WASHINGTON -- Stepping into history, Barack Hussein Obama grasps the reins of power as America's first black president in a high-noon inauguration amid grave economic worries and high expectations.
A photographer takes pictures of the US Capitol building on the eve of the inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th President of the United States, January 19, 2009. [Agencies]
Braving icy temperatures and possible snow flurries, hundreds of thousands of people descended on the heavily guarded capital city Tuesday for the first change of administrations since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The capital city, a quick starter on even the most ordinary of days, took on the kind of frenetic predawn life rarely seen. The streets were becoming populated well before daybreak, and competition for space on the Metro subway system was fierce. Several suburban parking lots for subway riders were filled to capacity well before 6 a.m.
Two years after beginning his improbable quest as a little-known, first-term Illinois senator with a foreign-sounding name, Obama moves into the Oval Office as the nation's fourth youngest president, at 47, and the first African-American, a racial barrier-breaking achievement believed impossible by generations of minorities.
Around the world, Obama's election electrified millions with the hope that America will be more embracing, more open to change.
The dawn of the new Democratic era, with Obama allies in charge of both houses of Congress, ends eight years of Republican control of the White House by George W. Bush. He leaves Washington as one of the nation's most unpopular and divisive presidents, the architect of two unfinished wars and the man in charge at a time of economic calamity that swept away many Americans' jobs, savings, homes and dreams, leaving behind a sickening feeling of insecurity.
The unfinished business of the Bush administration thrusts an enormous burden onto Obama's shoulders. Pre-inauguration polls show Americans believe Obama is on track to succeed and are confident he can turn the economy around. He has cautioned that improvements will take time and that things will get worse before they get better.
Culminating four days of celebration, the script for Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden at the nation's 56th inauguration was to begin with a traditional morning worship service at St. John's Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House, and end with dancing and partying at 10 inaugural balls lasting deep into the night.
By custom, Obama and his wife, Michelle, were invited to the White House for coffee with Bush and his wife, Laura, followed by a shared ride in a sleek, heavily armored Cadillac limousine to the US Capitol for the transfer of power, an event flashed around the world in television and radio broadcasts, podcasts and Internet streaming. On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney pulled a muscle in his back, leaving him in a wheelchair for the inauguration.
Before noon, Obama steps forward on the West Front of the Capitol to lay his left hand on the same Bible that President Abraham Lincoln used at his first inauguration in 1861. The 35-word oath of office, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts, has been uttered by every president since George Washington. Obama was one of 22 Democratic senators to vote against Roberts' confirmation to the Supreme Court in 2005.
The son of a Kansas-born mother and Kenya-born father, Obama decided to use his full name in the swearing-in ceremony.
The Constitution says the clock -- not the pomp, ceremony and oaths -- signals the transfer of the office from the old president to the new one.
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution specifies that the terms of office of the president and vice president "shall end at noon on the 20th day of January ... and the terms of their successors shall then begin."