Today, April 30, 1789: Swearing In Of The Only Man Who Didn’t Want To Be President

On November 12, 1694, Lawrence and Mildred Washington gave birth to a son and named him Augustine, Gus for short. They lived in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Gus was a very ambitious man who amassed a considerable amount of land and slaves. He built mills, grew tobacco and even toyed with the idea of mining iron.

Gus’s first wife Jane Butler gave him three kids before her death in 1729. He remarried I 1731 to Mary Ball. Together, Gus and Mary had six kids, the oldest being George, born February 22, 1732. In 1735, the Washington family moved to Little Hunting Creek Plantation which was later named Mount Vernon. Three years later, they moved again to Ferry Farm located opposite Fredericksburg, Virginia across the Rappahannock River.

George Washington’s education consisted of being homeschooled along with lessons from a church sexton and a schoolmaster who taught him Latin, English, math and geography. He also spent a lot of time learning from local pioneers and the plantation foreman who taught him surveying, growing tobacco and raising livestock.

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Augustine Washington died with George was 11. Young George became the ward of half-brother Lawrence who moved the family back to Little Hunting Creek Plantation and married Anne Fairfax the daughter of Colonel William Fairfax. After spending a year with a surveying party at age 16, Col. Fairfax helped get George the appointment of official surveyor of Culpepper County.

Three years later, when George was 20, Lawrence died of tuberculosis, followed 3 months later by his daughter Sarah. George inherited Little Hunting Creek Planation along with the Washington family lands. George kept adding more land throughout the rest of his life amassing close to 8,000 acres.

A short time after the death of his half-brother, George was appointed to the rank of Major in the Virginia militia. In 1753, Washington was sent to the wilds of Pennsylvania to warn the French to leave British land, but the French refused. Washington returned to Virginia to report the refusal and was sent back to Pennsylvania with a number of troops to establish a fort with the purpose of stopping French colonization and fur trapping on British lands. Washington led his troops in a successful attack of the French Fort Duquesne. The French commander was killed and Washington captured the fort, launching what became known as the French Indian War.

The French quickly regrouped and attacked Washington forcing him to surrender. He was later released after promising not to return and build anymore British posts along the Ohio River.

In 1755, Washington, now 23 years of age, Washington was given the honorary rank of colonel in the services of British General Edward Braddock who launched a campaign to attack the French at Fort Duquesne, Fort Niagara and Crown Point. Along the way, Braddock’s troops were ambushed by a contingency of French and Indians. Braddock was killed in the action. Washington managed to escape after having 2 horses shot out from under him. Later on he discovered four bullet holes in his jacket. This miraculous escape led the Indian chief involved in the skirmish to believe Washington to be a protected leader who could not be killed in battle.

In August 1755, Washington promoted to commander of the Virginia militia and sent back to patrol several hundred miles of frontier border. His troops were poorly trained and lacked discipline. On top of that, the Virginia legislature refused to financially support him and his troops. After only a couple of years on the frontier border, Washington was forced to return home to Virginia due to poor health. He returned to duty in 1758 and led a successful capture of Fort Duquesne. Later that year, Washington resigned from the military and retired to his Mount Vernon estate.

In January 1759, Washington married Martha Dandridge Curtis. Martha was a widow with two kids, John (6), called Jacky and Martha (4), called Patsy. George treated them as his own kids and reportedly loved them dearly. He was greatly sorrowed when Patsy died before the Revolutionary War broke out and Jacky died during the war. George adopted two of Jacky’s kids and raised them as his own. He and Martha never had any kids of their own and any descendent of George Washington were actually those of Martha and her former husband and no blood relation to the Father of our nation.

In 1758, Washington was elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses. He spent his time there and managing the vast estate he amassed. Martha owned 18,000 acres when she married George and he purchased 6,000 of those acres from her for his own. He was directly involved with his livestock and crops, being one of the first in the area to regularly rotate his crops.

Through the 1760’s Washington was frequently writing letters opposing the different acts imposed by the British. In 1769, Washington introduced a measure into the Virginia House of Burgesses to boycott all British goods until the British removed their various acts.

On April 19, 1775, the American Revolution started with the confrontation between British troops and the Minutemen of Massachusetts at the Lexington green.

In May 1775, Washington, still a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, showed up in Philadelphia where the Second Continental Congress was meeting. He was wearing his military uniform and was ready for war. He did not seek any lofty rank or command, but on June 15, 1775, the Second Continental Congress bestowed the rank of Major General on Washington and then made him Commander-in-Chief of the entire Continental Army.

Washington felt very inadequate for such a command. Most of his prior military experience was obtained on the western frontier, fighting the French and Indians and not all of his campaigns were successful. Now he was tasked with leading a rag tag militia of largely untrained men against the foremost and well trained army in the entire world.

Over the next 8 years, Washington led his colonial army against the mighty British. In the first few years, Washington experienced some victories and some defeat. Against all odds and only by the grace of God, Washington defeated the British and bringing the war to an end on September 3, 1783.

After the war ended, Washington once again retired from military service, leaving the governing of the nation to the Continental Congress. He returned home to Mount Vernon, enjoying in the peaceful life of a wealthy plantation owner. However, the peaceful life he sought was short lived as he kept hearing about all of the problems the Continental Congress was having trying to run the new nation under the Articles of Confederation.

In 1788, Washington found himself back in Philadelphia trying to help resolve the governing problems. Many were trying to amend the Articles of Confederation and even though Washington helped lobby for such changes, he knew that a new constitution was needed to replace the Articles of Confederation and he began to lobby for just that. The new Constitution of the United States was written and eventually ratified, but not without a great deal of difficulty and negotiations.

The 57-year-old Washington again returned to private life where he longed to live out his days at his beloved Mount Vernon estate. He believed that his days of public service were behind him.

On February 4, 1789, the first electorate, consisting of members of the Continental Congress and duly appointed private citizens, cast their vote for the first President of the United States and then a second vote was cast for Vice President. Everyone involved in Philadelphia only had one candidate in mind for the presidency.

The votes were supposed to be counted on March 4, 1789 when the new United States Congress was to meet for the very first time. However, not enough members of Congress showed up and lacking a quorum, the tallying of the votes was postponed.

On April 6, 1789, there were enough members of Congress present and the votes were tallied. To no one’s surprise, George Washington was unanimously elected to be the first President. The only uncertainty facing Congress was whether or not Washington would accept the position. He had heard about the vote and being the favored candidate, but he never said if he would accept or not. He truly wanted to live a civilian life at Mount Vernon.

On April 14, 1789, Washington received the formal invitation from Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress. Thomson carried a message from John Langdon, President of the Senate, which read:

“I have the honor to transmit to your Excellency the information of your unanimous election to the Office of President of the United States of America. Suffer me, Sir, to indulge the hope, that so auspicious a mark of public confidence will meet your approbation, and be considered as a sure pledge of the affection and support you are to expect from a free and an enlightened people.”

Even though Washington had not spoken of the election, nor had he sought the office of President, he had prepared a response which he presented to Thomson. His statement read:

“I have been long accustomed to entertain so great a respect for the opinion of my fellow-citizens, that the knowledge of their unanimous suffrages having been given in my favor, scarcely leaves me… an option. Whatever may have been my private feelings and sentiments, I believe I cannot give a greater evidence of my sensibility for the honor they have done me, than by accepting the appointment… All I can promise is, only that which can be accomplished by an honest zeal.”

On April 16, 1789, Washington sadly bade his beloved Mount Vernon and private life goodbye and headed to New York City, writing in his journal:

“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 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 April 23, 1789, Washington arrived in New York City. His entrance to the city was described by the Secretary of the Dutch Legation, Rudolph Von Dorsten:

“President George Washington made his entry into New York on Thursday, April 23d. 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.

A Spanish royal packet-boat, happening to be anchored at the entrance of the harbor, at sight of the barge, on board of which was the President, fired a signal-shot, whereupon that vessel was dressed at once with the flags of all nations. When the presidential barge passed, the Spanish vessel saluted his Excellency by firing thirteen guns, which was repeated by the Battery, and again thirteen guns were fired by the fort when the President landed.

His Excellency was received by Governor George Clinton, the mayor of the city and other officers, and, after a procession had formed, consisting of some companies of uniformed citizens and the merchants and other citizens of the city, the President walked with his escort and, Governor Clinton at his side, to the house prepared by Congress for his use.”

On this day, April 30, 1789, George Washington stepped out on the balcony of New York’s First Federal Hall. Facing Wall Street, Washington took the oath of office as prescribed by Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution. Then Washington delivered his first inaugural address as President of the United States of America.

In his address, thanked and called upon God to help all of them in governing the fledgling nation, stating:

“Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow- citizens at large less than either. 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. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence.”

Congress determined that the president would be paid $25,000 a year salary, equivalent to about $650,000 in today’s value). Washington declined the salary as he was a reasonably wealthy man. However, Congress persuaded him to accept the salary so that the people would not come to think that only a rich man could be president, which today is the only way to obtain the office.

Washington served as a very able and wise president for two terms. In 1797, he once again retired to him beloved Mount Vernon and private life. Sadly, that retirement was short lived as Washington succumbed to a throat infection and died on December 14, 1799.

George Washington never sought to lead a nation’s army nor did he seek to be the nation’s leader, but he accepted the calls of his nation and served it more admirably than any other president in the history of our nation.


Sources for the above includes: The Inauguration of George Washington, 1789; The First Presidential Inauguration; George Washington First Inaugural Address; George Washington; The First President; George Washington Biography; George Washington is Elected President; President’s Swearing-In Ceremony.

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