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Hail to the Chief: Presidential Inaugurations Then and Now

Lesson Overview

Overview: Students will use three primary sources from Lincoln's first inauguration to understand the impact Lincoln's election had on a nation on the brink of war. Students will analyze Lincoln's position on the state of the country, describe the inauguration from a photo and interpret a personal account from the day of the inauguration.
Grade Range: 7-8
Objective: After completing the activity, students will be able to:
  • Analyze a primary source for historical significance.
  • Discuss primary sources with guided questions in small learning groups. 
Time Required: One class period of 50 minutes.
Discipline/Subject: Social Studies/Language Arts
Topic/Subject: Presidents
Era: Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877


Illinois Learning Standards: Social Studies:
16.A-Apply the skills of historical analysis and interpretation.
16.B-Understand the development of significant political events.

Language Arts:
2.B-Read and interpret a variety of literary works. 


Handouts: Two copies of each primary source.
Discussion Questions for Lincoln's First Inaugural Address. (Available on PDF)
Discussion Questions for A Glimpse at the Inaugural. (Available on PDF)
Discussion Questions for the Bible Notes. (Available on PDF)
3-2-1 Questions (Available on PDF)
Rubrics: Newspaper Activity Rubric (page 8 of PDF)
Library of Congress Items: Title of Source: Lincoln's First Inaugural Address
  Title of Source: A Glimpse of the Inaugural 
  Title of Source: Inaugural Bible, 1861


1. Open the lesson by playing a clip from "Hail to the Chief." Ask students when they would hear this music played. Students will respond that is is played with the arrival, entrance, or introduction of the President of the United States. Ask if they know the history of the song, and provide background information on the origin and use of the song.
2. Ask students to recall the significance of January 20th every four years. (Front a previous unit of study on the Constitution, they should recall that this is the first day of the new term of the president, according to Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution). This is the day that the president takes the oath of office, also known as inauguration day. Give students the meaning of the vocabulary word inauguration.
3. If lesson is taught during an inauguration year discuss with the class preparations for January 20th that you see in the media, such as heightened security, preparations at the White House and Capital, parade routes, agendas, dinners, parties, etc. The teacher will explain that today the inauguration process covers many days and is very expensive. However, in earlier times, this was not so.
4. The teacher will turn the students' attention to Illinois' favorite president Abraham Lincoln by projected a portrait that the teacher can choose. The teacher will facilitate a brief whole class discussion on  what the students think that Lincoln's first inauguration might have been like.  The teacher will provide some background on Lincoln's inauguration day.
5. The class will be divided into six small groups (approximately 4-5 students per group) based on interest. Two groups will be give a copy of Lincoln's First Inaugural Address (Intrapersonal-Linguistic Group), two groups will be given a photo of A Glimpse of the Inaugural (Visual-Artistic Group), and two groups will be given a copy of a note made on the Inaugural Bible used during the inauguration (Visual-Linguistic Group). Each group will receive a set of discussion questions specific to their primary source and a 3-2-1 activity handout to complete as a group. (Available on PDF)
6. Teachers (classroom teacher, special educator, paraprofessional) will monitor students groups, prompt questioning and discussion, and guide student learning. After the six groups complete their task, the same interest groups will meet together to discuss and compare the 3-2-1 activities. Each large interest group will choose a reporter to share their group's discussion and primary source with the whole class. The whole class will engage in discussion led by the group reporters.
7. The class period will conclude with a discussion of the impact of Lincoln's First Inauguration on our country and what that day must have been like. The class will also refer back to the opening of the lesson and the discussion of information the media brings to us today about the president and inauguration day in many forms. However, newspapers were the only source of information in 1861.


The teacher will check for understanding during whole class discussion, small group discussion, reporter presentations. Evaluation of follow-up newspaper and compare/contrast activities. 

Author Credits:

Charleston Middle School