April 30, 1789: George Washington’s first inauguration as President of the U.S.


Mural by Allyn Cox in the U.S. Capitol depicts George Washington taking the oath of office in 1789 on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City. Architect of the Capitol photograph

Mural by Allyn Cox in the U.S. Capitol depicts George Washington taking the oath of office in 1789 on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City. Architect of the Capitol photograph

Not on March 4, as the Constitution specified, because Congress had not been able to organize itself to count the ballots of the electoral college, but on April 30, 1789, George Washington met with the U.S. Senate on the second floor of a building now called Federal Hall; then to the balcony, where Robert Livingston, Chancellor of the State of New York, administered the oath of office to Washington.  Washington put his left hand on a Bible borrowed from St. John’s Masonic Hall — there were no Bibles to be found in Federal hall where the First Congress was meeting.

That’s how it started.

The Library of Congress Today in History feature links to a wealth of resources for scholars and teachers:

Father of Our Country

George Washington

Detail from Gilbert Stuart’s unfinished portrait of George Washington, from the collections of the Library of Congress.

George Washington [detail],
Gilbert Stuart, artist.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

On April 30, 1789, George Washington delivered his first inaugural address to a joint session of Congress, assembled in Federal Hall in the nation’s new capital, New York City. The newly-elected president delivered the speech in a deep, low voice that betrayed what one observer called “manifest embarrassment.” Washington had not sought the office of president and was humbled by the request to serve.

Aside from recommending constitutional amendments to satisfy citizens demanding a Bill of Rights, Washington confined his address to generalities. He closed by asking for a “divine blessing” on the American people and their elected representatives. In delivering his address, Washington went beyond the constitutional requirement to take an oath of office and thus established a precedent that has been followed since by every elected president.

Two weeks before his inauguration, Washington had made an emotional speech to the citizens of his hometown, Alexandria, Virginia. He expressed regret at leaving his Mount Vernon estate where he had retired, and stated: “no earthly consideration, short of a conviction of duty, could have prevailed upon me to depart from my resolution,’never more to take any share in transactions of a public nature.'” The reluctant leader served two terms in office.

To learn more about George Washington, explore the following American Memory resources:

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6 Responses to April 30, 1789: George Washington’s first inauguration as President of the U.S.

  1. Black Flag® says:

    “This is the tendency of all human governments.

    A departure from principle becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of society is reduced to mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering… And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.”

    Thomas Jefferson

    Like

  2. Black Flag® says:

    The United States was not created to make government the primary institution, unlike your claim.

    It was founded on freedom – not servitude to the State.

    Like

  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Ratification of the Constitution required the assent of the people of each state — not the state governments, not the officials, but the people.

    Lincoln got it right: Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

    If that’s “overthrow,” we need more of it.

    Like

  4. Black Flag® says:

    Of course it was.

    Instead of acting as delegates to the Convention that was only authorized to discuss the Articles, they overthrew the United States instead.

    But as with most Americans, who do not know history and are government schooled, they jump from the US revolution right to the “Constitution” without a thought about it.

    Like

  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Depends on the “it” one refers to.

    George Washington’s inauguration was not the “overthrow of these United States,” in any rational way, to any rational person.

    Like

  6. Black Flag® says:

    But that’s not how it started – that is how it ended with the overthrow of these United States.

    The anniversary of when it actually started happened last month, March 1, 1781.

    But you forgot that.

    Like

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