Jan. 14, 2009
George Washington was keenly aware that he "walked on untrodden ground." Everything he did would create a precedent, for good or ill. He had to borrow money to make the journey from his beloved Mount Vernon to New York City, where the new government made its temporary headquarters. Washington's inaugural route was a great celebration. He passed under flowered bowers, past cheering throngs, and saluted by thirteen white-clad maidens, each one representing one of the original states. Thirteen strong rowers conveyed the new President across the river from the Jersey shore to New York. The Federal Building in lower Manhattan had been specially refurbished by Maj. Pierre L'Enfant, a French immigrant, for the occasion of the first Presidential Inauguration. It would be held on April 30, 1789.
Washington did not wear the blue and buff uniform he had worn as commander of the Continental Army. He had been firm in resigning his military commission to Congress meeting at Annapolis more than five years earlier. Instead, he wore a new brown suit, made for him from American fabric by American tailors.
With our recent flap about prayers at a Presidential Inauguration in mind, it's interesting to speculate on what today's atheizers-those people who want to impose their atheism on the rest of us---would make of Washington's Inauguration. Appearing on the balcony before a large crowd, Washington added to the Presidential Oath of Office four significant words. They don't appear in the oath as it is written in the Constitution. But every President since George Washington has followed his leading: "So help me God."
Then, in the full view of a cloud of witnesses, Washington kissed the Bible.
Inside Federal Hall, Washington delivered his Inaugural Address. He openly prayed to God as "that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect" Washington asked God for "his benediction [which] may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves..." Even the precious gifts of Independence and free government Washington attributed to the hand of Providence. In fact, he spoke of "the sacred fire of liberty" being entrusted to Americans.
That sacred fire is now handed down to us. With the Inauguration of Barack Obama, we have the forty-fourth President in direct line from George Washington. Ours is the oldest constitutional government in the world. Yet we still recognize that our government is what Washington called it: an experiment. And it needs our prayers and our earnest efforts to sustain it.