Inauguration Day: George Washington’s 1789 oath of office

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Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, uses George Washington’s 1789 copy of “Acts Passed at the First Congress of the United States of America,” which includes the U.S. Constitution, to tell a short story on how the presidential oath of office has been unchanged since the founding of the nation. It’s the same oath that Joe Biden swore to today, 232 years later.

George Washington was an American political leader, military general, statesman and Founding Father who served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Previously, he led Patriot forces to victory in the nation’s War for Independence.

The first inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States was held on Thursday, April 30, 1789 on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, New York. The inauguration was held nearly two months after the beginning of the first four-year term of George Washington as President.

Federal Hall is a historic building at 26 Wall Street in the Financial District of Manhattan, New York City. The name refers to two structures on the site: a Federal style building completed in 1703, and the current Greek Revival-style building completed in 1842.

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

Upon his arrival at Federal Hall, then the nation’s capitol and the site where the first United States Congress met, Washington was formally introduced to the House and Senate, after which Vice President John Adams announced it was time for the inauguration. Adams had already assumed the office of Vice President on April 21, when he began presiding over the Senate sessions.

Washington moved to the second-floor balcony. Chancellor of New York Robert Livingston, who had served on the Committee of Five which had drafted the Declaration of Independence, administered the presidential oath of office in view of throngs of people gathered on the streets. The Bible used in the ceremony was from St. John’s Lodge No. 1, A.Y.M., and due to haste, it was opened at random to Genesis 49:13 which read “Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.”

Afterwards, Livingston shouted “Long live George Washington, President of the United States!” to the crowd, which was replied to with cheers and a 13-gun salute. The first inaugural address was subsequently delivered by Washington in the Senate chamber, running 1,419 words in length. At this time there were no inaugural balls on the day of the ceremony, though a week later, on May 7, a ball was held in New York City to honor the first President.

Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress

Perry White

Metropolis born and bred Perry White is the fearless Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet. Famous for his tough-but-fair attitude and his nose for potential, Perry was responsible for hiring both Lois Lane and Clark Kent on to the paper's staff, and keeping the Planet afloat through numerous disasters and would-be buyouts. Perry is proud to count himself among Superman's friends, and prouder still to uphold the truth and justice represented by the free press.

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