For a new American president, there is no formula to follow when writing an inaugural address. In fact, an address isn’t even required by the US Constitution. But these speeches are deeply ingrained in the American tradition, and there are a few common threads running through every one, from George Washington’s to Barack Obama’s.
As President-elect Donald Trump prepares for his inaugural address, he can draw both inspiration and caution from the speeches of past American presidents. What he will find is that, while there are no steadfast rules for an inaugural address, learning from past mistakes can help him avoid a lackluster performance.
In this video, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, author of Presidents Creating the Presidency: Deeds Done in Words, examines these common elements. She explains that a leader’s first words as president should make an effort to unite the country, share guiding principles, and affirm the limits of power. Jamieson also explains what not to do when delivering a speech — and how Ulysses S. Grant got it wrong.