Vol. LXVII No. 2 — February 1989
THE FIRST INAUGURATION: PATRIOTIC & MASONIC!
Captain Kenneth R. Force, USMS
"Sir: 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 enlightened people" — Letter to President elect Washington from John Langdon, Temporary President of the U.S. Senate.
The above congratulatory note was delivered to General George Washington* at Mount Vernon on April 14th, 1789. Thus, from this humble beginning began the American Presidency — an office that one day would become the most powerful and responsible position in the entire world.
Two days later, on April 16th, General Washington left his beloved Virginia home, accompanied by his personal secretary, Colonel David Humphreys*, and by Mr. Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress and the individual chosen to deliver the congratulatory message.
The General, dressed in his familiar buff and blue uniform, looked resplendent upon his horse. All along the route to New York City, the party was greeted by a tumultuous outpouring of public adulation and enthusiasm. Each tiny village and town displayed its finest decorations; even the General was overwhelmed by the receptions that greeted him every place he passed through.
The most noteworthy greeting was at Trenton, New Jersey, where a magnificent arch was erected at the Trenton bridge displaying the motto, "The Defender of the Mothers will also protect the Daughters." As Washington passed under the arch, a choir of white-robed mothers and daughters sang Alexander Reinagle's chorus, "Welcome Mighty Chief, Once More." This work is dedicated to the President's wife, Martha.
For weeks, elaborate preparations had been underway in New York for the arrival of the nation's war hero and leading example of the country's unity and pride. By the time of the inauguration, Washington had become a unifying symbol to the people and his popularity took on cult-like dimensions. He was revered with an almost religious fervor, clearly reflected in the Lyrics contained in the music of that period.
On April 23rd, he arrived at Elizabethport, New Jersey. He was met by a committee from Congress and several other notable dignitaries, including Chancellor Robert Livingston*. (Livingston would administer the oath of office a few days later.)
At the shore lay waiting a magnificent forty-five-foot-long barge, commanded by Commodore James Nicholson*, which had been constructed at great expense for the occasion. On its deck was a red-curtained enclosure beautifully decorated with festoons and symbols of the new Republic. Rowing the barge were thirteen river pilots dressed in white, who had been especially selected to transport the stately General Washington to Manhattan. Other barges accompanied the Presidential vessel filled with leading politicians and future Cabinet members.
As the Presidential barge proceeded down the Hudson River, a Chorus rose up from a sloop anchored in the harbor singing an "ode" to the General. This "ode" is described in eloquent terms by the New York Packet:
The voices of the ladies were as much superior to the flutes that played with the stroke of the oars in Cleopatra's silken corded barge, as the very superior and glorious water scenes of New York Bay exceeds Cyndus in all its pride. We could with rapture dwell upon this interesting subject, and wander into the fields of fancy for expressions to paint the various and delightful appearances that vied with each other at the same time to welcome the great and illustrious man to our now happy city.
Another description of the "singing" has been preserved in the writings of Congressman Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, who was part of the Presidential party that day:
Before we got to Bedlars Island (now Liberty Island, site of the Statue of Liberty) a large sloop came, with full sail on the Starboard Bow, when about 20 Gentn & Ladies rose up, and with excellent & melodius voices sung an Eloquent Ode appropriate to the occasion, & set to the music of "God Save the King," welcoming their Great Chief to the Seat of Government. At the conclusion we gave them our Hats, and then they with the surrounding Boats, gave three Hurra's which made the neighborhood shores rebound with Joyful acclaimation. (Spelling and punctuation unaltered from the original.)
When the Presidential barge passed the Spanish sloop-of-war Galveston, the men of the ship fired a thirteen-gun salute and immediately displayed the flags of "all foreign nations." Another thirteen-gun salute was fired as the barge rounded the Battery and finally at Murray's Wharf, at the foot of Wall Street, a final salute of thirteen-guns was fired as the Presidential barge landed.
General Washington climbed the carpeted stairs to the pier where he was greeted by the Governor and Mayor along with city and state officials. From the wharf, a grand procession was formed which accompanied the General to his new residence, the house of Samuel Osgood, at Cherry Street and Franklin Square. As the procession progressed through the streets of the city, a tumultuous outpouring of public adulation greeted him, and the General was visibly and emotionally moved.
Homes and business establishments were decorated with signs, flags, and every festive decoration imaginable. At night, candles were displayed in windows as the city continued to celebrate.
The United States Gazette reported: Many persons who were in the crowd on Thursday were heard to say that they should now die contented — nothing being wanted to complete their happiness, previous to this auspicious period but the sight of the Savior of his Country.
Inauguration Day, April 30,1789, is unique in American history. Not only did it mark the taking of the oath of office by America's first president — it was the only inauguration of an American President in New York City, the capital moving to Philadelphia for Washington's second inauguration and those of his successor, John Adams. Thomas Jefferson was the first President to be inaugurated in the new capital city of Washington on the Potomac.
The day began with a cannon salute fired from the Battery at sunrise. (An early wake-up call!) At nine o'clock, all the churches in the city held special religious services. At noon, Congress assembled at Federal Hall on Wall Street and a procession of dignitaries, politicians and militia proceeded to the Presidential mansion on Cherry Street (the present sight of the Brooklyn Bridge tower) to accompany the President back to Federal Hall where Congress was meeting. The building had served as City hall, but was remodeled by the architect, L'Enfant. It stood on Wall Street at the head of Broad.
With the President-elect that morning as he wended his way to the Hall were John Langdon of New Hampshire, Charles Carroll of Maryland, and William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut. They were escorted by selected military units commanded by General William Malcom*, with Morgan Lewis*, (later Grand Master of New York) serving as Marshal and Jacob Morton* and Leonard Bleecker* as aides. So great was the press of spectators in Broad Street that Washington and his immediate party were obliged to dismount and walk the last hundred yards. Behind them, the crowds broke through the ranks of the military. The windows were jammed wherever they provided any view of the spectacle, and even the housetops along Broad Street were taken advantage of for a bird's-eye view of the stirring scene taking place below.
At Federal Hall, Washington entered the Senate chamber where he was received by the Vice President, John Adams, and the assembled congressmen and senators. Adams spoke as follows: "Sir! The Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States are ready to attend you to take the oath required by the Constitution, which will be administered by the Chancellor of the State of New York." The reply was a dignified "I am ready to proceed."
The Oath was administered in the outer gallery, so that it would be done in the most public manner. According to Washington Irving, who at the age of seven was an eyewitness, there was a table in the center upon which lay a superbly bound Bible on a crimson velvet cushion. In other accounts, the Bible was missing, and Jacob Morton, who was then both Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of New York and Master of St. John's Lodge No. I (later Grand Master of New York), went to the Lodge room nearby to borrow the alter Bible. Either way, there is no doubt that the Bible (published in 1767) was the property of St. John's Lodge (constituted in 1757), and it remains a treasured possession to this day. (Elected officers of the Grand Lodge today take their obligation on this Bible, and it has been present at several Presidential inaugurations. It will be on display at the White House from January through March 1989, and it will be part of the Bicentennial celebration of the first inauguration, on April 30, 1989.)
Washington made his appearance clad in a dark brown suit of American manufacture (woven in Samuel Hinsdale's* mill in Hartford), with a steel-hilted sword. He advanced to the front of the balcony, laid his hand upon his breast, bowed solemnly several times, and then returned to an arm chair near the table. After the cheering subsided, he arose and again stepped forward. Vice President John Adams stood on his right; at his left was Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, Grand Master of Masons in New York, who administered the oath; nearby were Generals Richard Henry Lee*, Henry Knox*, Arthur St. Clair*, Baron Von Steuben*, House Speaker Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg*, and New York Governor George Clinton*, (ironically, leader of the Anti-Federalists at the New York Ratification Convention in Poughkeepsie, two years earlier!).
After the Constitutional oath was given, concluded with the words "So help me God!", Samuel Allyne Otis, Secretary of the Senate, who held the Bible, would have raised it to Washington's lips, but the President bent down reverently and kissed the Holy book (open to Genesis, Chapter 49). Stepping to the railing, Chancellor Livingston announced to the crowd below, "It is done! Long live George Washington, President of the United States!" At that moment, the flag was raised on the cupola of Federal Hall, which signaled the artillery at the Battery to render a salute. The bells of the City rang forth and the populace screamed forth shouts of joy.
After the balcony ceremony, President Washington entered the Senate chamber and delivered his inauguration address to the assembled Congress. Then, in another procession, he left Federal Hall and proceeded with the Vice President to nearby St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church for religious services. (A practice followed to this day by New York Masons, who have reenacted the oath-taking ceremony for many years.) That evening, the city was beautifully illuminated as parties and balls were held in celebration of the momentous event.
The first inauguration ... one in which the principal, a Freemason, took an oath administered by a Grand Master of Masons, upon the Bible of a Masonic Lodge, and witnessed by other Masonic and public dignitaries. We are all proud of Washington as our first President; we can be equally proud of him as a Freemason!
* indicates Masonic Membership