Inaugural Addresses and Presidential Poetry

Working with Inauguration Speeches

President Abraham Lincoln’s First Inauguration Day

 Since the inauguration of our first president, George Washington, U.S. presidents have begun their presidency by taking the oath of office and addressing the nation. Many of the speeches given have offered challenges to our citizens, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country” (John F. Kennedy),  set the standard for the nation, “…[A] free people must choose to shape the forces of the information age and the global society, to unleash the limitless potential of all our people, and form a more perfect union,” (William J. Clinton) and offered advice on how to confront problems of the times, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (Franklin D. Roosevelt).

On the following pages are several inaugural speeches. Work with one or more to complete the list of activities outlined below. Use the suggested websites to research additional speeches. 

  • Review several speeches to determine how presidents put forth their agenda for their administrations.
  • Read through the inauguration addresses to see how presidents consider the historical moments in front of them. How do they present what needs to be done and how they will go about doing it?
  • What challenges have been put forth for the American people in the speeches you have selected?
  • How do presidents address the mood of the nation in their speeches?
  • After reading one or two speeches, write your own inaugural address for this current period of history or select another time in U.S. history.
  • Discuss the important aspects of President Obama’s speech. Use the internet to obtain some of his campaign speeches and see how his inauguration speech addresses some of the points he talked about throughout his campaign. Has he addressed other concerns? What challenges has he put forth for the American people?
  • Select another presidential speech and compare it with the address given by President Obama. How are they the same? How are they different? How different are the set of issues faced by your selection with those issues being faced by President Obama.
  • Research and make a collection of presidential quotes offered in inaugural speeches.
  • The 20th Amendment of the Constitution stipulates the date of transfer from one president to another. Read the amendment. Research how transfer of power is observed in other countries.
  • Read through the excerpts from several inaugural speeches that follow. Choose one excerpt and conduct research on the events of the time and write an essay on the political, social and economic conditions of the time and note how the president addressed the issues of the day.