The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Advanced Placement United States History Study Guide

Period 3: 1754-1800

George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, 1789

George Washington's First Inaugural Address published in the Gazette of the UnitAfter officially enacting the newly ratified US Constitution in September 1788, the Confederation Congress scheduled the first inauguration for March 1789. However, bad weather delayed many congressmen from arriving in the national capital, New York. It wasn’t until April 6, 1789, that a quorum had reached New York to tally the electoral ballots and declare George Washington the winner. On April 30, 1789, Robert R. Livingston, the chancellor of New York, administered the oath of office to George Washington on a second floor balcony of Federal Hall. Washington and members of Congress then moved to the Senate Chamber, where Washington delivered his inaugural address to a joint session of Congress.

Unlike the lengthy 73-page first draft of his speech (which was completely discarded), Washington’s inaugural could easily be read in twenty minutes. In it, Washington eloquently states the fundamental principle of the American democratic revolution: “the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

A pdf of the full printing of Washington's First Inaugural Address excerpted from the Gazette of the United States, May 2, 1789 is available here.

Excerpt

From George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789 (GLC03518)

I behold the surest pledges, that as on one side no local prejudices, or attachments—no separate views, no party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests; so, on the other, that the foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; and the pre-eminence of free government, be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens, and command the respect of the world—I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love of my country can inspire. Since there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the œconomy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage, between genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity. Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which heaven itself has ordained. And since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.

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