The 1789 inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States under the Constitution was a very important event. It established several precedents for inaugurations that have withstood the test of time, including many religious activities. Congress had set up a basic procedure for the inauguration but there were some of the details that Washington added in himself during this historic event — such as the phrase “so help me God” after the oath and the practice of giving an inauguration address. Below, from WallBuilders’ collection, is a May 3, 1789 excerpt of an eyewitness account of the inauguration that was printed in the newspaper, Gazette of the United States (May 9-May 13, 1789).
Philadelphia, May 8.
Extract of a letter from New-York, May 3.
“I was extremely anxious to arrive here, in order to be present at the meeting of the President and the two Houses. That event, however, did not take place til Thursday last, when The President was qualified was qualified in the open gallery of the Congress House, in the sight of many thousand people. The scene was solemn and awful, beyond description. It would seem extraordinary, that the administration of an oath, a ceremony so very common and familiar, should, in so great a degree excite the public curiosity. But the circumstances of his election—the impression of his past services—the concourse of spectators—the devout fervency with which he repeated the oath—and the reverential manner in which he bowed down and kissed the sacred volume—all these conspired to render it one of the most august and interesting spectacle ever exhibited on this globe. It seemed, from the number of witnesses, to be a solemn appeal to Heaven and earth at once, Upon the subject of this great and good Man, I may, ‘perhaps, be an enthusiast; but I confess, that I was under an awful and religious persuasion, that the gracious Ruler of the universe was looking down at that moment with peculiar complacency on an act, which to a part of his creatures was so very important. Under this impression, when the Chancellor pronounced, in a very feeble manner, “Long live George Washington,” my sensibility was wound up to such a pitch, that I could do no more than wave my hat with the rest, without the power of joining in the repeated acclamations which rent the air.”