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George Washington’s Inauguration

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George Washington was unanimously elected President when the Senate and House met for the first time on April 6, 1789 in New York, the nation’s first capital, to count the electoral votes. The first government under the Constitution became effective on March 4, 1789. John Adams received the second most votes and he became the first vice president. In 1804 the Twelfth Amendment provided that the president and vice president appear together on the ballots.

Washington was notified of his election on April 14, 1789, at Mount Vernon and he left two days later for an eight-day journey to New York. He made many stops along the way to receive congratulations, accolades and blessings, including at Elizabeth, NJ the last stop before New York. When he arrived in New York he settled into his new home at 3 Cherry Street and tried to rest up as best he could before the Inauguration on April 30th. Chancellor of New York Robert Livingston prompted Washington when he recited the oath of office and our first president kissed the bible he had a hand on when he finished.

Sarah Robinson, the niece of the building’s owner, was in New York and wrote her observations in a letter dated on April 30, 1789, to her cousin. This is one of the few eyewitness accounts of the preparations of this auspicious historic first presidential inauguration. The letter is from the collection of Henry Scheuer a noted collector and author of numerous articles documenting first hand and eye witness accounts of presidential inaugurations.

Here is an excerpt:

Pictured is the top part of the letter showing the City and Date as the 30th of the 4th month.

“Great rejoicings in New York on the arrival of General Washington; an elegant Baye decorated with an awning of Sattin, 12 oarsmen dressed in white frocks and blue ribbons, went down to E. Town [Elizabeth, NJ] last fourth day (Wednesday) to bring him up. A stage was erected at the Coffee house [Fraunces Tavern] wharf covered with a carpet for him to step on where a company of Iight horse of Artillery and most of the inhabitants were waiting to receive him. They paraded through Queen Street [today’s Pearl Street] in great form while the music of the drums and the ringing of the bells were enough to stun one with the noise. Previous to his coming, Uncle Walter's house in Cherry St. W taken for him, and every room furnished in the most elegant manner. Aunt Osgood and Lady Kitty Duer [wife of the later infamous William Duer and daughter of Alexander Hamilton; Washington gave away the bride at her wedding] had the whole management of it. I went the morning before the General's arrival to look at it. The best of furniture in every room, and the greatest quality of plate and China I ever saw; the whole of the first and second story is papered and the floors covered with the richest kind of Turkey and Wilton carpets. The house really did honor to my aunt and Lady Kitty, they spared no pains nor expense in it . Thou must know that Uncle Osgood and Drew were appointed to procure a house and furnish it, accordingly the pitched on their wives as being likely to do it better. I have not done yet, my dear. Is thee not almost tired. The evening after his Excellency's arrival, there was a general illumination took place, except among friends (Quakers) and those styled anti-Federalists. The latter's windows suffered some, thou may imagine. As soon as the General was sworn in, a grand exhibition of fireworks is to be displayed, which, it is expected, will be tomorrow. There is scarcely anything talked about now but General Washington and the Palace and little else have I told thee yet.”

The house was secured by Tobias Lear, Washington’s aid and secretary, from Walter Osgood, and paid for by the government pursuant to the Constitution. It was to serve as the President’s home and office and he was expected to entertain there. Ron Chernow in his monumental biography on Washington wrote that the owner of the building was Samuel Osgood (page 564 – in the letter he is referred to as Walter) and he mentions that Samuel’s niece Sally Robinson (letter signed as Sarah) examined every room the day before Washington arrived and seems to have a quote from the above letter with a footnote that it came from the Papers of Washington (page 583 and note on page 848)).

 I have been friends with Henry Scheuer longer than I care to mention and he graciously permitted me to excerpt and share it here. I trust you found this as interesting as I did.

If you have any tax, business or financial issues you want to discuss please do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com.

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