President George Washington's First Inaugural Speech (1789)
On April 16, 1789, two days after receiving official notification of his election, George Washington left his home on the Potomac for New York. Accompanied by Charles Thompson, his official escort, and Col. David Humphreys, his aide, he traveled through Alexandria, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton, Princeton, New Brunswick, and Bridgetown (now Rahway, NJ). At these and other places along his route, the artillery roared a salute of honor and the citizens and officials presented him with marks of affection and honor, so that his trip became a triumphal procession. On April 23, he crossed the bay from Bridgetown to New York City in a magnificent barge built especially for the occasion.
Lacking precedents to guide them in their preparations for the first Presidential inaugural, Congress appointed a joint committee to consider the time, place, and manner in which to administer to the President the oath of office required by the Constitution. Certain difficulties in planning and arrangements arose from the fact that Congress was meeting in New York’s former City Hall, rechristened Federal Hall, which was in process of renovation under the direction of Pierre L’Enfant. On April 25, Congress adopted the joint committee’s recommendation that the inaugural ceremonies be held the following Thursday, April 30, and that the oath of office be administered to the President in the Representatives’Chamber. The final report of the committee slightly revised this plan with its recommendation that the oath be administered in the outer gallery adjoining the Senate Chamber, “to the end that the Oath of Office may be administered to the President in the most public manner, and that the greatest number of people of the United States, and without distinction, may witness the solemnity.”
On inauguration day, the city was crowded with townspeople and visitors. At half past noon, Washington rode alone in the state coach from his quarters in Franklin Square to Federal Hall on the corner of Wall and Nassau Streets. Troops of the city, members of Congress appointed to escort the President, and heads of executive departments of the government under the Confederation preceded the President’s coach, while to the rear followed ministers of foreign countries and local citizenry.
At Federal Hall, Vice President John Adams, the Senate, and the House of Representatives awaited the President’s arrival in the Senate Chamber. After being received by Congress, Washington stepped from the chamber onto the balcony, where he was followed by the Senators and Representatives. Before the assembled crowd of spectators, Robert Livingston, Chancellor of the State of New York, administered the oath of office prescribed by the Constitution: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” After repeating this oath, Washington kissed the Bible held for him by the Chancellor, who called out, “Long live George Washington, President of the United States,” and a salvo of 13 cannons was discharged. Except for taking the oath, the law required no further inaugural ceremonies. But, upon reentering the Senate Chamber, the President read the address that is featured here. After this address, he and the members of Congress proceeded to St. Paul’s Church for divine service. A brilliant fireworks display in the evening ended the official program for this historic day.
(Information excerpted from Washington’s Inaugural Address of 1789. National Archives and Records Administration: Washington, DC, 1986.)