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The Inaugural Speech: Setting the Tone for the Administration of a President

Instructional Objectives
Background Information
Extension Ideas


Students will compare the inaugural addresses of George H.W. Bush (1989) and George W. Bush (2001).

Instructional Objectives

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

  1. review some of the key historical events and political issues discussed in inaugural addresses;

  2. analyze the language and style used by two presidents;

  3. evaluate the effectiveness of the inaugural addresses of two presidents.

Background Information

George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, was sworn into office on January 20, 1989. Bush's term in office followed eight years of service as President Ronald Reagan's second-in-command. As Vice President, Bush oversaw federal deregulation programs, spearheaded anti-drug campaigns, and visited dozens of foreign nations. In 1988, Bush and his running mate, Indiana senator Dan Quayle, defeated Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis and running mate, Texas senator Lloyd Bentsen.

During Bush's term in office, new foreign policy strategies had to be developed as the world witnessed the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This, combined with a sagging domestic economy, led to Bush's defeat in 1992 by Democratic candidate and former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.

Eight years later, Clinton's vice president, Al Gore captured the Democratic party's nomination for president. Political analysts predicted a Gore victory, in light of a vigorous domestic economy and high public approval ratings for the outgoing president. However, following a bitterly contested election, Texas governor George W. Bush became the president-elect and prepared for his inauguration on January 20, 2001.

George W. Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush, are only the second father-son pair in American history to serve as United States presidents. The first were John Adams (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825-1829).


  1. Read the inaugural address of George W. Bush, found online at As you read, discuss these questions together or in small groups:
    • How does George Bush assess the domestic and foreign climate at the time of his inauguration? What are the important issues?
    • What information does the speech contain about Bush's stand on different issues? What will be the priorities of his administration?
    • President Bush's inauguration was an occasion for great celebration by the Republican party, since it meant that a Republican party member continue to hold the office of president (as had been the case for the past eight years). How does Bush's speech reflect this idea of continuity, either in tone or content? What is his tone towards those who aren't Republicans?

  2. Research President Bush's accomplishments during his four years in office. Make a chart which compares the promises and priorities he set in his inaugural address to the programs and events he initiated during his term as the 41st president. Begin your research at the Compton's Encyclopedia site.

  3. Now read the inaugural speech of George W. Bush, America's 43rd president. The full text of his speech may be found online. As you read, answer the following questions:
    • What are the important domestic and international issues, as articulated in Bush's speech? How does this picture differ from the world in 1989, when Bush's father took office?
    • Review the Republican party platorm to learn about George W. Bush's stand on various issues during the presidential campaign. Is he sending the same messages during his inaugural speech? How do Bush and his father differ on important issues? Create charts to help organize your comparisons.
    • Bush took office after a bitterly contested election, and faced the challenging prospect of working with a federal legislature that was evenly split along party lines. In light of these facts, some advisors urged Bush to take a more moderate stance in many areas. Yet Bush was criticized by many politicians, the media, and public leaders for his Cabinet appointments: he nominated no Democrats for any senior-level positions. What does Bush's inaugural speech tell us about his willingness to form bipartisan alliances? How does he address, in tone or content, the division caused by the drawn-out election process?

The lesson can be evaluated through the following measures:

  1. factual accuracy of information students gather about different elections, presidencies, and administrations;
  2. perceptiveness of comparisons between presidencies, elections, and administrations;
  3. level of reading comprehension related to tone and content of the two inaugural addresses, assessed through written and oral responses.


  1. Compare the two George Bushes to John Adams and John Quincy Adams. What are the important similarities and differences? What advice would John Quincy Adams give to George W. Bush about following in a father's presidential footsteps? Students might write a letter from Adams to Bush addressing these ideas.

  2. Throughout George W. Bush's presidency, students might compare Bush's accomplishments and initiatives to the promises he made in his inaugural speech and during his campaign. Students might use this to design a "Bush Report Card" for the 43rd president.