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Presidential Inaugurations, Past and Present

Summary

Every four years, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, the newly-elected President of the United States is inaugurated. This event not only includes the president taking the oath of office, but also provides the opportunity for the new President to lay out the direction he hopes to take the country. By analyzing historic texts and visuals, students can find common themes as well as important differences when comparing different inaugurations.

 

Handouts :

Handout A: Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address Excerpts

Handout B: Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address Excerpts

Handout C: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address Excerpts

Handout D: John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration Image

Handout E: George W. Bush Second Inauguration Image

Handout F: Graphic Organizer

Directions:

Have students fill out Handout F: Graphic Organizer as they read and view each handout. Then have them answer the comprehension questions below.

Comprehension Question

  1. The two major features of an inauguration are the president taking the Oath of Office, as well as the inaugural address. Article II, Section 1, Clause 8 lays out the Oath of Office, which reads, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. What do you notice in the images of presidents taking the oath of office? Are there any differences?

Analysis Questions

  1. Compare and contrast reading an inaugural address with watching a video of an inaugural address. What do you think are the benefits/disadvantages of reading the speech? What do you think are the benefits/disadvantages of hearing the speech?
  2. The president usually dedicates part of the inaugural address to laying out a policy agenda for the upcoming term in office. Where do you note this in the excerpts included in this lesson? Why do you think they do this at the inauguration?
  3. A president will generally either use the inaugural address to unify the country, and/or further galvanize support for upcoming policy proposals.  How might this reflect their historic context?

Extensions

  1. Extension I : Watch or listen to the Inauguration address of President-elect Joe Biden. How does his speech reflect the current historic moment? How is his speech similar or different from inauguration speeches of previous presidents?
  2. Extension II : The Bill of Rights Institute’s Think the Vote platform gives students a chance to engage with current event topics in a civil manner with other students. We give away a variety of prizes to winning students, including a chance to win $1,000. Referring teachers also will win prizes of their own. This week’s question asks students: How Can Americans Best Contest Perceived Flaws in a Constitutional System of Government?