Historical Highlights

The First Inauguration at Federal Hall in New York City

April 30, 1789
The First Inauguration at Federal Hall in New York City Image courtesy of Library of Congress The first Federal Congress met in Federal Hall in New York City. Congress then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while it awaited the construction of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
On this date, George Washington was sworn in as President of the United States before a Joint Meeting of Congress at Federal Hall in New York City. Around one o’clock, Washington took the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall, allowing the crowd of spectators to witness the event. After taking the oath, Washington delivered his inaugural address in the Senate Chamber. “On the one hand, I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love,” Washington said. “On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my country called me . . . could not but overwhelm with despondence one, who . . . ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.” He declined, “any share in the personal emoluments which may be . . . included in a permanent provision for the Executive department,” and asked that, “estimates for the station in which I am placed may . . . be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.” Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania remembered that Washington seemed “agitated and embarrassed more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed musket” of the British during the American Revolution. Representative Fisher Ames of Massachusetts, however, recalled, “a very touching scene,” although Washington was “actually shaking, his voice deep . . . and so low as to call for close attention.” The next day, Representative James Madison of Virginia moved that “an address to the President ought to be prepared, expressing the congratulations of the House of Representatives . . . of the patriotic sentiments and of the liberal policy recommended by the speech.” The House unanimously agreed to Madison’s motion.

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