Understanding President Washington through His First Inaugural and Farewell Addresses

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will read and analyze excerpts from two of George Washington’s most important addresses. The first is the speech he gave to Congress on the day of his first inauguration in 1789; the second is his Farewell Address to the American people, written in 1796, when he announced he would not run for a third term. Through group work, class discussion, and a written assessment, the students will understand and analyze Washington’s philosophy of government when he began his first term and when he left office.

Lesson Objectives

Students will be able to

  • Read critically and analyze excerpts from primary sources
  • Draw logical inferences from textual evidence
  • Demonstrate these key skills by completing worksheets and writing a succinct evidence-based paragraph

Number of Class Periods

One 45-minute class period

Grade Level

8th grade

Common Core State Standards


Historical Background

Washington’s First Inaugural Address, given before Congress on April 30, 1789, outlines his political philosophy as he embarked on the presidency. His devotion to his country, coupled with his humility and reluctance to set precedents, is obvious in his message. The Farewell Address, delivered in 1796, advances his philosophy, now tested and proven with experiences during his years in office. Washington devoted much of the address to domestic issues of the time, warning against the rise of political parties and sectionalism as a threat to national unity. In foreign affairs, Washington called for America "to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world." Although the ideas expressed were Washington’s, Alexander Hamilton drafted much of the address, and the ideas reflect Hamilton’s vision as well as Washington’s.

Essential Question

To what extent did George Washington establish policies and precedents for future presidents?



Have the class work in small groups of no more than three or four students.

  1. Distribute to each student a copy of Excerpts from George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, 1789.
  2. "Share read" the text with the students modeling prosody, inflection, and punctuation and ask students to join in with the reading after a few sentences.
  3. Distribute the document analysis sheet for George Washington’s First Inaugural Address. Demonstrate how to complete the activity by selecting with the class one key phrase from the first paragraph that shows George Washington’s philosophy of government. Ask students for restatements of the phrase and then lead a discussion of why that phrase is important to understanding Washington’s philosophy of government.
  4. Students will work within their groups to complete the document analysis activity.
  5. Moderate a class discussion by having the various groups report on their work. Encourage students to ask each other questions about their selections, restatements, and explanations.
  6. Distribute Excerpts from Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796, along with the document analysis sheet. Direct the students to close read the excerpts and work with their groups to complete the activity.
  7. Moderate a class discussion by having the various groups report on their work. Encourage students to ask each other questions about their selections, restatements, and explanations. Be sure students recognize and understand the similarities and differences in the two addresses.

Assessment and Summary

As a follow-up, each student will write an evidence-based paragraph that compares and contrasts the excerpts from the two documents and focuses on how Washington’s experience as president affirmed or changed his views on government.