George Washington’s Inauguration
April 30, 1789 was Inauguration Day in America. Clouds blanketed the city, but an eager public in New York City was determined to take part in a grand jubilee to celebrate the elevation of George Washington to the presidency of the United States.
“We shall remain here, even if we have to sleep in a tent,” said one visitor. New York was a city of 29,000 residents, 300 grog shops, and no sidewalks so the crowding was intense. In every window, on every roof, and in the streets a massive throng of people had gathered. At dawn, thirteen cannons roared their salute, and George Washington emerged on the portico of Federal Hall as the sun broke through the clouds. Or, so the story goes.
Washington wore a dark brown suit “of homespun clothes.” It was made in America, and the symbolism was rich to the members of the international press in attendance. The world had never seen a national leader dressed so simply – no lavish robes trimmed with fur, not even a dashing military uniform. George Washington presented himself to the people as one of them, an ordinary citizen now assuming the role of president. Washington placed his hand on the Bible and took the oath of office, the same oath that every American president has subsequently sworn to. The air exploded with cheers: “Long live George Washington, President of the United States!”
The Constitution requires that presidents must take this oath of office before they assume their presidential duties. This thirty-five-word oath prescribed in Article 2 of the Constitution formally ends one president’s term and begins the next. From the day George Washington placed his hand on the Bible and recited the oath, inaugural ceremonies have been an important symbol of the continuity and permanence of American government.