A Small Note On the History of Today
My friend Ben sent this email today, pertaining to the 219th anniversary of the swearing in of George Washington. In our town, amongst all the scandals and gotchas, the lobbyists and their unlimited cash, the frustration of the common man, and all manner of other injustices, we tend to gloss over, or merely canonize, those who stood on the ragged edge of history and dared to make government about the people, and not about the whims of a tyrant.
On this day in 1789, on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City, George Washington took the oath of office to become the first elected President of the United States.
Our first and last unanimously elected leader, he had six years earlier resigned as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army – keeping his promise to the American people that he would be no monarch. When told by painter Benjamin West of Washington’s impending resignation, King George III was said to have exclaimed in shock: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Washington did not make note of his election as president in his diary. The journal he kept – unlike so many of his peers – was a simple and brief account of, as he referred to it, “Where & How my Time is Spent.” But before departing on the ten day journey from Virginia to New York for his inauguration, Washington wrote: “About ten 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. Thomson, and colonel [David] Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.”
The man was greeted by constant celebration – the praise and honor due the national hero. But he did not relish it. Upon arriving in the city on April 23rd, he wrote: “The display of boats which attended and joined us on this occasion, some with vocal and some with instrumental music on board; the decorations of the ships, the roar of cannon, and the loud acclamations of the people which rent the skies, as I passed along the wharves, filled my mind with sensations as painful (considering the reverse of this scene, which may be the case after all my labors to do good) as they are pleasing.”
He understood the risks of this new government, and was fearful of his ability to deliver a nation worthy of its people. The hopes and dreams of so many were tied up in him. But he would do his best.
The oath itself – well – you know how that turned out. This is as close as one might come to being there:
Whatever you are doing today, pause for a moment to be thankful for this man – with whose leadership the Almighty saw fit to grace us, and without whom America would not be.
Thanks, Ben, for sending this along.