Friday, April 30, 2010

George Washington's First Inaugural Address


On this day in 1789 George Washington stood on the second floor balcony of Federal Hall in New York City - then the capital of the United States - and in front of a large crowd that had been assembling since first light took the oath of office from Chancellor of New York Robert Livingston, who then swore in Washington's Vice President (and eventual successor) John Adams.

Washington then repaired indoors, to the Senate Chamber, where he delivered his first inaugural address to the members therein assembled. As shown above, and reproduced in part below, the 1,419 words of the address have an archaic ring to them and speak of Washington's seeming reluctance to assume the mantle of the presidency; whether genuine or not, the modesty he demonstrated is part of what made him the great leader he was.

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Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:
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 14th 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 unpracticed 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 mislead me, and its consequences be judged by my country with some share of the partiality in which they originated.

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