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Perfect tranquility: Some resonating words from the first inauguration

The inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States. Also present are (from left) Alexander Hamilton, Robert R. Livingston, Roger Sherman, Mr. Otis, Vice President John Adams, Baron Von Steuben and General Henry Knox. Original Artwork: Printed by Currier & Ives. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Things have changed quite a bit since the first presidential inauguration in 1789.

Wednesday, Joe Biden becomes the new president, and will take his oath of office, marking the 73rd time it will be taken, by 46 presidents.

Since 1937, inaugurations have been held on Jan. 20. Before that, March 4 was a common yet non-consistent day in which the oath was taken.

George Washington was the first person to be inaugurated, and thus began the important civic ritual.

According to the Center for Legislative Archives, in 1788, the Confederation Congress announced Washington would be inaugurated on the first Wednesday in March 1789. However, the beginning of that year was unseasonably cold, with snowy and bad weather delaying many members of the First Federal Congress from arriving promptly to New York City — the temporary seat of government.

More than a month late, enough of the members reached NYC to tally the electoral ballots, according to the archives, and Washington won unanimously with 69 electoral votes.

Illustration of American general and politician George Washington (1732 - 1799) receiving the news of his election as the first American president, 1789. Martha Washington (R) looks on. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Washington took oath as the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789 in front of a crowd of 10,000 people who showed up to witness the historic event, according to History.com. He then delivered the first inaugural address to a joint session of Congress.

While emphasizing the public good, Washington addressed the need for a strong Constitution and Bill of Rights.

He also said he would be declining pay beyond what the public good thought was required.

Here are some notable pieces of his speech:

“I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear, but with veneration and love.”

“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 misled me, and its consequences be judged by my country, with some share of the partiality in which they originated.”

“I behold the surest pledges, that as on one side, no local prejudices, or attachments; no separate views, nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests: so, on another, that the foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; and the pre-eminence of a free government be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens, and command the respect of the world.”

“I shall again give way to my entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good: For I assure myself that whilst you carefully avoid every alteration which might endanger the benefits of an United and effective government, or which ought to await the future lessons of experience; a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen, and a regard for the public harmony, will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question how far the former can be more impregnably fortified, or the latter be safely and advantageously promoted.”

“I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my country can inspire: since there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity.”

“I shall take my present leave, but not without resorting once more to the benign parent of the human race, in humble supplication that since he has been pleased to favor the American people, with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government.”

You can read the full speech by clicking or tapping here.


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