Presidential inaugurations in historical perspective
A guide to online resources about the history of American presidential inaugurations.
To help your students understand the 2009 inauguration in the context of presidential history, we’ve collected the following resources. Find audio, video, and text of inaugural addresses; view and interact with primary sources; find relevant lesson plans; share trivia about historical inaugurations; discover resources to help students research each U.S. president; and learn how the official theme of the upcoming inauguration is rooted in American history.
Inaugural addresses and oaths of office
- Lincoln is inaugurated
- Full text of Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural speech delivered 4 March 1861, with the nation already on the brink of a civil war. Includes a photograph of the event, background information about the inauguration, and notes written by a historian.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address
- Audio recording, with full text transcript, of FDR’s first inaugural address, delivered 4 March 1933. With the United States in the depths of the Great Depression, Roosevelt used the occasion to declare his plans for the New Deal. During the address, he also uttered one of his most-quoted lines: “… the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (For more historical background about Roosevelt’s speech, and ideas for teaching about it in the context of the New Deal, see the National Archives’ “Teaching with Documents: FDR’s First Inaugural Address.”
- Inaugural addresses of the presidents of the United States, George Washington to George W. Bush
- From Bartleby.com, a listing of every president with links to the full-text version of each inaugural address. Paragraphs are conveniently numbered to facilitate discussion or research.
- Video: 39 Words that Make a President
- Youtube video showing the oaths of office of every president since Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. Approximately 10 minutes.
- Oath-of-office details from the Library of Congress
- For those who really want to delve deeply into the history of the oath of office, the Library of Congress’ American Memory offers these pages:
- Location and person who administered the oath, listed chronologically
- Bibles and Scripture passages used by presidents in taking the oath of office, listed chronologically. Includes references.
Collections and online exhibits
- “I Do Solemnly Swear…” Inaugural Materials from the Collections of the Library of Congress
- This online exhibit features eighteen presidents and consists of over forty items from the Library of Congress, including photographs, manuscripts, campaign posters, letters, broadsides, and inaugural addresses. The digital collection accompanied a physical exhibit that was mounted in 2005.
- “I Do Solemnly Swear…: Presidential Inaugurations
- Similar title, different exhibit. The Library of Congress’ American Memory site offers this online collection of about 400 items, compiling material from the Library of Congress and other institutions. The exhibit includes video of historian Marvin Kranz reviewing the inaugurations of nine presidents, from George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt; and collections of images and documents related to five inaugurations.
Teaching about presidential inaugurations
- Inaugurations, from the American Memory Learning Page
- A supplement to the “I Do Solemnly Swear…: Presidential Inaugurations digital exhibit, this set of resources for teachers spans the history of presidential inaugurations in the U.S., and uses primary sources to teach about them.
- I Do Solemnly Swear: Presidential Inaugurations
- This set of five lesson plans from Edsitement uses archival materials to help students understand the history of and the Constitutional basis for inaugurations and the oath of office. It includes ideas for extending the lessons and links for further reading for both teachers and students.
- The Online NewsHour: Inauguration 2005
- This set of five lesson plans was posted on the PBS website for the 2005 inauguration, but the materials have continuing relevance. Four of the lessons cover historical inaugurations, and the fifth, “The Inauguration and the Media,” is easily adaptable for the 2009 inauguration.
- “Teaching with Documents: FDR’s First Inaugural Address.”
- This lesson plan from the National Archives uses primary sources to teach about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address in the context of the Great Depression and the launch of the New Deal. Students view the manuscript of FDR’s first inaugural address and photographs of New Deal projects, and draw connections between the two.
- A Tale of Two Leaders: Comparing Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Barack Obama
- In this New York Times lesson plan, students compare the economic realities of 1933 with those of today, and then compare the strategies of leaders during the Great Depression with the strategies of today’s leaders.
Trivia and quizzes
- Inauguration of the President: Facts & Firsts
- From the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, a collection of interesting facts and firsts about the inaugurations of 33 presidents.
- Presidential Inaugurations: Some Precedents and Notable Events
- More facts and firsts, from the Library of Congress.
- Inaugural quizzes
- Test your knowledge of inaugural trivia with these quizzes. (Note: These are probably best suited for advanced U.S. history students):
- Presidential 09 Inauguration
- The official website of the 2009 presidential inauguration from the District of Columbia. Includes an events calendar, biographical information about Barack Obama and Joe Biden, photographs of historical inaugurations, fun facts, and links to other inauguration websites.
- “A New Birth of Freedom” — 2009 Inaugural Theme
- The theme of the 2009 presidential inauguration is “A New Birth of Freedom.” This page from the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies explains the historical background of the theme, which celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.
General presidential references
- American President: Resource on the U.S. Presidents
- From the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, a comprehensive reference guide to every president and administration in U.S. history, reviewed by presidential scholars and conveniently grouped into eras. A great jumping-off point for high-school students to begin research.
- Ben’s Guide
- For students in lower grades, or less advanced students, the following pages from Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids offer basic background information about the office of the U.S. President and the men who have held the office, grouped by grade level: