Legislative Branch

Inaugurating the Republic: Congress and George Washington’s First Inaugural Address


In this lesson students analyze excerpts from President George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, translate them into modern speech, and derive lessons from them about civic life in a republic. (See note below for more on the speech and its context.)


Studying the elevated language of President George Washington’s First Inaugural Address provides contemporary Americans with important insights into civic life. The president sought to inspire Congress to fulfill the promise of the Constitution. His words also convey essential virtues of republican civic life to readers of today.

Guiding Question:

How did President George Washington’s First Inaugural Address inspire the Congress, and what lessons do his words convey to Americans today?


3 Worksheets
Answer Key

Featured Document:

George Washington's First Inaugural Address, 4/30/1789; Records of the U.S. Senate. View in the National Archives Catalog.

Background Information:

After being received by Congress in New York City, George Washington stepped from the chamber onto the balcony of Federal Hall, where he was followed by the Senators and Representatives. Before the assembled crowd of spectators, Robert Livingston, Chancellor of the State of New York, administered the oath of office prescribed by the Constitution: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” After repeating this oath, Washington kissed the Bible held for him by the Chancellor, who called out, “Long live George Washington, President of the United States,” and a salvo of 13 cannons was discharged. Except for taking the oath, the law required no further inaugural ceremonies. But, upon reentering the Senate Chamber, the President read the address that is featured here. After this address, he and the members of Congress proceeded to St. Paul’s Church for divine service. A brilliant fireworks display in the evening ended the official program for this historic day. Read more background information on George Washington’s First Inaugural Speech.

Recommended Grade Level:

8 -12


Civics, Government, U.S. History


Inaugural Address, the civic role of the President, the principles essential to a republic

Time Required:

Two 45 minute periods

Learning Activities:

Classroom Activity

  1. Divide the class into 10 groups. 
  2. Instruct each group to complete Worksheet 1. Instruct them to write the answer to question #4 of Worksheet 1 on their group number’s corresponding row of Worksheet 2.

Note:  Worksheet 2 must be a shared document that all the students can access. Each group will record their answer to Question #4 of Worksheet 1 onto the shared copy of Worksheet 2. Later in the lesson, all students will draw on the information from the completed Worksheet 2 when they individually answer part 1 of Worksheet 3.

Reflection Activity

  1. When the students have completed their work, instruct them to independently complete Worksheet 3. The students should draw from the responses recorded on Worksheet 2 in formulating their answers. Instruct the students to be prepared to share their responses on Worksheet 3 with the full class.
  2. Have a whole group discussion of Worksheet 3.

Additional Resources:

George Washington's First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789

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