On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office to become the very first President of the United States. Located at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets in New York City, Federal Hall played host to this historic occasion as a collection of dignitaries gathered on the structure’s balcony.
Following ratification of the Constitution, the House and Senate met on April 6th for their first joint session to count the electoral votes. After tabulation, the results revealed Washington had been elected president and John Adams vice president.
Washington was in residence at Mount Vernon when he received news of his election at approximately 5:00 p.m. on April 14th. The message was sent to him by New Hampshire Senator John Langdon, the Senate’s first president pro tempore who had presided over the tabulation. Washington then sent his reply to Langdon and began preparations for his trip to New York, which commenced two days later.
Prior to leaving Mount Vernon on April 16th for his new role as President of the United States, Washington took a few moments to make an entry into the journal he kept. Following the stress and anxiety he endured during the years of the American Revolution, it is likely he harbored a reluctance to leave the peace and serenity of his home. It can also be safely assumed he may have held a concern regarding what the future held for him in this new role. Despite this, Washington deeply loved his country and put her needs before his desires.
“About 10 o’clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity, and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York in the company with Mr. Thompson and Colonel Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.”
On his journey to New York, Washington passed through present-day Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, continuing on to Gray’s Ferry in Philadelphia, arriving there on April 20th. Trenton, New Jersey was his next stop, with New York City after that.
As Washington’s vessel appeared in Upper New York Bay, a single shot was fired by The Galveston, a Spanish royal packet-boat anchored at the harbor’s entrance. When Washington’s barge had passed by, the vessel then fired a 13-gun salute, which was repeated by the Battery and then 13-guns near the fort were heard as the craft landed. Thousands of citizens were gathered along the waterfront to welcome Washington at Murray’s Wharf. Here he was greeted by New York Governor George Clinton.
Clinton and a host of dignitaries now escorted Washington to his new official residence at 1 Cherry Street. Washington would remain there for 16 months, then move to Philadelphia where he would occupy the President’s House from November 1790 to March 1797.
On hand to witness the festivities was Rudolph Von Dorsten, Secretary of the Dutch Legation in NYC. He had this to say about the arrival of the new president:
“President George Washington made his entry into New York on Thursday, April 23rd. On the previous day, a barge left this city. The barge was built expressly by the citizens of New York, and was rowed by thirteen pilots, all dressed in white. A committee of three Senators and five Representatives on behalf of Congress, and three of the first officers on behalf of New York, went to Elizabethtown in New Jersey to welcome the President and to await his arrival there. His Excellency was also accompanied by some well-equipped sloops and by a multitude of small craft with citizens of New Jersey and New York on board.”
Three days prior to Washington’s inauguration, Congress had passed the following resolution: Resolved, That after the oath shall have been administered to the President, he, attended by the Vice President and members of the Senate and House of Representatives, shall proceed to St. Paul’s Chapel, to hear divine service.
Accordingly, the newly appointed Chaplain of the United States Senate and first Episcopal Bishop of New York, the Right Rev. Samuel Provoost performed the service at St. Paul’s Chapel immediately following Washington’s inauguration. While he resided in New York, St. Paul’s Chapel remained Washington’s place of worship. Today a banner displaying the Great Seal of the United States hangs over the pew where he sat.
Between Washington’s arrival in New York and his inauguration, the new president spent a week in his New York residence while the Senate and House deliberated over how the inauguration would be conducted. Finally, all was in order and on April 30th, Washington was escorted to Federal Hall for the oath.
Upon his arrival in the Senate Chamber, Washington was joined by Vice-President John Adams, who had already been administered his oath on April 21st, along with the various Senators and Representatives. Stepping out onto the balcony, Washington looked over the cheering crowd. Chancellor Robert R. Livingstone, New York’s highest ranking judge, administered the oath. Afterwards, President Washington turned and bowed to the crowd, who responded with three cheers.
The length of Washington’s inaugural address numbered 10 pages, and included both tenacious idealism and the deep anxiety he felt as he began his term of office as the first President of the United States. The moral context Washington’s message was: “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.”
President George Washington closed out his inaugural address by stating:
Having thus imparted to you my sentiments as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, 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 for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.
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