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Primary Documents in American History

George Washington's First Inaugural Address

George Washington
George Washington / painted by G. Stuart ; engraved by H. S. Sadd, N.Y.
[New York City] : Published at the Albion Office, 1844.
Prints & Photographs Division
Reproduction Number:
LC-DIG-pga-03226

On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States. He delivered his first inaugural address to a joint session of Congress, assembled in Federal Hall in the nation's new capital, New York City. With one exception, his first inaugural address did not contain specific policy recommendations. Washington urged Congress to add a bill of rights to the Constitution that would express “a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen and a regard for the public harmony…” Although not required by the Constitution, every president since Washington has followed his example and delivered an inaugural address.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

American Memory Historical Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation

The Annals of Congress contains a summary of the inaugural ceremony and the text of Washington's first inaugural address. Additional copies of the address are available in the American State Papers, House Journal, and Senate Journal.

This collection also includes Maclay's Journal, a diary kept by Senator William Maclay describing his experiences in the First Congress. The entry for April 30, 1789, provides a detailed description of Washington's first inauguration.

George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress

This collection includes a manuscript copy of George Washington's first inaugural address. A copy of the address is also available in Washington's letterbook.

Search Washington's papers on the word inaugural to find congressional documents concerning the 1789 inaugural ceremony.

"I Do Solemnly Swear . . .": Presidential Inaugurations

This collection contains a special presentation on George Washington's first inauguration, which includes manuscripts, letters, and prints. In addition, Marvin Kranz, former specialist, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, provides historical insights into Washington's first inauguration.

The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals

In 1889, The Century Magazine published an article providing an overview of Washington's first inauguration.

The James Madison Papers

On May 10, 1789, James Madison, then a representative from Virginia, wrote a letter to Edmund Randolph. Beginning on page 2 of this letter, Madison describes why Washington was delayed in coming to New York for his inauguration, the certainty of his election, and the removal of titles in his inaugural address as prescribed beforehand by a joint congressional committee.

Words and Deeds in American History

This collection presents a copy of George Washington's first inaugural address dated April 30, 1789.

Exhibitions

American Treasures at the Library of Congress - Washington's First Inauguration

George Washington passed through several cities -- including Philadelphia and Trenton -- on the way to his first inauguration at Federal Hall in New York City, then the temporary capital of the United States. Aware of the importance of this national ritual, the brown-suited Washington set many precedents during his first inauguration: the swearing-in took place outside; the oath was taken upon a Bible; an inaugural address was given that set the pattern for all subsequent addresses; and festivities accompanied the inauguration, including a church service, a parade, and fireworks.

"I Do Solemnly Swear..." Inaugural Materials from the Collections of the Library of Congress

This online exhibition presents a letter from George Washington to Henry Knox addressing the quality of the cloth and buttons that would be used for Washington's suit of plain brown cloth. Also shown is a letter by the first Inaugural Committee on Ceremony in the Senate and a Currier & Ives print illustrating the public adulation that greeted the first president-elect along his route to New York.

Library of Congress Information Bulletin

Conservation Corner: Washington's First Inaugural Address

This 2001 article examines the treatment of Washington's first inaugural address by the Library of Congress Conservation Division.

The Teachers Page

Presentations - Inaugurations

This feature is a supplement to the American Memory collection "I Do Solemnly Swear...": Presidential Inaugurations. It includes an essay on the history of presidential inaugurations and links to primary source materials, including items related to Washington's first inauguration.

Today in History

April 30, 1789

On April 30, 1789, George Washington delivered his first inaugural address to a joint session of Congress, assembled in Federal Hall in the nation's new capital, New York City.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

George Washington's Inaugural Address, National Archives and Records Administration

Our Documents, President George Washington's First Inaugural Speech, National Archives and Records Administration

The Papers of George Washington: First Inaugural Address, University of Virginia

Selected Bibliography

Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency: George Washington. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. [Catalog Record]

Flexner, James Thomas. George Washington and the New Nation, 1783-1793. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970. [Catalog Record]

Freeman, Douglas Southall. George Washington: A Biography. 7 vols. New York: Scribner, 1948-1957. [Catalog Record]

McDonald, Forrest. The Presidency of George Washington. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1974. [Catalog Record]

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  December 18, 2012
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