Media Resource

Four More Years: Presidential Inaugurations

2013 Presidential Inauguration
Photo caption

2013 Presidential Inauguration, West Steps of the U.S. Capitol.

This episode of BackStory explores the history of presidential inaugurations and pays particular attention to the historical significance of specific transitions during contentious times in U.S. history. 

Audio file

A full transcript of the episode is available at the BackStory website.

Washington's Diamond Shoes (00:00-10:30)

The first segment of this episode looks at the first inauguration and how the decisions made by the first President of the United States, George Washington, influenced how the country viewed the person and the office.

Discussion Questions:

  • What does the opening anecdote about William Maclay and George Washington tell us about the new concept of a president?
  • Why did George Washington place such importance on his decisions as the first President of the United States?
  • Who organized the first presidential inauguration and what happened?
  • How did Thomas Jefferson's inauguration differ from George Washington's?
Dude, Where's My Coat (10:31-12:43)

This segment looks at the transition, and the weather, for the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why did George H.W. Bush request to wear an overcoat?
  • How important is appearance when making an inaugural address?
Greatest Address? (12:44-18:48)

Examine the political and historical significance of President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address with this segment of BackStory and the EDSITEment activity on his speeches entitled Lincoln on the American Union: A Word Fitly Spoken

Discussion Questions:

  • What was happening in the U.S. at the time of President Lincoln's second inauguration?
  • What did Lincoln mean when he said "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 a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations"?
  • How does this inaugural address compare with other addresses delivered in times of war? Consider the following speeches:

Woodrow Wilson's Second Inaugural Address (March, 1917)
Franklin D. Roosevelt's Third Inaugural Address (January, 1941)
Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fourth Inaugural Address (January, 1945)
Lyndon B. Johnson's Inaugural Address (January, 1965)
Richard M. Nixon's First Inaugural Address (January, 1969)
George W. Bush's Second Inaugural Address (January, 2005)

Inaugurations of a Rebel President (18:49-26:37)

This segment examines the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy in 1861. 

Discussion Questions:

  • How does the event and Davis's speech compare to the inauguration and speech by President Lincoln in Washington, D.C.?
  • Why was Jefferson Davis inaugurated on February 22nd?
  • What did Davis's subsequent inaugural addresses focus on and why?
Inaugural Technology (26:38-31:16)

Examine how communication technology has effected presidential inaugurations and how presidents connect with the American public.

Discussion Questions:

  • Compare the discussion in this segment about the broadcasting of President Hoover's address on the radio with subsequent inaugurations in U.S. history with particular attention to the audio and visual components of the events.
  • How have changes in technology effected presidential inaugurations over time?
A Call for Wild Inaugurals (31:17-36:17)

Did a newly inaugurated president have to escape a party through a White House window?

Discussion Questions:

  • Why is President Andrew Jackson's 1829 inauguration memorable?
  • What else happens on Inauguration Day besides the Oath of Office and the inaugural address?
Hayes vs. Tilden (36:18-48:28)

Learn about the contentious inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes and why the U.S. military was called to guard against a counter-inauguration. 

Discussion Questions:

  • What is the historical significance of the election of 1876?
  • Why was the 1877 presidential inauguration contested?
  • What is meant by a "peaceful transition of power" when referring to the inauguration of a new U.S. President?
About BackStory

Founded in 2008, BackStory is a weekly podcast that explores the historical roots of current events. Hosted by a team of historians of the United States, the show features interviews with other scholars and public historians, seeking to bring U.S. history to life. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the show do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Learn more at the BackStory website.