick who swears them in. In recent history, they've usually picked another Supreme Court justice. Joe Biden has taken two oaths of office, one from John Paul Stevens the other from Sonia Sotomayor. But Mondale noted in a recent interview he went to the legislative branch.

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: And I called Tip, who was an old friend, and asked him if he'd swore me in. And he, of course, was glad to do it. And there we were.

SPEAKER 2: The Speaker of the House of Representatives, the honorable Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. will now administer the oath of office to the vice president-elect.

THOMAS PHILLIP O'NEILL JR.: Walter F. Mondale, citizen of the state of Minnesota, duly elected vice president of the United States, are you ready to take that oath of office?

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: I am.

TOM WEBER: The other difference on inauguration day is the actual oath, the oath of office for the president is spelled out in the US Constitution. But Congress had to figure out what the vice president should say. And so in 1884, they said the VP should swear the same oath that is given to members of Congress. The VP after all is president of the US Senate. Here is the entire oath that Mondale swore that day.

THOMAS PHILLIP O'NEILL JR.: I, Walter F. Mondale, solemnly swear--

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: I, Walter F. Mondale, solemnly swear--

THOMAS PHILLIP O'NEILL JR.: That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States--

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States--

THOMAS PHILLIP O'NEILL JR.: Against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: Against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

THOMAS PHILLIP O'NEILL JR.: That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.

THOMAS PHILLIP O'NEILL JR.: That I take this obligation freely--

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: That I take this obligation freely--

THOMAS PHILLIP O'NEILL JR.: Without mental reservation or purpose of evasion.

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: Without mental reservation or purpose of evasion.

THOMAS PHILLIP O'NEILL JR.: And that I will well and faithfully discharge--

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: That I will well and faithfully discharge--

THOMAS PHILLIP O'NEILL JR.: The duties of the office which I am about to enter.

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: The duties of the office which I'm about to enter.

THOMAS PHILLIP O'NEILL JR.: So help me God.

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: So help me God. Thank you. It was a huge day for me, but for many, many others for Minnesota, and for my friends, and for many, many people, it was a big day. And so big that it kind of got away from me. I don't know how to explain that, but I-- during part of the day, I wasn't sure if I was fully hooked up with its significance. But in any event, it worked out.

TOM WEBER: The ceremony included other pomp and circumstances to be expected. Two other Minnesotans were on the dais that day as well-- well, three actually. Joan Mondale, the new second lady, stood next to Walter Mondale as he took the oath. The nation's chief justice at the time was Warren Burger, who grew up in St. Paul.

WARREN BURGER: Would you place your left hand on the Bible and raise your right hand and repeat after me?

TOM WEBER: He administered the oath to President Carter.

JIMMY CARTER: I, Jimmy Carter, do solemnly swear--

TOM WEBER: And then after Carter's speech, Twin Cities Archbishop John Roach gave the benediction.

JOHN ROACH: May we join in prayer. God our Father, we thank you now for this Earth.

TOM WEBER: Roach's voice is picked up by the microphones after his prayer telling the new president I'm so proud of you and telling Carter's daughter, Amy, you're a dear. The inauguration parade, which again featured President Carter walking the route and making a little history and doing so, saw the new vice president only kind of following suit.

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: President told me what he and Rosalynn were going to do, they're going to walk down the avenue and walk into the White House. And that's what they did. And I said, well, I think that Joan and I will ride. So we had the car and we would ride for a while, and walk for a while, and ride for a while. And we were more-- we were more directed that way I would say.

WARREN BURGER: Vice President and Mrs. Mondale waved to the crowd as they passed by.

TOM WEBER: As the parade started, third in line was the high school band from Elmore, Minnesota, Mondale's boyhood home. He had invited the band, which at 51 members, was the smallest in the inauguration parade. An Associated Press article from January 1977 tells of the small community of 1,400 raising more than $13,000 to pay for the band's trip. They raised funds with a dance, an auction, and a carnival at the school, and a nearby radio station KBEW in Blue Earth raised pledges.

Elmore was Mondale's boyhood home, but he was actually born in Ceylon, about 30 miles away. And on the day of the inauguration, NPR reporter Dale Connelly went to Ceylon and talked to people there.

DALE CONNELLY: I wanted to stop there, but I had an appointment at the post office, so I drove on passing under two banners stretched across main street, proclaiming Ceylon, Minnesota, birthplace of Vice President Walter Mondale.

SPEAKER 3: It's just really recently that people are beginning to be a little bit more excited about it. They were before, but you perhaps notice the banners across the main street. And we are all remembering that next spring we should take good care of our yards and clean up the town because even the week of the convention, someone came through and stopped at the cafe and wondered where the parsonage was where Fritz lived.

SPEAKER 4: Several people have come through town coming through on I-90 and seeing the sign that goes to Ceylon, and dropped off and had their pictures taken in front of the church and the parsonage.

SPEAKER 5: And my one regret is that his parents couldn't live to know. His mother did know when he became a United States Senator. But it would have been wonderful if she could have lived.

TOM WEBER: Looking back 40 years later, Mondale's most vivid memory of the day happened while he was on the reviewing platform watching all the bands go by.

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: And this young man coming up to me he said, you know, I'm with the Secret Service and we are to take you now to your office in the White House. That was really big for me because somehow I never really settled in on the fact that from now on, I would be-- for four years, I'd be in the White House.

But I went with them and we went through a little special trapdoor or something in the gate system around the White House and walked into my office-- what was to be my office then for four years, trying to figure out what to make of it.

TOM WEBER: His memoir, The Good Fight, picks up the story and says, quote, "When we reached my office, the walls were bare and a few boxes sat on the floor. It was all new, unknown, fun, and absolutely scary. I said, OK, what happens next?" So what are Mondale's plans for tomorrow's inauguration of President Trump?

WALTER FREDERICK MONDALE: I'll watch some of it, but you know, I'll be respectful.

TOM WEBER: That's Walter Mondale, 40 years ago tomorrow, he was sworn in as the nation's 42nd vice president. There's one other postscript to this story in terms of how it affected Minnesota politics. Mondale was a US Senator when he was elected and had to resign to become vice president. So in November 1976, just a few days after Carter and Mondale were elected, Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson held this news conference to announce his plans for who he would appoint to that open Senate seat, himself.

WENDELL ANDERSON: When Senator Fritz Mondale assumes his duties as vice president of the United States, a vacancy will occur in one of our Minnesota seats in the Senate. It is my intention to represent the people of Minnesota in the United States Senate for the next two years.

[APPLAUSE]

I didn't realize they wanted us to leave that badly. It is my hope and my prayer that the quality of my work in the Senate will earn the support of the people of Minnesota for election to a full term in 1978.

TOM WEBER: You might know this story by now, the voters did not do that. Democrats who had held the governorship in both US Senate seats lost all three seats to Republicans in an election that some columnists hyperbolically called the Minnesota massacre. Republicans called it a big win, something they would experience again two years later when Ronald Reagan and George Bush swept into the White House and turned away Carter and Mondale.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

That's Walter Mondale reflecting on 40 years, 40 years tomorrow. Tomorrow is inauguration day, and you won't hear this show during the 11 o'clock hour because the 11 o'clock hour in Washington will be noon. And according to the Constitution, that's when the new president will be taking office. Live coverage from NPR all morning tomorrow of the inauguration.

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