The First Inaugural Address of George Washington

My Choice

I chose Washington's First Inaugural Address because not only was it his first, but it was also the first for the nation. It set the tone for all future addresses to follow. It was one of the many precedents that Washington set as our first president. As America faced an uncertain future guided by an untried form of government, Washington promised the success of the American experiment.

The Address

The year was 1789. New Hampshire, the ninth state to ratify the Constitution had just done so a few months before, setting in motion the structure of government described by that document. Two states - North Carolina and Rhode Island - had not yet ratified the Constitution. As members of Congress started to gather and other elected and chosen officials took their place, electors gathered according to the Constitution and cast their vote for the first President. It seemed an obvious choice, but Washington received the most votes (69 to Adams' 34). On April 30, 1789, almost two months late as members of Congress were delayed in traveling due to an unusually harsh winter, Washington rose and addressed the attendees of the Inauguration.

Washington began his address by stating his humble answer to the citizens of the nation who called him into public service. He offered an emotional acknowledgement on the difficulty of the task that lay ahead and questioned his ow faults and deficiencies. He stated the need to work with Congress to preserve the liberties fought for just a decade before.

Near the middle of the address, Washington states:
  • "In these honorable qualifications, I behold the surest pledges, that as on one side, no local prejudices, or attachments; no seperate 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."
In the above passage, Washington offers an interpretation of his responsibilities. He pledges to not allow anything to occur that may impede successful operation or prevent government from being effective and productive. He also asserts a fundamental pledge to lay the groundwork on which posterity may use to establish the United States as a world leader.

Just before closing Washington makes a profound statement that gives adds to our portrait of his character. As a matter of finance and government budget, Washington declares his wish to serve the office of President without compensation. In his own words he said that his salary "be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require." Truly, that level of selfless service to country died with Washington.

Above at right is a Wordle (click it to enlarge) of Washington's First Inaugural. A Wordle is an application that takes a bunch of text and creates a word cloud that emphasizes those words that are used most in that document. Clearly Washington emphasized the role of government, public good, country, and the people, in his first message as President of the United States of America.

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