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George Washington gives first presidential inaugural address


On April 30, 1789, George Washington is sworn in as the first American president and delivers the first inaugural speech at Federal Hall in New York City. Elements of the ceremony set tradition; presidential inaugurations have deviated little in the two centuries since Washington’s inauguration.

READ MORE: The First Presidential Inauguration: How George Washington Rose to the Office

In front of 10,000 spectators, Washington appeared in a plain brown broadcloth suit holding a ceremonial army sword. At 6′ 3, Washington presented an impressive and solemn figure as he took the oath of office standing on the second balcony of Federal Hall. With Vice President John Adams standing beside him, Washington repeated the words prompted by Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, kissed the bible and then went to the Senate chamber to deliver his inaugural address.

Observers noted that Washington appeared as if he would have preferred facing cannon and musket fire to taking the political helm of the country. He fidgeted, with his hand in one pocket, and spoke in a low, sometimes inaudible voice while he reiterated the mixed emotions of anxiety and honor he felt in assuming the role of president. For the most part, his address consisted of generalities, but he directly addressed the need for a strong Constitution and Bill of Rights and frequently emphasized the public good. He told the House of Representatives that he declined to be paid beyond such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require. In deference to the power of Congress, Washington promised to give way to my entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good.

After delivering his address, Washington walked up Broadway with a group of legislators and local political leaders to pray at St. Paul’s Chapel. Later, he made the humble and astute observation that his presidency, and the nation itself, was an experiment.

READ MORE: 10 Unexpected Moments in Presidential Inauguration History


George Washington gives first presidential inaugural address - HISTORY

The Presidential Inauguration in History

It was in New York City, out nation's first capital, that George Washington became the first President of the United States. Congress had planned for the new government to begin its responsibilities on March 4, 1789, but a harsh winter made travel difficult, and it wasn't until April 6 that enough congressmen arrived in New York to count the electors' votes and announce, "Whereby it appears that George Washington, Esq. Was unanimously elected President, --and John Adams, Esq. Was duly elected Vice President of the United States of America…"

It took several days for the exciting news to reach Mount Vernon, General Washington's home in Virginia. He set off for the capital, leaving behind his wife, Martha, who would join him later. He traveled by coach and on horseback through Baltimore, Wilmington, and Philadelphia, finally arriving in New York City aboard a grand barge that had been rowed from New Jersey across Newark Bay. Meanwhile John Adams, his Vice President-elect, and the Congress were deciding what the new Chief Executive's official title should be. Adams preferred "His Most Benign Highness," but a congressional committee settled on the title we still use today: "President of the United States."

Inauguration Day, April 30, began with the sounds of ceremonial artillery and church bells ringing across the city. At noon, General Washington made his way through large crowds to Federal Hall, where both houses of Congress were assembled for swearing-in. New York Chancellor Robert Livingston read the oath, and Washington, his right hand on a Bible, repeated the words inscribed in the Constitution: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." President Washington added the words, "So help me God," a custom followed by every President since.

The First Inauguration gave rise to many traditions that continue today. For example, President Washington followed his swearing-in with an Inaugural Address, a special speech written for the occasion. In 1793, the oath of office for Washington's second term was administered by William Cushing, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and the first in a long line of Supreme Court Justices to preside over Presidential Inaugurations.

Thomas Jefferson was the first to be sworn in as President in Washington, D.C., the location chosen for the permanent capital and the site of all but a handful of Inaugural ceremonies. Jefferson showed his taste for simplicity by going on foot to the Capitol for the oath-taking and returning to his boardinghouse afterwards for dinner. After his second Inauguration, however, Jefferson rode on horseback from the Capitol to the President's House (the name then used for the White House) amid music and a spontaneous gathering of mechanics from the nearby Navy Yard – a procession that grew into today's Inaugural Parade.

Jefferson's second Inauguration also began the tradition of the Inaugural Open House, when the executive mansion was opened to all who wished to greet the President after his swearing-in. The popularity of the Open House would later cause our seventh President, Andrew Jackson, to flee through a window after a mob of well-wishers stormed the White House, ruining furniture and breaking china in their eagerness to see him. In 1865, despite growing concern about safety, Abraham Lincoln shook some 6,000 hands after his second Inauguration. President Grover Cleveland, realizing that the White House could no longer accommodate such crowds, instead held a review of the troops from a flag-draped grandstand just outside, adding another element to the Inaugural Parade.

Presidents have celebrated in many ways since George Washington danced the minuet after his Inauguration in 1789. James Madison, America's fourth President, and his wife, Dolley, were the guests of honor at the first official Inaugural Ball, held at Long's Hotel in Washington, D.C. Martin Van Buren's Inauguration featured two balls, and President William Henry Harrison held three to meet the ever-growing demand for tickets. Later Inaugurations have featured specially built pavilions for dancing, balls held at several sites throughout the capital, and even Inaugural parties in other cities. Modern Inaugural festivities reflect not only the President they honor, but also the desire to include the many Americans who want to take part in celebrating our nation's rich history and the transfer of presidential power.

You may have watched President Bill Clinton's 1997 Inauguration on television or heard about it from a radio broadcast. Maybe your local newspaper carried photographs of the event, or perhaps you visited an Internet web site to get information about the ceremony and various Inaugural celebrations. We rely on technology to help us participate in and learn about our government in ways that previous generations of Americans never dreamed.

For example, only the members of Congress gathered in Federal Hall on April 30, 1789, heard President Washington's first Inaugural Address. Twenty years later, after James Madison's swearing-in, his speech was published in the newspaper for all to read. James Polk took the oath of office on 1845 while Samuel Morse, inventor of the electric telegraph, sat near him on the platform tapping out the news on his miraculous machine.

It was 1857 – the year James Buchanan became President –when the Inauguration ceremony was first photographed. Citizens across the country were able to share in the festivities through pictures. Four decades later, movie cameras recorded highlights of William McKinley's Inauguration, giving viewers a new window into history. The year 1925 found Americans gathered around their radios to hear Calvin Coolidge take the oath of office, and in 1949, Harry Truman became the first President to whose swearing-in was televised. If you like to use computers, you may know that President Bill Clinton's second Inauguration was the first to have an official web site and to be seen live on the Internet by people around the world.

The Constitution is the supreme law of the united States, describing out country's three-branched, democratic system of government and the fundamental rights to which all citizens are entitled. In Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, our nation's founders declared that "The executive Power shall be vested in the President of the United States of America," and provided an oath of office for the President-elect's official swearing-in. This 35-word oath has remained unchanged for more than two centuries, in part because it so clearly and simply describes the responsibilities of the Chief Executive:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

In 1817, James Monroe, our fifth President, became the first to give an Inaugural Address to an assembled public crowd. Since that time, the traditional Inaugural Address has been an opportunity for the President to speak directly to the American people. George Washington said juts 135 words after his second inauguration in 1793, while William Henry Harrison gave the longest Inaugural Address ever, taking almost two hours to deliver 8,445 words.

Inaugural Addresses are often remembered as reflecting a particular time in history. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln called on Americans to "…finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds," while in 1933 Franklin Roosevelt reached out to citizens discouraged by the Great Depression, saying, "This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper." President John F. Kennedy inspired a generation of young people in 1961 when he urged, "…ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." And in 1993, President Bill Clinton reassured a nation in transition after the end of the Cold War by stating, "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."


Contents

The first presidential term started on March 4, 1789, the date set by the Congress of the Confederation for the beginning of operations of the federal government under the new U.S. Constitution. [1] However, logistical delays prevented the actual start of the operations of the Executive Branch on that day. On that date, the House of Representatives and the Senate convened for the first time, but both adjourned due to lack of a quorum. [2] As a result, the Presidential Electoral Votes could not be counted or certified. On April 1, the House convened with a quorum present for the first time, and the representatives began their work, with the election of Frederick Muhlenberg as its Speaker. The Senate first achieved a quorum on April 6, and elected John Langdon as its president pro tempore. That same day, the House and Senate met in joint session and the electoral votes were counted. Washington and Adams were certified as having been elected president and vice president respectively. [3] [4]

It was 5 p.m. at Mount Vernon on April 14, 1789, when Washington received official notification that he had been unanimously selected by the Electoral College to be the nation's first president. The letter had been sent by Senator John Langdon of New Hampshire, the first president pro tempore of the United States Senate, who had presided over the counting of the electoral votes. Washington replied immediately, and set off in the morning two days later, [5] accompanied by David Humphreys and a Mr. Thomson, [6] who was the Messenger appointed by the Senate, that delivered to General Washington the letter containing the news of his election. [7]

Washington's journey to New York Edit

On his way to New York City, Washington received triumphal welcomes in almost every town he passed through. These included Alexandria, Georgetown, Maryland (now part of Washington D.C.), Baltimore and Havre de Grace. One of the places he spent the night was Spurrier's Tavern in Baltimore. Just after noon on April 20, Washington arrived to an elaborate welcome at Gray's Ferry in Philadelphia. On April 21, the Ladies of Trenton hosted his reception at Trenton. [8] On April 23 he took a small barge with 13 pilots through the Kill Van Kull tidal strait into the Upper New York Bay, and from there the city. A variety of boats surrounded him during the voyage, and Washington's approach was greeted by a series of cannon fire, first a thirteen gun salute by the Spanish warship Galveston, then by the North Carolina, and finally by other artillery. [6] Thousands had gathered on the waterfront to see him arrive. [9] Washington landed at Murray's Wharf (at the foot of Wall Street), where he was greeted by New York Governor George Clinton as well as other congressmen and citizens. [6] A plaque now marks the landing site. [10] They proceeded through the streets to what would be Washington's new official residence, 3 Cherry Street. [9]

Since nearly first light on April 30, 1789, a crowd of people had begun to gather around Washington's home, and at noon they made their way to Federal Hall by way of Queen Street and Great Dock (both now Pearl Street) and Broad Street. [6] Washington dressed in an American-made dark brown suit with white silk stockings and silver shoe buckles he also wore a steel-hilted sword and dark red overcoat. [11]

Upon his arrival at Federal Hall, then the nation's capitol and the site where the 1st United States Congress met, Washington was formally introduced to the House and Senate, after which Vice President John Adams announced it was time for the inauguration (Adams had already assumed the office of Vice President on April 21, when he began presiding over the Senate sessions). Washington moved to the second-floor balcony. Chancellor of New York Robert Livingston, who had served on the Committee of Five which had drafted the Declaration of Independence, administered the presidential oath of office in view of throngs of people gathered on the streets. [12] [13] The Bible used in the ceremony was from St. John's Lodge No. 1, A.Y.M., [14] and due to haste, it was opened at random to Genesis 49:13 ("Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea and he shall be for an haven of ships and his border shall be unto Zidon"). [11] Afterwards, Livingston shouted "Long live George Washington, President of the United States!" [15] to the crowd, which was replied to with cheers and a 13-gun salute. [16] The first inaugural address was subsequently delivered by Washington in the Senate chamber, [6] running 1419 words in length. [11] At this time there were no inaugural balls on the day of the ceremony, though a week later, on May 7, a ball was held in New York City to honor the first President. [17]

Three days before George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States, Congress passed the following resolution: Resolved, That after the oath shall have been administered to the President, he, attended by the Vice President and members of the Senate and House of Representatives, shall proceed to St. Paul’s Chapel, to hear divine service. [18] Accordingly, the Right Rev. Samuel Provoost (1742–1815), newly appointed chaplain of the United States Senate and first Episcopal bishop of New York, officiated at a service in St. Paul's Chapel on April 30, 1789, immediately following Washington’s inauguration, with the newly inaugurated President and members of Congress present. [19]


George Washington gives first presidential inaugural address - HISTORY

Longest Inaugural Address: William Henry Harrison’s in 1841. He delivered the 1 hour 45 minute oration without wearing a hat or coat in a howling snowstorm, came down with pneumonia, and died one month later. His was the shortest tenure in the White House.

Shortest Inaugural Address: George Washington’s second, in 1793. Yet he had the most important administration in American history. So the longest inaugural address was followed by the shortest administration in U.S. history, and the shortest inaugural address occurred at the midpoint of the most important administration in U.S. history.

Most meaningful ad libbed line and gesture: George Washington added the words “so help me God” to the oath of office (the original text of which is prescribed by the U.S. Constitution), then bent forward to kiss the Bible. How did these words and this gesture come about? Supposedly the chief justice of New York’s Supreme Court admonished Washington and others that an oath that was not sworn on the Bible would lack legitimacy. As no Bible could be found in Federal Hall, where the swearing in was to be held, one was borrowed from a Masonic lodge a few blocks away.

First president inaugurated in Washington, DC: Thomas Jefferson, on March 4, 1801. George Washington had been inaugurated in New York City (1789) and in Philadelphia (1793), and John Adams had been inaugurated in Philadelphia (1797).

First president to eschew his successor’s inauguration: John Adams, on March 4, 1801. The campaign of 1800 between the sitting president, Adams, and his vice president, Jefferson, had left deep wounds. Adams was in no mood to celebrate and left town.

Tradition of attending a religious service on the way to the Inauguration: began with Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. George W. Bush is attending St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House.

Most striking moment from today’s perspective: when Dwight D. Eisenhower asked listeners to bow their heads: “…[W]ould you permit me the privilege of uttering a little private prayer of my own?” Some reference to God, or asking for God’s blessings on the United States, has been a part of all 55 inaugural addresses. But Ike’s gesture was a first.

Funniest line in a first Inaugural Address: Presidential historian Paul Boller has read every inaugural address (for which, he says, he deserves a medal), and he claims that there is not a single funny line in the official texts. However, our eighth president, Martin Van Buren inadvertently made the audience laugh when he said, “Unlike all who have preceded me, the [American] Revolution that gave us existence as one people was achieved at the period of my birth and whilst I contemplate with grateful reverence that memorable event….” Van Buren meant that he revered the American Revolution, but to the audience it sounded as if he revered his own birth.

Most surprising moment at an Inaugural Ceremony: on January 20, 1953, when Texas-born Dwight Eisenhower, in the reviewing stand, was lassoed by a cowboy who rode up to him on a horse.

Rowdiest inaugural celebration: at Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, the crowd grew so rambunctious that the police had to be called in.

Dumbest thing a president did at his inauguration: once again William Henry Harrison and his March 1841 address, delivered in a snow storm without wearing a hat or overcoat. He came down with a bad cold that developed into a major respiratory infection (probably pneumonia), and was dead within the month. (Of course, many other presidents have acted similarly in extremely cold temperatures during their inauguration. The night before John Kennedy was sworn in, a cold front hammered the East Coast, leaving snow and frigid temperatures in its wake. Watch the film clip: JFK removed his overcoat before standing up to receive the oath of office and deliver his address.)

Warmest inauguration: Ronald Reagan’s first, on January 20th, 1981, when the temperature at the swearing in was 55 degrees.

Coldest inauguration: Ronald Reagan’s second, on January 20th, 1985, when the temperature at noon was 7 degrees. The events were moved inside the Capitol. By the way, Congress had to pass a last-minute resolution to give permission to use the Rotunda for the event.

Best book about inaugurations: Presidential historian Paul F. Boller Jr. of Texas Christian University has written the best historical overview titled Presidential Inaugurations (right).

Second inaugural addresses generally not as long as first ones: As in so much else, George Washington set the example, with an extremely brief second inaugural address that would endure as the shortest in American history. Abraham Lincoln explained why brevity was called for the second time around: “At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented.” And then Lincoln went on to deliver arguably the most memorable Inaugural Address in U.S. history, contemplating an inscrutable God’s just punishment on the North and South because of the existence of slavery.

Most Memorable Inaugural Addresses and Quotations:

George Washington’s first Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789, put the new nation in world historical context: “the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

Thomas Jefferson’s first Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801. After a bitter election that resulted in the first transfer of power from one party to another, he tried to unify the young nation, exclaiming, “We are all Federalists we are all Republicans.”

Abraham Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865, during the closing days of the Civil War, called for “malice toward none,” and “charity for all.”

Franklin Roosevelt’s first Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933, during the depths of the Great Depression, proclaimed, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Franklin Roosevelt’s third Inaugural Address, on March 4, 1941, was a paean to the idea and reality of American democracy when Europe and Asia were being ripped asunder by the Axis juggernaut.

John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961, challenged fellow citizens: “Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country.”

Ronald Reagan’s first Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981, pressed a new idea to reverse the growth of big government: “In the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem.”


George Washington gives first presidential inaugural address - HISTORY

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From the mansion to lush gardens and grounds, intriguing museum galleries, immersive programs, and the distillery and gristmill. Spend the day with us!

Discover what made Washington "first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen".

The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has been maintaining the Mount Vernon Estate since they acquired it from the Washington family in 1858.

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"No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency."

First Inaugural Address | Thursday, April 30, 1789

Editorial Notes

On April 30, 1789 George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States. In this first inaugural address he stated &ldquoI was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love.&rdquo Clearly moved by the choice to elect him as the nation&rsquos first president, Washington&rsquos speech continued in this humble fashion.


The Speech and Bible From George Washington’s First Inauguration Made History Many Times Over

Editor’s Note, January 8, 2021: In advance of president-elect Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration, this post has been updated to clarify that the National Archives exhibition occurred in the past. The Archives are currently closed to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Related Content

“Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order,” George Washington began in an address to Congress on the moment of his first day (April 30, 1789) as President. The first inauguration of an American president was a momentous occasion, and Washington felt humbled by the office itself and the ceremonies that would surround it after he left. Delivering a speech on the occasion of the inauguration would be a tradition continued on to the present day.

To commemorate the historic event in time for the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president, the National Archives displayed the first and last pages of Washington’s handwritten inaugural address and the Bible upon which he swore the oath of office. The documents are a testament to the gravity of the office, and the pressure Washington felt in becoming the first president to serve the nascent United States. This was the first time the two documents had been displayed together since 2005 for President George W. Bush’s second inauguration.

“When Washington was unanimously elected, he was looking forward to returning to private life,” says Corinne Porter, curator at the National Archives. “It was the power of the country’s call to serve that brought him forward.”

As early as Washington’s first day in office he began setting traditions, Porter says. Neither swearing the oath on a Bible nor giving an inaugural address were mandated by Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution (which describes the duties and powers of executive office). Those ceremonial actions were invented by Washington himself, and have largely been followed since 1789—with some deviations.

The president took his oath on a second floor balcony, in front of a cheering crowd. As Washington was a Freemason, it seems fitting that the Bible in use for the event was on loan from St. Johns Masonic Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons. He was sworn into office with his hand on the open pages displaying Chapters 49-50 of Genesis, a section chosen at random.

While most presidents following Washington have continued the tradition of being sworn in on a Bible, several have deviated from that path. John Quincy Adams used a U.S. law book, and Theodore Roosevelt used nothing at all for his first inauguration.

Following the oath, Washington addressed Congress in New York City’s Federal Hall, the nation’s temporary capital. Based on letters in the collection of Washington’s papers, it seems that he may have initially considered delivering a 73-page inaugural speech written by one of his former aides-de-camp, David Humphreys. Only fragments remain of that text, and Washington went on to give a much shorter speech to Congress.


Inaugural Addresses

Complete original text of the inaugural address of every United States President. Includes historical information behind the inaugural address and interesting facts and statistics.

The Constitution is the supreme law of the united States, describing out country&rsquos three-branched, democratic system of government and the fundamental rights to which all citizens are entitled. In Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, our nation&rsquos founders declared that "The executive Power shall be vested in the President of the United States of America," and provided an oath of office for the President-elect&rsquos official swearing-in. This 35-word oath has remained unchanged for more than two centuries, in part because it so clearly and simply describes the responsibilities of the Chief Executive:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

In 1817, James Monroe, our fifth President, became the first to give an Inaugural Address to an assembled public crowd. Since that time, the traditional Inaugural Address has been an opportunity for the President to speak directly to the American people. George Washington said juts 135 words after his second inauguration in 1793, while William Henry Harrison gave the longest Inaugural Address ever, taking almost two hours to deliver 8,445 words.

Inaugural Addresses are often remembered as reflecting a particular time in history. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln called on Americans to "&hellipfinish the work we are in, to bind up the nation&rsquos wounds," while in 1933 Franklin Roosevelt reached out to citizens discouraged by the Great Depression, saying, "This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper." President John F. Kennedy inspired a generation of young people in 1961 when he urged, "&hellipask not what your country can do for you&mdashask what you can do for your country." And in 1993, President Bill Clinton reassured a nation in transition after the end of the Cold War by stating, "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."


On Exhibit: George Washington’s First Inaugural Address and Bible

In honor of the upcoming Presidential inauguration, Washington’s first inaugural address and the Bible that he used to swear his oath of office are on display. The Bible was loaned for the occasion by St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, which still owns the Bible today.

Since the country’s first inauguration of George Washington as President, Presidential inaugurations have been important civic rituals in our national political life. George Washington set many precedents as the first President of the United States, beginning on the day he took office. The Constitution requires only that the President-elect swear or affirm an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” No particular ceremony is mandated for the occasion.

On April 30, 1789, in the temporary capital of New York City on the second floor balcony of Federal Hall, George Washington placed his hand upon a bible and publicly swore his oath before a cheering crowd. He then delivered his inaugural address to a joint session of Congress in the Senate Chamber in Federal Hall. These rituals observed during Washington’s first inauguration are the foundation upon which inaugural traditions are based today.

George Washington was keenly aware of the magnitude of his inauguration and the expectation and anxiety of many Americans regarding the future of the fragile new government. His first words as President would set the tone not just for his Presidency, but the entire country. Therefore, he sought to assure the nation and the world of his determination to make the American experiment a success.

“My station is new and, if I may use the expression, I walk on untrodden ground.”

–George Washington in a letter, January 9, 1790

In this handwritten address to Congress, he humbly noted the power of the nation’s call to serve as President and the shared responsibility of the President and Congress to preserve “the sacred fire of liberty” and a republican form of government. Washington’s address was later printed and distributed throughout the nation and around the world.

Article 2, Section 1, of the United States Constitution requires that the President-elect swear the oath of office before assuming the Presidency. It does not specify how that oath should be administered. A devout man, George Washington swore his oath with his hand placed over Genesis chapters 49-50 on this King James Bible at Federal Hall in New York City. The Bible was loaned for the occasion by St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, which still owns the Bible today. Additionally, the Bible has been used in the inaugurations of Presidents Harding, Eisenhower, Carter, and George H.W. Bush. Most, but not all, Presidents since Washington have sworn their oath over a Bible or other religious text.

The speech and the Bible will be on display until January 25, 2017. The Museum at the National Archives is open to the public on Inauguration Day (January 20).


George Washington gives first presidential inaugural address

Observers noted that Washington appeared as if he would have preferred facing cannon and musket fire to taking the political helm of the country. He fidgeted, with his hand in one pocket, and spoke in a low, sometimes inaudible voice while he reiterated the mixed emotions of anxiety and honor he felt in assuming the role of president. For the most part, his address consisted of generalities, but he directly addressed the need for a strong Constitution and Bill of Rights and frequently emphasized the public good. He told the House of Representatives that he declined to be paid beyond such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require. In deference to the power of Congress, Washington promised to give way to my entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good.

After delivering his address, Washington walked up Broadway with a group of legislators and local political leaders to pray at St. Paul’s Chapel. Later, he made the humble and astute observation that his presidency, and the nation itself, was an experiment.


First Inaugural Address: Final Version

Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the fourteenth day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years: a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my Country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens, a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence, one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions, all I dare aver, is, that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance, by which it might be affected. All I dare hope, is, that, if in executing this task I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof, of the confidence of my fellow-citizens and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me my error will be palliated by the motives which misled me, and its consequences be judged by my Country, with some share of the partiality in which they originated.

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration, to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either: No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations, and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence.

By the article establishing the Executive Department, it is made the duty of the President “to recommend to your consideration, such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The circumstances under which I now meet you, will acquit me from entering into that subject, farther than to refer to the Great Constitutional Charter under which you are assembled and which, in defining your powers, designates the objects to which your attention is to be given. It will be more consistent with those circumstances, and far more congenial with the feelings which actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them. In these honorable qualifications, I behold the surest pledges, that as on one side, no local prejudices, or attachments no seperate views, nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great Assemblage of communities and interests: so, on another, that the foundations of our national policy, will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality and the pre-eminence of free Government, be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its Citizens, and command the respect of the world. I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my Country can inspire: since there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the œconomy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity: Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained: And since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.

Besides the ordinary objects submitted to your care, it will remain with your judgment to decide, how far an exercise of the occasional power delegated by the Fifth article of the Constitution is rendered expedient at the present juncture by the nature of objections which have been urged against the System, or by the degree of inquietude which has given birth to them. Instead of undertaking particular recommendations on this subject, in which I could be guided by no lights derived from official opportunites, I shall again give way to my entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good: For I assure myself that whilst you carefully avoid every alteration which might endanger the benefits of an United and effective Government, or which ought to await the future lessons of experience a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen, and a regard for the public harmony, will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question how far the former can be more impregnably fortified, or the latter be safely and advantageously promoted.

To the preceding observations I have one to add, which will be most properly addressed to the House of Representatives. It concerns myself and will therefore be as brief as possible. When I was first honoured with a call into the service of my Country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. From this resolution I have in no instance departed—And being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable to myself, any share in the personal emoluments, which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the Executive Department and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the Station in which I am placed, may, during my continuance in it, be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.

Having thus imparted to you my sentiments, as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the human race, in humble supplication that since he has been pleased to favour the American people, with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparellelled unanimity on a form of Government, for the security of their Union, and the advancement of their happiness so this divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views—the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.


The First Inauguration

George Washington set a precedent for future presidents when he delivered the first inaugural address on April 30, 1789. Washington used the opportunity to discuss some of his positions, including his refusal to take a salary while in office:

"When I was first honored with a call into the service of my country. the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. . being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable to myself any share in the personal emoluments which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the executive department, and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates. be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require."

The rejection of a salary despite its inclusion in the Constitution did not become a common part of subsequent inaugural addresses. However, George Washington's religious invocation did start a presidential trend:

"[I]t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States."

Religious references, ranging from secular invocations such as Jefferson's "Infinite Power" and Martin Van Buren's "Divine Being" to a mention of "Almighty God," have appeared in almost every president's inaugural address. What do these religious references contribute to the inaugural ceremony? Why are they so common? What do they tell you about the nation?

The Bible used in George Washington's inaugural oath has appeared in other inaugurations. In his 1989 inaugural address, George H.W. Bush noted,

"I have just repeated word for word the oath taken by George Washington 200 years ago, and the Bible on which I placed my hand is the Bible on which he placed his. It is right that the memory of Washington be with us today. because Washington remains the Father of our Country. And he would, I think, be gladdened by this day: for today is the concrete expression of a stunning fact our continuity these 200 years since our government began."


Watch the video: What Made George Washington Great? (January 2022).