On the morning of April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States, setting traditions in place his very first day in office. Neither swearing the oath on a Bible nor giving an inaugural address were mandated by Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution. Those ceremonial actions were invented by Washington himself, and have largely been followed since 1789.1 Below are a few more historical tidbits from Washington's two inaugurations after being elected unanimously for each term as president.
1 | The George Washington Bible
The Bible used at George Washington's first inauguration was on loan from St. Johns Masonic Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons. Washington, a Freemason, was sworn into office with his hand on the open pages displaying Chapters 49-50 of Genesis, a section chosen at random.2 The George Washington Bible has been in the possession of St. John’s Lodge No. 1 A.Y.M. in New York, NY since 1770.3
2 | Shortest Inauguration Speech in History
George Washington gave the shortest inauguration address in history during his second inauguration on March 4, 1793. Washington's second inaugural address was only 135 words long.4
I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.
Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.
3 | So Help Me God
Although not officially part of the official oath, George Washington is credited with adding the line "So help me God" after he finished the oath during his first inauguration. Most Presidents have also uttered this phrase at the end of their oaths.5
4 | Divine Church Service
Three days before George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States, Congress passed the following resolution:
Resolved, That after the oath shall have been administered to the President, he, attended by the Vice President and members of the Senate and House of Representatives, shall proceed to St. Paul’s Chapel, to hear divine service.6
Accordingly, the Right Rev. Samuel Provoost (1742–1815), newly appointed chaplain of the United States Senate and first Episcopal bishop of New York, officiated at a service in St. Paul's Chapel on April 30, 1789, immediately following Washington’s inauguration.7
5 | Dinner Alone at the Presidential Mansion
After taking the oath of office on the portico before a cheering crowd, George Washington proceeded into the Senate chamber to deliver his First Inaugural Address. According to assembled members of Congress, President Washington was visibly nervous, spoke in a surprisingly quiet voice, and maintained a serious, modest demeanor.
The inaugural party then attended divine service at St. Paul's Chapel in New York. Following the church service, President Washington, in a carriage, was “escorted to his residence,” at Franklin House where he dined alone.8