Inauguration Day is the federal holiday set aside as the beginning of the new presidential term. The main and only requirement of the day is for the president to take the oath of office, though there are a number of other activities that occur. Originally, Inauguration Day was on March 4th, the day the U.S. Constitution took effect. Since the Twentieth Amendment took effect in 1933, Inauguration Day has been January 20th or 21st, if the 20th falls on a Sunday.
Article Two, Section One, Clause Eight of the Constitution includes the wording of the oath of office:
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.
The President may substitute the word “affirm” for “swear.” It is believed the Framers of the Constitution included this option because of the Quaker literal interpretation of a passage in the New Testament to not use swear words.
Certain elements of the inaugural ceremony are steeped in tradition but are not a requirement for taking the oath of office. George Washington took the oath of office with his left hand on a Bible, and his right hand raised. After saying the oath, he kissed the Bible. Many presidents after followed this example. John Quincy Adams took the oath with his hand on a book of law. When President Obama took the oath of office in 2013, he uttered the words, “So help me God” at the end. It is believed that President Washington started this tradition, though historians are not sure about it.
After taking the oath of office, the U.S. President gives his speech, the Inaugural Address. The form and words have changed greatly over time. Below are excerpts of a few addresses:
Excerpt from President Washington’s First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789:
Having thus imparted to you my sentiments as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race in humble supplication that, since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessing may be equally 'conspicuous' in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.
Excerpt from President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Excerpt from President Franklin Roosevelt’s Third Inaugural Address, January 20, 1941:
In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy.
For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America.
We do not retreat. We are not content to stand still. As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.
Excerpt from President John Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
Excerpt from President Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981
If we look to the answer as to why, for so many years, we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.
Interesting Questions to Discuss with your Kids and Student:
1. What is inauguration day?
2. When does it take place?
3. What did Washington put his left hand on when he took the oath of office?
4. What four words did President Obama utter after he took the oath of office?
5. What is the Inaugural Address?
6. Who is Washington referring to in his Inaugural Address when he states “since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility?”
7. Paraphrase the following section from Lincoln’s speech: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,”
8. Paraphrase the following from Roosevelt’s speech: “As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.”
9. John F. Kennedy spoke about the challenging of fighting communism in the following quote, “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it.” Based on this quote, what was his intention in this challenge?
10. According to Ronald Reagan, why has America prospered?
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