Inaugural Addresses with PBS LearningMedia
Every new or reelected US president since George Washington has delivered an official address on the day of his inauguration. Current custom dictates that the President deliver his speech after first taking the oath of office, which is administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The speech serves as the President’s grand vision for his coming term, and for the direction he hopes to steer the nation in.
The longest inaugural address in US history was delivered by William Henry Harrison in 1841, on a bitterly cold, rainy day. He died one month later of pneumonia. Since then, presidents have opted for slightly more succinct deliveries.
From the first inaugural address to the last, here are four resources for exploring inaugural addresses.
1. George Washington’s First Inaugural Speech (1789) and Resource Materials
This document includes images of George Washington’s First Inaugural Speech in 1789. Read George Washington’s first inaugural speech. Examine the plans put into place for the inauguration of the first U.S. President, which included a public oath of office and an inaugural address presented in the Senate Chamber.
2. President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address (1961) and Resource Materials
On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address in which he announced, “… we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.” This resource group includes 2 primary source images, a background essay and a transcript.
3. Obama’s Second Inaugural Address
This resource includes video and transcript of President Obama’s second inaugural address.
4. Quoting Abraham Lincoln
This video, excerpted from the PBS series Looking for Lincoln, features clips of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama quoting Lincoln’s oratory—not always accurately—to lend his historical weight to their own speeches.