The First Inaugural Address of George Washington

by Christopher Gill

Unit Objective

This lesson on the First Inaugural Address of George Washington is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core–based units. These units were written to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. Students will demonstrate this knowledge by writing summaries of selections from the original document and, by the end of the unit, articulating their understanding of the complete document by answering questions in an argumentative writing style to fulfill the Common Core Standards. Through this step-by-step process, students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

Students will develop a thorough knowledge of the text and the ideas Washington wished to convey to the First Congress at Federal Hall. As there are several ways of understanding language and deriving meaning from a primary document, students will also analyze several other documents related to Washington’s First Inaugural. Students will explore Article II and Article V of the United States Constitution, a letter from George Washington to Henry Knox before the inauguration, and an eyewitness account by Pennsylvania Senator William Maclay. Students will use prior knowledge and outside sources to dig deeper and discover more relevant information related to George Washington’s First Inaugural Address and the circumstances that surrounded this vital moment in American history.

Introduction

In the eulogy delivered by Richard Henry Lee after George Washington’s death, John Marshall wrote that Washington was “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Washington’s First Inaugural Address is a clear example of how his humility and devotion to his country have helped create his larger-than-life legacy. The lessons in this Common Core unit convey these sentiments through analysis of Washington’s First Inaugural Address. Students will use close reading strategies to analyze one of Washington’s most famous speeches.

This activity can be used in most honors, IB, or AP courses, including US History, US Government and Politics, or other advanced level civics classrooms. I would recommend that this lesson/unit in its current form be used in eleventh- and twelfth-grade classes. The document analysis templates (In His Own Words, Prior Knowledge), document comparison template (Making Connections, Prior Knowledge and Document Information), and the inauguration comparison chart template (Inaugural Address Analysis Chart) can be used across many grade levels, from elementary to AP classes, if adapted with different documents or appropriate curriculum level activities.  

This activity should take between three and five class periods depending on time allotted by teacher for pre-activity curriculum-based learning, document analysis, and possible follow up activities. If classroom time is an issue, various aspects of this unit can be used independently.

This lesson could work well in several different units of American history or civics. There are many themes addressed in Washington’s First Inaugural. These include: service to one’s country, presidential precedents, constitutional power, the early republic, the role of Providence and the creator, responsibility of government officials, the Constitutional Convention, checks and balances, Article II, Article V, federalism, public opinion, presidential power, civic virtue, republican government, and several other related topics. The follow-up activity template can be used to compare and contrast presidential inauguration speeches.

Materials

#1 Graphic Organizer – Prior Knowledge

#2 Primary Document Analysis – Washington in His Own Words Part 1

#3 Primary Document Analysis – Washington in His Own Words Part 2

#4 Primary Document Analysis and Making Connections Graphic Organizer – Article II

#5 Primary Document Analysis and Making Connections Graphic Organizer – Article V

#6 Primary Document Analysis and Making Connections Graphic Organizer – Washington’s Letter to General Knox

#7 Primary Document Analysis and Making Connections Graphic Organizer – Diary of Senator Maclay

#8 Graphic Organizer – Prior Knowledge & Document Information

Venn Diagram – Inaugural Address Analysis Chart

Vocabulary

The students will use the Primary Document Analysis activities to locate and cite specific vocabulary.

Procedure

  1. Teacher will have to be sure the students are appropriately prepared for this unit/lesson. Prior to this unit/lesson students should have a good understanding of the colonial experience, American Revolution, problems of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, debates at the Constitutional Convention, and United States Constitution. It would also help if students had previous knowledge of the importance of the Washington administration in setting precedents throughout American history and government.
  2. Teacher will split the class in half and help the students put the desks into two large circles.
  3. Each group of students will get two copies of the #1 Graphic Organizer – Prior Knowledge
  4. One group will be assigned to write all prior knowledge they have about George Washington’s life before he was President of the United States. The other group will be assigned to write all prior knowledge they have about George Washington during and after his presidency. 
  5. Students will work together in their circles on their assigned prior knowledge chart. Teacher should help guide the students, but should not aid them with information or in correcting misinformation they may be writing. 
  6. After a set amount of time allotted by the teacher, students should present their prior knowledge of George Washington. The #1 Graphic Organizer – Prior Knowledge should be written on the board or Smartboard or projected with an Elmo. Students from each group will present their prior knowledge.  
  7. Students and teacher will discuss if the prior knowledge presented by the groups is accurate and the class will make a democratic decision on its accuracy by taking a class vote. While each group presents the information and “graffitis” the board, the other group should be filling in their second copy of the #1 Graphic Organizer – Prior Knowledge
  8. Teacher should continue asking critical questions such as:
  • What prior knowledge do we have about George Washington?
  • How had Washington served our country before he was president?
  • How has Washington’s legacy become part of the American cultural identity?
  • Is prior knowledge helpful or distracting when analyzing a primary document?
  • How can prior knowledge be helpful?  
  • How can it be distracting?
  1. Teacher should stress the importance of critically analyzing the specific words and sentiments expressed directly in the document (“four corners” strategy).
  2. Teacher will hand each group a copy of #2 Primary Document Analysis – Washington in His Own Words Part 1 and #3 Primary Document Analysis – Washington in His Own Words Part 2.
  3. Once again one group or circle of students will be asked to work on Part 1 and one group will focus on Part 2.
  4. Students will close read and fill in the graphic organizers with relevant ideas, vocabulary, quotations, and meanings from their specifically assigned half of the document.
  5. After a set amount of time allotted by the teacher, students will be paired up with a student from the opposite group in class. The student pairings can be assigned by the teacher based on the needs of the students and their levels.
  6. Students will teach their half of Washington’s First Inaugural Address and their corresponding answers to their partners. While they are being taught by their partners, students should be filling in the information needed on their #2 Primary Document Analysis – Washington in His Own Words Part 1 or #3 Primary Document Analysis – Washington in His Own Words Part 2.
  7. Teacher will let students know that students may travel around the room to learn more about their new document from other classmates. This will ensure that students can collaborate cooperatively to find or understand their new document and worksheet with students besides their partners.
  8. Once students complete the document analysis, outside information should be used to further the students’ understanding of the nuances of the original primary document. They should correlate and annotate their speeches with any relevant information from their #1 Graphic Organizer – Prior Knowledge. Students should use highlighters or markers for this annotation so there is a clear difference between the prior knowledge of Washington and the knowledge they gained from the primary document analysis. 
  9. Students and teacher should be able to present their answers on the Smartboard, ELMO, or overhead projector, and begin classroom discussions on the student-centered areas of the original #2 Primary Document Analysis – Washington in His Own Words Part 1 and #3 Primary Document Analysis – Washington in His Own Words Part 2.
  10. Teacher should pose questions based on the documents used in class. For example:
  • Were there any statements in George Washington’s First Inaugural Address that caught your attention? Cite specific lines and discuss why these statements caught your attention.
  • What do you think is the most important statement of the speech? Cite a specific quote and explain why you think it is the most important.
  • How does George Washington feel about the importance of Article V? Cite specific evidence from the text that helps support your answer.
  • How many sections would you say there are in Washington’s speech?
  • What would you “name” the major sections of Washington’s First Inaugural? Give specific reasons for each of these labels.
  • Why was George Washington’s presidency so important for our country?
  • Does Washington believe it’s important? Cite specific evidence from the text that supports your answer.
  • Is Washington confident or skeptical about becoming president? Cite specific evidence from the text that supports your answer.
  1. Teacher will split the class into four smaller groups and each group will analyze a different primary document. The students should put their desks into four circles or squares in the classroom.
  2. Each group of students will get four copies of the #8 Graphic Organizer – Prior Knowledge & Document Information and one copy of:
  1. Each group will be assigned a specific primary document related to Washington’s Inaugural Address and will fill in the Making Connections Graphic Organizer attached to each document.
  2. Students will close read and fill in the graphic organizers with relevant ideas, vocabulary, quotations, and meanings from their specifically assigned half of the document.
  3. Students will work together in their circles on their assigned documents and charts. Teacher should help guide the students, but should not aid them with information or correct misinformation they may be writing.
  4. After a set amount of time allotted by the teacher, students should present their document and the major reasons why their documents are connected to George Washington’s First Inaugural Address. Each group should present their document and their Making Connections Graphic Organizer on the board or Smartboard or projected with an Elmo.
  5. The observing groups should also fill in the important information on their Making Connections Graphic Organizer. 
  6. Teacher should pose questions based on the documents used in class. For example:
  • How does Article II of the US Constitution relate directly to Washington’s Address? Cite specific evidence from the text that supports your answer.
  • How does Article V of the US Constitution relate directly to Washington’s Address? Cite specific evidence from the text that supports your answer.
  • Did Washington’s letter to Knox change your view on Washington’s Address? Cite specific evidence from the text that supports your answer.
  • What did Senator Maclay observe on inauguration day? Does his diary change your perception of Washington’s Inaugural Address? If yes, how so? If no, why not?
  • Have your prior knowledge and the primary documents we just studied changed your original analysis of George Washington’s First Inaugural? If yes, how? If no, why not?
  1. For Homework the students should fill in their #8 Graphic Organizer – Prior Knowledge & Document Information charts. 
  2. After this unit the students will have all of the following:
  • two prior knowledge charts about Washington, before and after
  • two primary document analysis charts of George Washington’s First Inaugural Address
  • four primary document analysis charts of documents directly related to the inaugural speech
  • four graphic organizers comparing prior knowledge and relevant information from their primary documents

Follow-Up Activities

  • Students will analyze and compare two inaugural speeches and fill in the Venn Diagram – Inaugural Address Analysis Chart with relevant information from both documents. 
  • Students will select an inaugural address from a contemporary president and create a project where they must research and find at least four primary documents that are related to the inaugural speech.
  • Students will create a thesis statement for a DBQ essay and will use all of the documents from this unit to prove their thesis in a detailed DBQ essay.

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Discussion

I wish that this would be tailored to 8th graders


I agree Jalair. Once school lets out, with permission from the author, I'm going to try to tailor it for 8th graders.


KC, I'm curious to know if you ever tried to adapt the lesson for 8th graders. The lesson looks great but it's too much for my 8th graders.


This is good! I am going to give it a try next week!


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