The Avalon Project at Yale Law School is a collection of legal, historical, and diplomatic documents. Included in those documents are the inaugural speeches of presidents.
Assign each student three to five presidential inaugural addresses, each from a different era, and direct them to analyze the speeches assigned. (Because many presidents gave two or more inaugural addresses it is important to assign speeches, not presidents.)
While analyzing inaugural addresses, students should be advised to answer the following questions:
1. What type of language did the President use to refer to the economy? (i.e. prosperity, deficit, equality of opportunity, New Frontier.)
2. What events are referred to in the address?
3. What events shaped the writing of the address? (The timeline identified below can help students identify specific events.)
After the initial analysis, students should be advised to research the following questions:
1. Who actually wrote the inaugural address?
2. How did the general public “hear” this address? (i.e. television or two weeks later in a newspaper.)
3. What commentaries were written in support or opposition of the inaugural address?
4. How did the general public respond to the inaugural address?
5. What was the President’s economic policy?
6. Did the economic policies of the President have a role in the federal deficit or surplus?
7. Did the economic policies of the President have a role in unemployment?
8. What quantitative and qualitative role did the President’s economic policy play in federal spending? (i.e. greater spending for defense, less spending for social programs.)
Upon the completion of student research, the class should have a summit on economic policy and draft a proposal for economic policy.
Garcia, Gilbert S. Jr. A Collection: Presidential Inaugural Addresses George Washington and George W. Bush. New York: Treblig Books, 2003.
Harriss, C. Lowell. Government Finance, Political Processes and Economics: Presidential Address of C. Lowell Harriss. Washinton D.C.: National Tax Association – Tax Institute of America, 1973.
Porter, R. B. Presidential Decision Making: the Economic Board. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Stein, Herbert. Presidential Economics: The Making of Economic Policy from Roosevelt to Clinton. Washington D.C.: The AEI Press, 1994.
Presidential inaugural addresses:
Timeline of U.S. History:
This lesson was written by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University.