Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, calling on the American people to unite and “end this uncivil war.”
President Biden took the oath of office on the steps of the US Capitol building, just two weeks after it was the target of a violent siege by supporters of his predecessor Donald Trump.
The pared down ceremony, which was attended by around a thousand invited guests, was subject to unprecedented security measures, with much of downtown Washington DC closed to traffic and patrolled by members of the National Guard.
In his inaugural speech, Biden called for America to come together, promising: “I will be a President for all Americans – all Americans. And I promise you I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.”
The President promised he will be “thinking not of power but possibilities, not of personal interest but the public good”.
And seeking to differentiate himself from his predecessor, he said: “I give you my word, I will always level with you.”
Biden was sworn in by John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, on the Biden family bible – a five-inch thick tome which has been in his family for 127 years.
He took the oath on the same holy book twice as Vice President, and for every time he was sworn in as a senator since 1973.
“My whole soul is in this,” he said. “Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation.
“And I ask every American to join me in this cause.”
And he echoed comments made in the victory speech he gave in November, calling for a lowering of the temperature of political debate in the United States.
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path,” he said.
After taking the oath around 11 minutes ahead of schedule, Biden said: “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”
“Through a crucible for the ages America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge,” he said.
“Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate but of a cause – the cause of democracy.
“The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded.
“Democracy is fragile, democracy is precious and at this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
He thanked his predecessors of both parties who attended his swearing in – which notably did not include outgoing President Donald Trump
He went on: “Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging than we are in now.”
Coronavirus, he said, “has taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War Two.”
Biden paused during his remarks for a moment of silence in memory of the 400,000 Americans killed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said his administration would answer “a cry for racial justice 400 years in the making”, adding: “The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.”
Opening the ceremony, Senator Amy Klobuchar said: “Two weeks ago when an angry violent mob staged an insurrection and desecrated our temple of democracy it awakened us.
“This is the day our democracy picks itself up and does what America always does.”
Lady Gaga sang the US National Anthem dressed in a dramatic black and red dress with an enormous gold brooch.
Jennifer Lopez performed ‘This Land is Your Land’ and ‘America the Beautiful’.
Outgoing President Donald Trump chose not to attend the ceremony, and has still not officially conceded that he lost last year’s bitter and divisive election.
He became only the third President to choose not to attend his successor’s inauguration – and one of only two living former President not on the Capitol steps to see President Biden take the oath.
Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were all in attendance, as were former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton.
Jimmy Carter, now aged 96, sent his apologies.
Instead, Trump held a leaving ceremony of his own at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, before being flown on Air Force One to Florida to begin his retirement.
Trump told supporters “we will be back in some form” in a rambling, incoherent farewell speech in front of a sparse crowd at the airfield.
Following his victory in November, Biden promised to be a President “for all Americans” – aiming to heal the divides riven through the nation during four years of unprecedented tumult under Trump.
Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris made history as the first woman and the first person of colour to become Vice President.
She was sworn in by Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was the first Hispanic and Latina member of the Supreme Court.
Arriving on the Capitol steps with husband Doug Emhoff – the first ‘Second Gentleman’ – Vice President Harris greeted former President Barack Obama with a double fist-bump.
In 2017, the Trump administration began with a furious and fabulist fight about crowd sizes, as the President desperate to be more popular than his predecessor claimed more people had watched his inauguration than Barack Obama’s.
Four years on, there was no crowd on the National Mall to see Biden’s inauguration. Instead, almost 200,000 flags were arranged along the Mall, representing Americans who couldn’t attend.
The public art display, called the ‘Field of Flags’ was designed with 56 pillars of light to symbolise all 50 states and US territories.
Last night, Biden and Harris attended a moving vigil outside the Lincoln memorial, commemorating the now 400,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19 during the pandemic.
Some 400 white columns were illuminated around the reflecting pool, as Grammy-winning gospel singer Yolanda Adams sang Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ and Washington’s National Cathedral tolled a mournful bell.
An invocation was read by Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Archbishop of Washington, and Lori Marie Key — a Michigan Covid-19 nurse who became famous for singing ‘Amazing Grace’ during a shift change sang the hymn again.
Iconic structures across the United States, including the Empire State Building, were lit up in solidarity during the memorial service, and the public were encouraged to light candles in their windows and ring bells to mark the moment.
Biden served for eight years as Vice President under Barack Obama – after launching several White House bids of his own going back to 1987.
But his 47-year career in public office has been peppered with tragedy.
The week before Christmas in 1972 – just weeks after he was first elected to the Senate – Biden’s wife Neilia and daughter Naomi were killed in a car accident. His sons, Beau and Hunter, survived.
Biden took the oath of office for the first time in a hospital so he could remain by his children’s bedside.
In 1977, he married Jill Jacobs, whom he had met on a blind date. Four years later they had a daughter, Ashley.
As First Lady, Dr Jill Biden intends to keep her job as a professor of English.