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home : community : community June 29, 2022

5/7/2022 12:34:00 AM
George Washington Becomes Our First President
Oil painting of George Washington's inauguration as the first President of the United States which took place on April 30, 1789.

Oil painting of George Washington's inauguration as the first President of the United States which took place on April 30, 1789.

Federal Hall, New York City, site of George Washington's first inauguration, April 30, 1789.
Images Source: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division.

Federal Hall, New York City, site of George Washington's first inauguration, April 30, 1789.

Images Source: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division.

Jennifer Baker
Vesuvius Furnace Chapter, DAR

Chances are you saw our Today in History for April 30th.  If you did, you saw a picture of George Washington who became the first US President on April 30th, 1789.

Jennifer Baker of the Vesuvius Furnace chapter of the DAR tells more of the story.

George Washington Becomes the First President of the United States

Compiled by Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter

The country was exhausted from seven years of war. After the failure of the Articles of Confederation, a new governing document had been created called the US Constitution. There was very little established for this fledgling country, but one thing was for certain – George Washington was the predominant choice to lead the country into this new chapter of existence.

The electoral college was in place so that meant that Washington’s election would need to be ratified. The first Presidential term would start on March 4, 1789; the date set by the Congress of the Confederation for the beginning of operations of the federal government under the new US Constitution. However, logistical delays prevented the actual start of the operations of the Executive Branch on that day. On that date, the House of Representatives and the Senate convened for the first time, but both adjourned due to lack of a quorum. As a result, the Presidential electoral votes could not be counted or certified. On April 1st, the House convened with a quorum present for the first time, and the representatives began their work, with the election of Frederick Muhlenberg as its Speaker. The Senate first achieved a quorum on April 6th, and elected John Langdon as its president pro tempore. That same day, the House and Senate met in joint session and the electoral votes were counted. Washington and Adams were certified as having been elected President and Vice President respectively.

It was 5 PM at Mount Vernon on April 14, 1789, when Washington received official notification that he had been unanimously selected by the Electoral College to be the nation's first President. The letter had been sent by Senator John Langdon of New Hampshire, the first president pro tempore of the United States Senate, who had presided over the counting of the electoral votes. Washington replied immediately, and set off in the morning two days later, accompanied by David Humphreys and a Mr. Thomson, who was the messenger appointed by the Senate that delivered to General Washington the letter containing the news of his election.

Like most Presidents in the country’s later history, Washington was a man of wealth. While it is true that Washington owned a lot of land—more than 50,000 acres of it, in addition to Mount Vernon— he was considered “land poor,” meaning he didn’t always have a lot of cash at his disposal. His bank account was so dry, he actually had to borrow money to travel to New York City for his first inauguration. On his way to New York City, Washington received triumphal welcomes in almost every town he passed through. These included Alexandria, Georgetown, Maryland (now part of Washington, DC), Baltimore and Havre de Grace. One of the places he spent the night was Spurrier's Tavern in Baltimore.

Just after noon on April 20th, Washington arrived at an elaborate welcome at Gray's Ferry in Philadelphia. On April 21st, the Ladies of Trenton hosted his reception at Trenton. On April 23rd he took a small barge with 13 pilots through the Kill Van Kull tidal strait into the Upper New York Bay, and from there the city. A variety of boats surrounded him during the voyage, and Washington's approach was greeted by a series of cannon fire, first a thirteen-gun salute by the Spanish warship Galveston, then by the North Carolina, and finally by other artillery. Thousands had gathered on the waterfront to see him arrive. Washington landed at Murray's Wharf (at the foot of Wall Street), where he was greeted by New York Governor George Clinton as well as other congressmen and citizens. A plaque now marks the landing site. They proceeded through the streets to what would be Washington's new official residence, 3 Cherry Street.

George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States on  April 30, 1789 as he was administered the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets in New York City.  Unlike the inaugurations of today, this was a much less formal event and was not planned in detail. When Washington arrived in New York City on April 30th, there was much fanfare. A large crowd gathered in what turned out to be a parade. When Washington arrived at Federal Hall, someone realized they forgot the Bible and obtained one from a nearby Masonic Lodge. Washington also started the inaugural address tradition. The first inaugural address was subsequently delivered by Washington in the Senate chamber, running 1419 words in length.

Three days before George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States, Congress 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 Right Rev. Samuel Provoost, newly appointed chaplain of the United States Senate and first Episcopal bishop of New York, officiated at a service in St. Paul's Chapel on April 30, 1789, immediately following Washington’s inauguration, with the newly inaugurated President and members of Congress present. (At this time there were no inaugural balls on the day of the ceremony, though a week later, on May 7th, a ball was held in New York City to honor the first President.)

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Related Stories:
• Today In History - April 30

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