Presidential inaugurations happen only once every four years, and give parents a wonderful chance to talk about our government with our kids. Below are eight questions and answers, one for each year that the people have elected Barack Obama to the presidency. There are activity suggestions following each question. Trivia about the oath of office alone likely won’t grab your tweens, so my suggestion: deploy dessert.
Fun dessert possibilities include: all-American apple pie, cherry pie in honor of the tale of George Washington’s honesty, or sweet potato pie, which Obama has said is a favorite. Here’s a sweet potato pie recipe.
1. How many presidential inaugurations have occurred in the history of the United State of America?
This will be the 57th inauguration in our nation’s 236 year history.
- Activity: How many inaugurations will your kid(s) have seen by the time they reach the age of the parent asking the question. (And the answer in our house is 9 or 10, depending on the questioner.) Another fun math question: how many days until your tween can run for President? (If they’ve forgotten the age requirement to be President, remind them to check out Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution.)
2. How many times will the President take the Oath of Office?
This year, President Barack Obama will be sworn in twice. Jan. 20 is Inauguration Day, as mandated by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Because that falls on a Sunday this year, he will take the oath of office privately on Jan. 20th, and ceremonially during the public inauguration festivities on Monday, Jan. 21st.
- Activity: Figure out what day of the week the next inauguration, held in 2017, will be? (Answer: Friday)
3. Who was the first president to have a poem read as part of the inauguration?
John F. Kennedy. In 1961, Robert Frost was the first poet to compose and read a poem at the ceremony. Frost read “The Gift Outright,” which he knew by heart, when he was too blinded by the sun to read “Dedication,” which he had authored for the inauguration, but did not have it memorized.
This year, Richard Blanco will be the first Latino Inaugural poet.
- Activity: Write your own inaugural poem. Or, have a family poetry reading with these poems that have been read at inaugurations: Miller Williams’ “Of History and Hope,” Maya Angelou’s poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” (both of which were read at Clinton’s inaugurations), or Robert Frost’s “Dedication” and “The Gift Outright.”
4. Who was the first president to take the oath of office in Washington, D.C.?
Thomas Jefferson. George Washington’s first inauguration was held in New York City, and his second was in Philadelphia, PA, as was John Adam’s inauguration.
- Activity: Look up the years of George Washington’s inaugurations (Answer: 1789, 1793) or use an atlas to determine the distance between your home and Washington, D.C.
5. Whose inauguration was the snowiest?
In 1909, William H. Taft was sworn into office on a day nearly 10 inches of snow fell, a record for Inauguration Day. The Weather Channel says, “It took 6,000 men and 500 wagons to clear 58,000 tons of snow and slush from the parade route.”
- Activity: Predict the weather before Monday’s ceremony. Will there be precipitation? If so, what? What will be the high temperature? At the end of the day, see whose prediction was best.
6. How long was the longest inauguration speech?
One hour, 40 minutes.William Henry Harrison decided to brave the elements and deliver the longest inauguration speech ever, an oration lasting an hour, 40 minutes. The cold, blustery weather did not motivate Harrison to cut his speech short, or to wear a hat and overcoat, and he paid a high price. Right after the inauguration, he came down with a cold that developed into pneumonia. A month later, Harrison died.
- Activity: Predict how long the President’s speech will last, and then watch on television and time him. See who comes closest. Or, pick a few key words and count how many times the President says them in his speech.
7. Which first couple was the first to attend an inaugural ball?
James and Dolley Madison attend the first inaugural ball held on the same day as the inauguration. Tickets were $4 each for the event, held at Long’s Hotel on March 4, 1809.
- Activity: Learn about inflation. Determine what that ticket would cost in today’s dollars. (You can use this website for help.) Alternatively, for the more artistic tweens, do a sketch of what you’d like the first lady’s gown to look like. For inspiration, check out the Smithsonian’s collection of inaugural gown worn by first ladies here.
8. Has Inauguration Day always been in January?
No. Before the 20th Amendment was enacted, Inauguration Day was March 4, the day of the year on which the first Congress convened after the Constitution took effect in 1789. The last inauguration to take place on March 4 was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first one in 1933. He was also the first president to take office on Jan. 20.
- Activity: If you could a pick a day for the inauguration to be held from here on out, what would it be?
For more fun inauguration tidbits, check out the Facts, Firsts and Precedents page on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies website and “From a Balcony in New York City to the Capitol Lawn: 12 Surprising Facts About the Inauguration.”
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