America’s First Inauguration

Young George Washington Bookends (LEO Design)

On this day in 1789, at about noon, a spiffy George Washington emerged from his New York City home.  He lived at One Cherry Street, near the East River.  He was dressed in a dark brown (American made!) wool suit, white silk stockings, and a dark red overcoat.  Light glinted off the shiney silver buckles atop his shoes.  A crowd had been gathering since daybreak and followed him on his short carriage ride to Federal Hall, the country’s capitol building.

At Federal Hall, Washington was introduced to the combined House and Senate.  Then, Vice-President John Adams (who had been sworn-in a few days earlier) announced it was time to inaugurate America’s first president.  George Washington stepped-out upon Federal Hall’s second-floor balcony and place his hand upon the Masonic Lodge Bible. Hundreds of people gathered to watch from the street in front of the building.  He was sworn-in by the Chancellor of New York, Robert Livingston, who ended the Oath of Office with “Long live George Washington, President of the United States!”  The crowd cheered over the explosions of a thirteen gun salute.

New York wasn’t long-lived as capital of the new country.  Within two years, the capital had moved to Philadelphia, then to Washington, DC.  Alas, Federal Hall is also gone, torn-down (in 1812) like so many other New York City landmarks.  A customs house was built in its place, at 26 Wall Street.  That building has now been converted into the Federal Hall National Memorial, a museum run by the National Park Service, commemorating the first president and the lost Federal Hall.  And let’s not forget about poor One Cherry Street, “the country’s first White House.”  It is long-gone, too.  An anchorage support for the mighty Brooklyn Bridge now stands (heavily) upon the spot where George Washington once slept.

At least the cast iron bookends (pictured above) of a young George Washington still exist. They were made in the 1920’s—long after Federal Hall, One Cherry Street, and the great man himself were gone.