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The Inauguration of the President

This week marks the Inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. On the steps of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. on January 20, Donald J. Trump will assume the office of president, and all of the power and responsibility that goes along with that office. The ceremony that confers the title of president is full of pomp, ceremony, and serious constitutional obligations. It marks the official transition of power from one administration to the next. In many ways, the ceremony itself highlights the republican nature of the United States government.

The transition of power between governments is not unique to the United States.  Most countries with recognized governments have some sort of ceremony that recognizes the conferring of power upon the government. In monarchies, this ceremony is known as the coronation.  A coronation is an ancient ceremony which puts great emphasis upon ritual, form, and tradition.

On June 2, 1953, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was crowned as Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms at Westminster Abbey in London. She came to power upon the death of her father, King George VI. Her ceremony epitomized the royal proceedings of a coronation.

In this eLesson, students will observe Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in the U.K along with the Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy Jr. in the U.S.  They will explore the two ceremonies and analyze why they are significant to understanding the differences between republican and monarchical principles.


The Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, June 2, 1953 (Watch from 38:41 – 42:20)
The Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961 (Watch from 16:20 – 18:37)


Directions: Play the clips of the following two videos to your class and have them answer the observation questions below. Then, as a class, discuss the similarities and differences between the two ceremonies using the discussion questions as a guide.

The Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, June 2, 1953 (Watch from 38:41 – 42:20)
The Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy Jr., January 20, 1961 (Watch from 16:20 – 18:37)

Observation Questions:

  1. What is the setting for each ceremony?
  2. What seems to be the mood of the ceremony? Solemn? Celebratory? Anxious?
  3. What is the attire of those present?
  4. How are the wordings of their oaths or declarations of duties different?
  5. How are they similar?
  6. Are there any symbols or emblems of power present? If so, what? What are they representing?
  7. Which ceremony seems to have more people directly involved in the ceremony?
  8. Who administers the oath of office to President Kennedy? Why is this significant?
  9. Who is guiding Queen Elizabeth through the coronation? Why is this significant?
  10. How do the people at the center of these ceremonies, President Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II, seen to act?
  11. Are their roles in the ceremonies different?
  12. What do these differences say about the governments they represent?
  13. In President Kennedy’s Inaugural, he shakes hand with his predecessor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Why is this action significant?
  14. President’s Kennedy and Eisenhower represented different political parties. How does this help reinforce the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America?

Discussion questions:

  1. What does it mean that the President swears an oath, not to the people, but to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States?
  2. How does each ceremony represent where they derive their power from? The consent of the governed for the president and the divine right of God for the queen.
  3. What is the purpose of these ceremonies? How do they ensure the peaceful transition of power in each country?
  4. Is it significant that both of these ceremonies are performed in public?
  5. What do the crown and throne represent for the Queen? Is there anything similar for the President?
  6. How does the setting for these ceremonies represent the source of their respective government’s power? The U.S. Capitol for the President and Westminster Abbey for the Queen.
  7. The very first act of John F. Kennedy as President of the United States is an address to the nation. How is this representative of a republican government?
  8. What is significant about the fact that Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was in 1953, and that President Trump is the twelfth American president since 1953?
  9. Compare the principles of American republican government in the Inauguration and the monarchical principles of the coronation in the United Kingdom.
  10. Elections can be divisive. In the clip of President Kennedy’s Inauguration, the President is seen shaking the hand of former Vice President Richard Nixon, his rival for the office. Why is an act of unity like this important to the ceremony? Would there ever be something similar in a coronation?

Homework: Have your students watch the Inauguration of  President-elect Donald Trump on January 20 and answer the observation questions below. Lead a conversation with your class to discuss their observations.

Observation Questions:

  1. How was this Inauguration similar to that for President Kennedy?
  2. How was this Inauguration different?
  3. Who is present at the Inauguration? Both officially and in the audience?
  4. The election cycle this year was very heated. How does the inauguration show that despite differences of parties and ideas, there is a peaceful transfer of power and unity in American Government?
  5. What symbols are present at the inaugural?
  6. What are people wearing and how are they acting?
  7. What is the overall mood?
  8. What oaths are taken and by whom?
  9. What happens following the ceremony?
  10. Where does the ceremony conclude?