First in All that Mattered

The first American president, George Washington, was inaugurated on April 30 1789 at Federal Hall in New York City. William Maclay, senator from Pennsylvania, penned an account of the event in his diary of that date. (New York Diaries: 1609-2009. p. 142.)

This is a great, important day. Goddess of etiquette, assist me while I describe it.

The President [George Washington] advanced between the Senate and Representatives bowing to each. . . . The Vice-President [ John Adams] rose and addressed a short sentence to him. The im- port of it was that he should now take the oath of office as President. He seemed to have forgot half what he was to say, for he made a dead pause and stood for some time, to appearance, in a vacant mood. He finished with a formal bow, and the President was con- ducted out of the middle window into the gallery, and the oath was administered by the Chancellor.

As the company returned into the Senate chamber, the President took the chair and the Senators and Representatives their seats. He rose, and all arose also, and addressed them. . . . This great man was agitated and embarrassed more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed musket. He trembled, and several times could scarce make out to read, though it must be supposed he had often read it before. He put part of the fingers of his left hand into the side of what I think the tailors call the fall of the breeches, chang- ing the paper into his [right] hand. After some time he then did the same with some of the fingers of his right hand. When he came to the words all the world, he made a flourish with his right hand, which left rather an ungainly impression. I sincerely, for my part, wished all set ceremony in the hands of the dancing-masters, and that this first of men had read off his address in the plainest manner, without ever taking his eyes from the paper, for I felt hurt that he was not first in everything.