The United States recognizes an important milestone tomorrow. April 30th marks the 225th anniversary of George Washington’s first inaugural address delivered in 1989 in New York City. Washington was elected President by the unanimous vote of the Electoral College. John Adams who received the second most votes became Vice President.
Washington was sworn into office on the balcony of Federal Hall overlooking Wall Street with a crowd of 10,000 people looking on. History.com describes the scene as follows,
“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.”
The humility with which Washington assumed office is striking. He referred to himself in his First Inaugural address as “inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration.” He reminded his listeners of the “providential” nature of America’s founding and the gratitude owed to the “Almighty Being.”
“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.”
Washington also spoke about the importance of elected leaders to “watch over” the country with “no local prejudices, or attachments; no separate views, nor party animosities” and he spoke about his hope that “the foundations of our National policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality.”
Washington renounced “every pecuniary compensation” as President and made clear that any funds spent on the office during his term be “limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.”
George Washington’s rise to the Presidency and the unofficial title he earned as “father of our country” was not by accident. He was carefully chosen by those who sacrificed greatly to be free and by those who understood the importance of placing into the highest office a man who would respect the constitutional underpinnings of the new republic.
Washington referred to America in his address as “the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” His deeply held belief in “the people” to protect “the sacred fire of liberty” and his ability to submit personal ego to this greater objective played a primary role in setting America on the course to becoming the greatest engine for good and economic prosperity that the world has ever known.
The complete transcription of George Washington’s First Inaugural Address can be found here.