Students will investigate how the Constitution outlines the basis for the presidential
The United States Constitution is the foundation for all aspects of American government.
The writers of the Constitution often left certain issues unanswered or open to
interpretation so that American society could interpret the meaning of the document
as society evolved. When the social and political forces of the day could no longer
accept the final interpretation of the Constitution, then it was up to the Congress,
the states, and ultimately, the people, to change or amend the Constitution to
reflect accurately the political and social culture of the times. The executive
branch has undergone an evolution along with its foundation in the Constitution.
Use the online
hypertext version of the U.S. Constitution (or a text version if the Internet
is unavailable) to locate and list references to the process of inaugurating the
president of the United States.
Answers include the following passages:
ARTICLE II, Section 1, paragraph 7:
Before he enter on the execution of his
office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation:
"I do solemnly
swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of
the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend
the Constitution of the United States."
The terms of the President and Vice-president shall end at noon on the
twentieth day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon
on the third day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended
if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall
2. Talk about the historical context for this language.
Why would an elected president (and an inauguration, symbolizing peaceful transfer
of power) have seemed remarkable to people in 18th century America? What other
elements of national government as established in the Constitution would have
marked a radical departure from the people's previous experiences as colonists,
or in their observations of foreign governments?
3. One of the things clearly
established in the Constitution is a tripartite national government with a clear
balance of power. There are elements of the inauguration ceremony which clearly
symbolize this system of checks and balances.
Have students watch videotape
or a live broadcast of the inauguration. They should take notes, listing evidence
of the three branches of government in the inaugural ceremony. Students may want
to have their papers divided into three columns, with each one headed by the name
of one branch.
Inaugural committee is a joint committee
President and vice-president
Chief Justice swears
takes place before the Capitol.
sets agenda for his administration with inaugural address.
Freedom of speech and press exercised.
Both houses of Congress are present.
Vice-president must be ready to assume the office.
President can be "affirmed" if he objects to oath.
4. Comparative government experts claim that the inauguration stems
from the coronation ceremony extolling kings before the age of democratic rule.
How is the inauguration similar to a coronation? How is it different? What is
the significance of both these ceremonies?
Evaluation: The lesson may
be evaluated through the student's notes taken while viewing the inaugural ceremony,
the student's careful reading of the United States Constitution and identification
of inauguration-related passages, or the student's contributions to class discussion.
1. The inaugural ceremony often includes a poem, which expresses the hopes of
the people at the time of the inauguration and sets a tone for the new president's
time in office. If you were elected president, what kind of message would be important
to deliver during your inaugural ceremony? Write a poem suitable for the occasion,
or make a list of published poems you might incorporate into such a ceremony.
2. Research the transfer of leadership in other countries. What special
ceremonies occur? Possibilities might include the coronation of Queen Elizabeth
II in the 1950s, the recent election of Vicente Fox in Mexico, or the coronation
of Emperor Akihito in 1990.