In 1789, the first presidential election, George Washington was unanimously elected president of the United States. With 69 electoral votes, Washington won the support of each participating elector. No other president since has come into office with a universal mandate to lead.
Between December 15, 1788 and January 10, 1789, the presidential electors were chosen in each of the states. On February 4, 1789, the Electoral College convened. Ten states cast electoral votes: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia. New York, however, failed to field a slate of electors. North Carolina and Rhode Island were unable to participate because they had not yet ratified the Constitution. After a quorum was finally established, the Congress counted and certified the electoral vote count on April 6.
Washington was both an obvious first choice for president and possibly the only truly viable choice. He was both a national hero and the favorite son of Virginia, the largest state at the time. Washington ascended to the presidency with practical experience, having served as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and president of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
According to Article II of the Constitution, each elector in the Electoral College possessed two votes. The candidate who received a majority of the votes was elected president. The candidate with the second most votes in the Electoral College, whether a majority or a plurality, was elected vice president. Behind Washington, John Adams, who most recently had served as the first U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, finished with 34 electoral votes and became the first vice president of the United States. Being from Massachusetts, Adams’ election provided the administration a regional balance between the northern and southern states.
Hearing the news of his decisive election, Washington set out from Mount Vernon to take his place in presidential history. Though filled with great anxiety, Washington reported for duty “in obedience to the public summons” and explained that “the voice of my Country called.”
On April 30, 1789, at Federal Hall in New York City, the first capital of the United States, Washington took the presidential oath of office. Washington, dressed in an American-made dark brown suit with white silk stockings and silver shoe buckles, also wore a steel-hilted sword and dark red overcoat.
With a hand on the Bible, a “sacred volume” borrowed from a local Masonic lodge and subsequently known as the “George Washington Inaugural Bible,” he said, “I, George Washington, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
At that moment, the Chancellor of the State of New York, Robert Livingston, the person who administered the oath to the first chief executive, exclaimed, “Long live George Washington, President of the United States!”
The father of our nation was quiet about his Christian faith. But there can be no doubt his faith in our Lord Jesus Christ was deep and heartfelt.
Below is a prayer attributed to our first President that says much about the man he was. It was found in his personal prayer book, written in his own hand.
O eternal and everlasting God, I presume to present myself this morning before thy Divine majesty, beseeching thee to accept of my humble and hearty thanks, that it hath pleased thy great goodness to keep and preserve me the night past from all the dangers poor mortals are subject to, and has given me sweet and pleasant sleep, whereby I find my body refreshed and comforted for performing the duties of this day, in which I beseech thee to defend me from all perils of body and soul.
Direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the lamb, and purge my heart by thy Holy Spirit, from the dross of my natural corruption, that I may with more freedom of mind and liberty of will serve thee, the everlasting God, in righteousness and holiness this day, and all the days of my life.
Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the Gospel. Give me repentance from dead works. Pardon my wanderings, and direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation. Teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments. Make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber. But daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life. Bless my family, friends and kindred unite us all in praising and glorifying thee in all our works begun, continued, and ended, when we shall come to make our last account before thee blessed Saviour, who hath taught us thus to pray, our Father.
As I read about these first veterans of our country, I continue to be startled by their dedication to God, family, and country. Sir, thank you for your service.