WASHINGTON — With a quick and simple swearing-in ceremony at the White House, President Barack Obama ended his first term in office Sunday and embarked on another four years leading a nation hobbled by a weak economy and gripped by political division.
Raising his right hand a few minutes before noon, Obama swore to "faithfully execute the office" and "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution. The ceremony lasted hardly a minute.
The president stood next to his wife, Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Sasha and Malia. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered the 35-word oath, more smoothly than he did four years ago, in front of cameras and a small group of Obama family and friends.
The intimate ceremony was a quirk of the calendar and an adherence to tradition. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution states that a president's term ends at noon Jan. 20. When that date falls on a Sunday, presidents have delayed the public ceremony a day and were sworn in at the White House.
Obama's swearing-in at 11:55 a.m. was just the seventh such event in history to be held before the public ceremony and the first since Ronald Reagan's second inaugural.
Grander affair to come
Obama is due to re-enact his oath-taking before hundreds of thousands at the U.S. Capitol on Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Obama is slated to place his hand on two Bibles Monday, one owned by the slain civil rights leader and another owned by Abraham Lincoln.
That far grander affair will include the poetry and music of past inaugurals and be followed by a parade and night of dancing at the balls.
But the final hours of Obama's first term were filled with quieter moments and personal reflection. The president began his day at Arlington National Cemetery, where he and Vice President Joe Biden, fresh from his own swearing-in ceremony, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
From there, Obama and his wife made a rare visit to a historically black church, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal, the oldest A.M.E. church in the nation's capital.
The first black president, who almost never discusses his own place in history, sat in the pews where 119 years ago congregants listened to Frederick Douglass' last speech, a call for racial and class equality.
"Put away your race prejudice. Banish the idea that one class must rule over another," the former slave said in 1894. "Based upon the eternal principles of truth, justice and humanity, and with no class having any cause of complaint or grievance, your Republic will stand and flourish forever."
Obama's legislative agenda faces plenty of obstacles, most notably a Republican-led House of Representatives that for two years has tried to block Obama's attempts to use government spending to create jobs and to raise taxes on the wealthy. Obama's second-term priorities — an overhaul of the immigration system and gun control measures — face similarly solid opposition.
Obama is expected to reach out to his rivals in his inaugural speech Monday. But the event on Sunday was largely apolitical and personal. Only a small group of family members and friends attended the swearing-in, standing out of the camera's view.
Roberts and Obama proceeded carefully through the oath, the third time the duo have gone through it together. At Obama's first swearing-in in 2009, they tripped on the phrasing and mangled the wording of the oath during the inaugural ceremony. White House lawyers, out of an abundance of caution, later summoned the chief justice to the White House to readminister the oath.
This time, the reading went off without a hitch.
After they finished, Roberts congratulated Obama, who thanked him twice as the two shook hands. Obama next embraced his wife and daughters.
His younger daughter, Sasha, said, "Good job, Daddy," and he replied, "I did it!" only to have her joke, in reference to the problem four years earlier, "You didn't mess up."
Obama laughed as he turned to the pool of reporters and about a dozen relatives, saying, "Thank you, everybody" before exiting the room.
The New York Times contributed to this report.