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George Washington
First Inaugural Address, 1789
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(George Washington, who had been chairman of the convention
which framed the Constitution, was unanimously chosen President
at the first election held under the Constitution. The inaugural
address was delivered in Federal Hall, New York, on April 30, 1789.)


Fellow-Citizens:
Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have
filled me with greater anxieties, than that of which the notification
was transmitted by your order, and received on the 14th day of the
present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my country,
whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a
retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in
my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of
my declining years; a retreat which was rendered every day more
necessary as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to
inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual
waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude
and difficulty of the trust, to which the voice of my country called me,
being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her
citizens a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but
overwhelm with despondence one, who, inheriting inferior endowments
from nature, and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration, ought
to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of
emotions, all I dare aver, is, that it has been my faithful study to collect
my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance by which it might
be affected. All I dare hope is, that, if in executing this task, I have been
too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by
an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof of the confidence
of my fellow-citizens; and have thence too little consulted my incapacity
as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me;
my error will be palliated by the motives which misled me, and its
consequences be judged by my country with some share of the partiality
in which they originated.

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the
public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly
improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that
Almighty Being, who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils
of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect,
that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of
the people of the United States a government instituted by themselves
for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed
in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his
charge. In tendering this homage to the great Author of every public and
private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less
than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either.
No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand,
which conducts the affairs of men, more than the people of the United
States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an
independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of
providential agency. And, in the important revolution just accomplished in
the system of their united government, the tranquil deliberations and
voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event
has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most
governments have been established, without some return of pious
gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which
the past seems to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present
crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed.
You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none, under the
influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can
more auspiciously commence.

By the article establishing the executive department, it is made the
duty of the President ?to recommend to your consideration such measures
as he shall judge necessary and expedient.? The circumstances, under
which I now meet you, will acquit me from entering into that subject
farther than to refer you to the great constitutional charter under which
we are assembled; and which, in defining your powers, designates the
objects to which your attention is to be given. It will be more consistent
with those circumstances, and far more congenial with the feelings which
actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular
measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the
patriotism, which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them.
In these honorable qualifications I behold the surest pledges, that as, on
one side, no local prejudices or attachments, no separate views or party
animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye, which ought
to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests; so, on
another, that the foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure
and immutable principles of private morality, and the preeminence of a
free government be exemplified by all the attributes, which can win the
affections of its citizens, and command the respect of the world.

I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction, which an ardent
love for my country can inspire; since there is no truth more thoroughly
established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature
an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and
advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous
policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we
ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can
never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order
and right, which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation
of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of
government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked
on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people.

Besides the ordinary objects submitted to your care, it will remain
with your judgment to decide, how far an exercise of the occasional
power delegated by the fifth article of the Constitution is rendered
expedient at the present juncture by the nature of objections which
have been urged against the system, or by the degree of inquietude
which has given birth to them. Instead of undertaking particular
recommendations on this subject, in which I could be guided by no
lights derived from official opportunities, I shall again give way to my
entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good;
for I assure myself, that, whilst you carefully avoid every alteration,
which might endanger the benefits of a united and effective government,
or which ought to await the future lessons of experience, a reverence
for the characteristic rights of freemen, and a regard for the public
harmony, will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question,
how far the former can be more impregnably fortified, or the latter be
safely and advantageously promoted.

To the preceding observations I have one to add, which will be
most properly addressed to the House of Representatives. It concerns
myself, and will therefore be as brief as possible. When I was first
honored with a call into the service of my country, then on the eve of
an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated
my duty required, that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation.
From this resolution I have in no instance departed. And being still
under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable
to myself, any share in the personal emoluments, which may be
indispensably included in a permanent provision for the executive
department; and must accordingly pray, that the pecuniary estimates
for the station in which I am placed, may, during my continuance in it,
be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be
thought to require.

Having thus imparted to you my sentiments, as they have been
awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my
present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign
Parent of the human race, in humble supplication, that, since he has
been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for
deliberating in perfect tranquillity, and dispositions for deciding with
unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of
their union and the advancement of their happiness; so his divine
blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the
temperate consultations, and the wise measures, on which the
success of this government must depend.
 

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