Presidential Inaugurations


"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."
—Presidential oath of office, Article II, Section 1, United States Constitution

Since George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States of America, the events surrounding the inauguration ceremony have become more and more spectacular. Luncheons, parades, balls, speeches, and even full blown concerts have come to represent the scene in the nation’s capitol during our nation’s peaceful transfer of power. Early inaugurations were broadcast via the printing and distribution of inaugural addresses, next came radio transmissions, then televised coverage of the main event. For the most recent inauguration of Barack Obama, we saw official media coverage and could stream, download, email, blog, tweet, browse and completely digitally immerse ourselves in the events that spanned several days. Such an event is inevitably going to send a message to the rest of the world about our representative democracy. What message have past inaugurations sent? As you investigate the documents, images, and audio files provided, keep in mind the following question:

Question: Have Inauguration Day ceremonies effectively embodied the principles of the US Constitution?

Introduction to Collection:

Most of the documents in this kit have been provided by the Library of Congress’ collection: "I Do Solemnly Swear . . .” The documents and images in this kit will provide snippets from many different presidential inaugurations from George Washington to Barack Obama. The collection is meant to be viewed as a whole so that America’s overall concept of inauguration ceremonies can be analyzed in comparison to the principles of the Constitution. The Library of Congress’ collection of over 400 items can be viewed in its entirety at:

Standards: NCSS Theme IV – Power, Authority, and Governance

High School Knowledge Objectives: Students will understand the fundamental principles of American constitutional democracy: popular sovereignty, the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances, minority rights, separation of church and state, Federalism, the common good, liberty, justice, equality, and individual dignity.


A partnership between the College of William & Mary School of Education, the University of Kentucky College of Education,
and the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program