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The Inauguration and the Constitution

Topic
Instructional Objectives
Background Information
Activities
Evaluation
Extension Ideas

Topic

Students will investigate how the Constitution outlines the basis for the presidential inauguration.

Instructional Objectives

By using the activities of this lesson, the students will:

  1. list the sections of the Constitution that determine the elements of the inauguration;
  2. determine how the inauguration symbolizes the peaceful transition of power in a democratic republic;
  3. relate the elements of the inauguration to the powers of the president as listed in the Constitution.

Background Information

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.

Activities

  1. Use the online hypertext version of the U.S. Constitution (or a text version if the Internet is unavailbale) 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."

    Amendment 20:

    Section 1.
    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 then begin.

  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.

    Legislative

    Executive

    Judicial

    Inaugural committee is a joint committee in Congress. President and vice-president take power. Chief Justice swears officers in.
    Ceremony takes place before the Capitol. President 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 following measures:

  1. the student's notes taken while viewing the inaugural ceremony;
  2. the student's careful reading of the United States Constitution and identification of inauguration-related passages;
  3. the student's contributions to class discussion.

Extension Ideas

  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.