Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Presentations and Activities > Inaugurations
All The World's A Stage | Who Knows Where and When?

Since George Washington's appearance on the balcony of New York City's Federal Hall in 1789, the term of each American president has started with a single sentence.

The authors of the Constitution did provide some room for "artsitic interpretation." On March 4, 1853, Franklin Pierce became the only president to "affirm" instead of "swear" that he would protect and defend the Constitution.

"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 affirmation of the oath is like the first line of a play, a national drama that's slated to run for four years – barring events which require an understudy to fill in. How that drama unfolds depends upon the person entering the executive office and the era in which he (or she) lives...but the oath remains the same.

Although many promises are made as presidential candidates vie for votes, the oath is the first one that really counts. It transforms a citizen into a president and, according to the second article of the Constitution, signals the beginning of a new administration.

This feature is a supplement to "I Do Solemnly Swear...": Presidential Inaugurations, an American Memory collection of approximately 400 items or 2,000 digital files from each of the 54 inaugurations from George Washington's in 1789 to George W. Bush's inauguration of 2001. Of special note: Presidential Inaugurations: Historical Insights - A Video Presentation.

Additional teaching/learning ideas can be found in the "Collection Connection" for Presidential Inaugurations (located on the Teachers Page, Collection Collections).