Twenty-eight-year-old Naomi Biden married twenty-five-year-old Peter Neal on the south lawn, at the White House, on Saturday, November 19, 2022, beginning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time.
Because there was no tent, and because the temperature was a chilly 39 degrees, some 250 guests received shawls, hand-warmers, and blankets once they arrived. They also checked in their cell phones.
The President and First Lady Jill Biden hosted the ceremony, and the family paid for the wedding.
At a few minutes after 11:00 a.m., the bride’s father, Hunter Biden, and her mother, Kathleen Buhle, walked alongside their daughter on a white carpet leading from the White House’s south door to a point on the south lawn, where two officiants completed the ceremony a few minutes before noon.
That evening inside the White House, some 325 guests attended a reception that featured desserts and dancing.
The President said, “It has been a joy to watch Naomi grow, discover who she is, and carve out such an incredible life for herself.” The next day, Sunday, November 20, Joe Biden turned 80 years old, the first octogenarian to serve as President of the United States.
This was the nineteenth wedding held at the White House, although a first for a granddaughter and a first held on the south lawn.
A wedding that could have been—and perhaps should have been—held at the White House was when Franklin Delano Roosevelt wed his fifth cousin, once removed, Eleanor Roosevelt, niece of the then current President, Theodore Roosevelt. The day was March 17, 1905.
Instead, it was held in New York City, in Mrs. Henry Parrish’s home, Eleanor’s aunt.
On December 7, 1892, when Eleanor was eight years old, she lost her mother due to an outbreak of diphtheria. Two years later, when ten, her father Elliot Roosevelt died of a seizure, due to his prolonged alcoholism. Eleanor’s maternal grandmother, Mary Livingston Hall, stepped in and raised Eleanor.
Elliot Roosevelt was Theodore’s younger brother. Hence, the President was fond of Eleanor, a niece.
The wedding was set for March 17, because the President was scheduled to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City that same day. At the wedding, the President walked Eleanor down the aisle, and gave her away. This was news for the city’s news reporters.
Theodore though was a master at self-promotion. His daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth remarked, “My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding, and the baby at every christening.”
Eleanor and Franklin’s marriage held fast, even after she discovered that Franklin was having an affair with her social secretary Lucy Mercer. A historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, said, “Their union from that point on was more of a political partnership.”
Eleanor wrote opinion columns and gave speeches in person and on the radio, and in her media announcements, she championed the rights of women and African-Americans.
On Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, the White House received word that at 8:00 a.m., Honolulu time, Japanese air forces had bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, killed hundreds of American sailers and destroyed the Pacific fleet, save for the aircraft carriers, then out at sea.
Because Eleanor was scheduled to give her weekly radio program that same evening, “Over Our Coffee Cups,” she decided that she would speak first to the American people about the Pearl Harbor attack, before her husband, the president, did so. She told the American people,
“I am speaking to you tonight at a very serious moment in our history. The Cabinet is convening, and the leaders in Congress are meeting with the President. The State Department and the Army and Navy officials have been with the President all afternoon.
“In fact, the Japanese ambassador was talking to the president at the very time that Japan’s airships were bombing our citizens in Hawaii.
“For months now the knowledge that something of this kind might happen has been hanging over our heads, and yet it seemed impossible to believe. That is over now, and there is no more uncertainty. We know what we have to face, and we know we are ready to face it.
“We must go about our daily business more determined than ever to do ordinary things well.”
The next day President Franklin Roosevelt addressed Congress, and asked for a declaration of war. He said, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
“But always will our whole Nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.”
The vote was 82-0 in the Senate, and 388-1 in the House. Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, the first woman elected to Congress, and a pacifist voted against a declaration of war.
FDR and Eleanor faced hard times: a Depression and a war with Japan and Germany. Yet, they had Theodore Roosevelt’s presence and blessing at their wedding, and Naomi Biden and Peter Neal had the presence and blessing of the current president at their wedding. We can wish the young couple well.
Bill Benson, of Sterling, is a dedicated historian.