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

April 30, 2014

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:


Fly your flag today: Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday (and President Obama’s 2nd Inauguration)

January 21, 2013

I hope your flag is already flying today — sun’s up in almost all the U.S.

Newseum photo, U.S. Capitol at dawn in inauguration day, 2013

U.S. Capitol before dawn, January 21, 2013 — flags for the Senate and House not up yet, but the historic five flags of the nation hang ready for the 2nd Inauguration of the 44th President, Barack Obama. Photo from the roof of the Newseum.

Fly the U.S. flag today for the holiday for the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday in January.

Many Americans will celebrate with a day of service.

Today also celebrates the 2nd inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, the 57th inauguration of a president.

What a breathtaking intersection of history!

Miami Herald front page, January 21, 2013

Courtesy of the Newseum, the front page of the Miami Herald, today — featuring the Martin Luther King, Jr., monument, and the official inauguration of President Barack Obama.  40 years ago, who would have dared guess this front page in a southern newspaper?


View from the National Capital Mall, 2nd Inauguration of Barack Obama

Photo by John Rudy, from the National Capital Mall, about 11:00 a.m., January 21, 2013. Flags a-flying there!

Fly your flag today, for the inauguration of President Obama

January 20, 2009

The United States Armed Forces Color Guard presents the American flag and the different U.S. military service flags at the opening ceremony for the 55th Presidential Inauguration, A Celebration of Freedom, near the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2005. More than 5,000 service members will take part in the 55th Presidential Inauguration. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tracy DeMarco

The United States Armed Forces Color Guard presents the American flag and the different U.S. military service flags at the opening ceremony for the 55th Presidential Inauguration, "A Celebration of Freedom," near the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2005. More than 5,000 service members will take part in the 55th Presidential Inauguration. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tracy DeMarco

The law asks us to do it, but we only get the chance every four years.

Fly your flag today for the inauguration of the president, Barack Obama.

The flag flying today bears 50 stars, the 50th in honor of Obama’s birth state, Hawaii.

Today is one of those days we get to see the flag displayed with scrupulous attention paid to the proper methods of display.  If you see a flag attached to an automobile, for example, it will probably be on a special attachment on the right front fender of the vehicle, as the Flag Code suggests.  The free-for-all flag display methods of small town Fourth of July parades will be reined in.  At least, we hope so.

Fly your flag today — you’ll be glad you did.


Disciples minister to preach National Prayer Service

January 18, 2009

This will make P.  Z. Myers shake his head — apologies, P. Z. — but those of us in the “mainstream,” or “liberal leaning” sect of the Disciples of Christ are quite happy that our general minister, Sharon Watkins, will preach the sermon at the National Prayer Service on Wednesday.

We’re such a politically polyglot group that we can be described as mainstream, liberal, or conservative with some accuracy.  Three presidents have Disciples roots — James Garfield, who was a Disciples minister before becoming president of a Disciples college in Ohio; Lyndon Johnson, who was a life-long Disciple, and who built a chapel on his ranch; and Ronald Reagan, whose mother was a devout Disciple, and who attended one of several Disciples affiliated colleges, Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois.

Watkins is the first woman to preach at this service in the history of the nation.

The National Prayer Service is one of those events that underscores the separation of church and state.  At the first Washington inaugural, it was held the same day as the ceremony, but after the official ceremony.  The attendees concluded the swearing in and other official ceremonies, then adjourned to a church a few blocks away for a sermon, those who wished to.

This year the sermon will be held in the National Cathedral, a majestic building which is actually an Episcopalian venue (where Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller are interred), miles from the federal area at the National Mall, and a day after the inauguration.

But watch:  There will be a band of religious radicals, fanatics, who will claim that the mere existence of this service somehow nullifies the First Amendment, and suggests that the government has a religious bias.  Do not believe them.  You know the history, and you know better.  Our government has great tolerance for religious displays, but no tolerance for religious bias, in our government.

I’ve wondered sometimes what would happen were the three Disciples presidents to meet.  If Reagan and Johnson ever met, I have not found the record of it.  I wonder whether Johnson, Reagan and Garfield could have found between them some subject of common interest for talk of substance.  It’s difficult to imagine Reagan and Johnson finding much common ground, one who revered FDR and the New Deal, and the other who campaigned against the New Deal almost from the day FDR died.  And yet they shared concepts of faith, and they may have found there common ground on which to stand, and talk.

I marvel at a sect that embraces, and celebrates, such diversity.  We think it makes for healthier theology, healthier congregations, and a healthier nation.

We can hope.

Below is the press release from Disciples News Service, with details about the service and how to view it or listen to it.  There is also a plea for clips from local papers — maybe some of you could do a good turn and clip any article that appears in your local paper, with the date and page, and mail it in.  It’s for the archives, you know — history.

Disciples News Service


National Prayer Service Updates

January 17, 2009
Dear Disciples,
Earlier this week it was announced that Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins will preach the sermon at the National Prayer Service in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Jan. 21. Her sermon will conclude Presidential Inauguration activities for our country’s forty-fourth President, Barack Obama. Dr. Watkins appreciates the outpouring of support, prayers and well wishes she has received from Disciples and ecumenical colleagues everywhere since the announcement.
“I am so grateful that Disciples have a role in this historic moment,” said Watkins. “I am depending on your prayers for God to use me to deliver an uplifting and appropriately challenging message to our new President, vice-President and all those who will attend the service.”
Watkins will be joined by a diverse group of religious leaders at the prayer service, which will take place at the National Cathedral, starting at 10 a.m. EST.
A press release listing those who will participate in the service was released yesterday afternoon and includes another Disciples pastor, Dr. Cynthia Hale, Senior Pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga. Hale will be among those reading scripture. To read the press release that announces participants at the service, please go to:

Many of you have asked about opportunities to view the program. Our office has just learned that the program will be webcast in two ways. One is through the National Cathedral website at: www.nationalcathedral.org. The other option is to go to the Presidential Inaugural Committee website at www.pic2009.org.
We’ve also had a number of phone calls regarding the availability of tickets for the prayer service. Unfortunately, we have not been able to secure tickets for the service.
Please note that DisciplesWorld Publisher and Editor Verity A. Jones will provide special coverage of many Inauguration activities, including the prayer service. Jones will blog from Jan. 18 to Jan. 21 at: disciplesworld.wordpress.com. She also will post news stories to the Disciples World home page and send short updates from the DisciplesWorld “twitter” account. To read more about ways DisciplesWorld will keep you informed, go to: www.disciplesworld.com/dynamic.html?wspID=501

Finally, Associate General Minister and Vice-President Todd Adams asks that Disciples send in hard copies of newspaper articles that have been covered in your community about Dr. Watkins and the prayer service, so that we might keep them in our official archives. Articles can be sent to: Dr. Todd Adams, Office of General Minister and President, P.O. Box 1986; Indianapolis, Ind. 46206-1986.
To read the Jan. 11 press release from the Presidential Inaugural Committee that announced Dr. Watkins selection for the prayer service and to learn updates about events taking place during the Inauguration, please visit www.disciples.org.
Please keep Sharon and the many other Disciples who will be attending the Inauguration, National Prayer Service and other events in your prayers.

Wanda Bryant Wills
Executive Director of Communication Ministries

Tip of the old scrub brush to Bill Longman, “Bill in the Ozarks,”  and the DoCDisc Listserv.

Other resources:

Go get the lesson plans on presidential inaugurations NOW!

January 14, 2009

One more time, I gotta say that the lesson plans from the Bill of Rights Institute on inauguration is top notch.  I’ve shared it around our department, and several people are downloading it, planning to put the stuff to use.  It’s a good, solid lesson plan, it looks like something that will engage students nicely, and it’s on a topic that could not possibly be more timely.

But the free download goes away tonight!  Go get the thing NOW!

The Bill of Rights Institute includes these lesson plans as a no-cost download with Being an American: Exploring the Ideals that Unite Us, Second Edition.  That book is cheap, too — just $19.95 — so you can pay a bit, and still get this great lesson plan, plus a whole bunch of other good stuff.

But I’m an even bigger cheapskate, and I want this stuff to be ready to use on January 21, when our kids start the next semester.  The hours are ticking away.

“I swear (or affirm)”: Ready for the inauguration?

January 14, 2009

Here’s a map that should be more viewed in America, but a map which has been much overlooked in the post-election euphoria, or post-election gloom.  It’s the map of electoral college results, still showing Republicans in a Soviet/Maoist red, and Democrats in blue:

Electoral College results from the 2008 presidential election - American Presidency Project

Electoral College results from the 2008 presidential election - American Presidency Project

Note especially the blue dot in Nebraska, around Omaha.  Nebraska splits its electoral college votes, giving each congressional district’s vote to the elector for the candidate who actually won in that district.  Obama won Omaha’s district; Nebraska is officially a red and blue state.  Maine also allows a split in electors, but this year did not see a split among the electorate.

America is not so red as some claim, even in the electoral college.  More states are surrounded by blue states than surrounded by red states.

Perhaps it’s time to find other ways to color these maps, so that we cannot so easily speak of a red state/blue state split that does not reflect politics, economics, or much of anything else in America.

Dallas students are out on inauguration day.  We can hope our government and history students will glue themselves to the television to watch the ceremony, but we know better than to expect it.

Will you discuss the inauguration in your classes, whatever the subject?  Here are some sources you could use:

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