America’s First Presidential Inauguration

US #854 was issued on the 150th anniversary of Washington’s inauguration.

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as America’s first president.

Earlier in the year, on February 4, 69 members of Congress unanimously voted to elect Washington the first president of the United States.  While Washington was initially reluctant to take the position, he eventually agreed to out of a sense of duty.

US # 2346 pictures Federal Hall, which was demolished in 1812.

Washington borrowed $600 to travel from his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, to New York City for his inauguration.  (New York City was the nation’s capital at the time.) Washington’s journey from Mount Vernon was much like a parade honoring a national hero.  Every city and town along the way held a celebration.

US #2414 was issued for the 200th anniversary of the Executive Branch as well as Washington’s inauguration.

Inauguration day began with a military salute at Fort George at sunrise.  Then beginning at 9 a.m., church bells throughout New York City rang for a half an hour.  At 12:30, Washington left Franklin House for Federal Hall.  A military escort of 500 men, a horse troop, artillery, grenadiers, light infantry, and Scottish Highlanders accompanied him.  The 57-year-old president-elect rode in a cream-colored coach to Federal Hall at Broad and Wall Streets.

After arriving at Federal Hall, Washington went to the Senate chamber and met with the two houses of Congress.  Then at 2 p.m., Washington was brought out onto the balcony outside of the Senate chamber for his inauguration, so “that the greatest number of the people of the United States, and without distinction, may be witnesses to the solemnity.”

US #854 – Classic First Day Cover.

There was no Supreme Court or chief justice at the time, so New York’s highest-ranking judge, Chancellor Robert Livingstone, gave the Oath of Office.  There was a brief moment of confusion as Livingstone discovered there wasn’t a Bible available.  A runner found one at a nearby Masonic Lodge, and Washington’s inauguration was able to continue.

US #854 – Rubber Stamp First Day Cover.

Washington took his oath of office with his hand on a Bible and pronounced “So help me God.” at its conclusion, a tradition that has been followed by all but two US presidents.  After he finished his oath, he kissed the Bible and a 13-gun salute followed.  Livingston then announced the crowd, “Long live George Washington, president of the United States!”

US #2414 – Silk Cachet Combination First Day Cover.

President Washington then delivered his inaugural address in the Senate Chamber.  After the ceremony, the president’s carriage couldn’t be found in the sea of spectators jamming Wall Street.  Washington suggested that the vice president and members of Congress walk with him as he traveled seven blocks to a previously arranged church service.  Fireworks, paid for by private citizens, concluded the inaugural celebration that evening.

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  1. Wort all 5 stars…Very interesting…but who were the two presidents who did not say “So help me God” ?

  2. An interesting side note–the church service referred to was held at Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Paul’s Chapel which is a short distance from Ground Zero. On 9/11/01 with death, devastation and destruction all around the Church stood unscathed and provided support, aid and comfort to the first responders and other rescue workers for days on end. The injured and exhausted were assisted and tended to on Washington’s pew.

  3. Interesting article. In response to an earlier question, did some digging. Seems there is a lack of clarity on the exact words used at the end of the oath in the first half of the 19th century since historians can only deal with what witnesses remember being said. As far as I can tell, President Hoover did not say “So help me God” since he did not repeat the oath but simply responded “I do” after the Chief Justice read it. President Obama did not initially use the words, but did say them after he was prompted by the Chief Justice, so I’m not sure that really counts as not using the phrase. Did anyone else find anything different?

    1. Oh, come on. If everything this minute was taught in school, kids wouldn’t graduate until they were about 25 years old.

  4. For a man who gave so much to establish this great country, George Washington has taken a back seat when it comes to celebrating his birthday. Only four state officially recognize his birthday. Since he was the first President, George Washington established many of the precedence used by this office today to include the “State of the Union” address.

  5. Washington was selected unanimously by the Electoral College in 1789, not Congress. The latter merely accepted the result. The EC, as we were reminded of in both 2000 & 2016, determines who wins an election.

  6. I was very surprised that Washington had to borrow $600 for the trip to NYC. I thought that he was a wealthy land owner and I had read that he owned on of the largest distillery in the country.

    1. Washington was rich in land and slaves, but he was a little short in cash which was needed to stay in inns, feed his retinue, put up his horses etc.

  7. Very good article…interesting and informative. Thank you, John, for doing the legwork on the question asked earlier.

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