Monday, January 21, 2013

Religion at the inauguration of George Washington, our first President

It's inspiring to see how reverent and devoted to God our founding fathers were regarding their civil service. Expressing "God Dependence" was an important part of the very first inaugural day.

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States of America. The ceremony took place in New York City at the open gallery of the old City Hall (afterward called Federal Hall).

Washington was dressed in a dark brown suit and white silk stockings, all made in America. His hair was powdered and styled in the formal fashion of the era.

The oath of office was administered by Robert R. Livingston, the Chancellor of the State of New York. The Chancellor came forward to administer the oath prescribed by the Constitution, and Mr. Otis, the Secretary of the Senate, held the Bible for the oath on a crimson cushion. The oath was read slowly and distinctly, while Washington put his hand on the open Bible.

When it was concluded, President Washington replied, solemnly, "I swear - so help me, God!" Mr. Otis intended to raise the Bible to Washington’s lips, but the President preempted that by humbly bowing down to kiss the Scriptures.

The Chancellor exclaimed, "It is done!" and then turning to the people he shouted, "Long live George Washington, the first President of the United States." At this moment a flag 
was displayed on the cupola of the hall that was followed by the artillery. All the bells in the city rang out and the audience cheered. The shout, “Long live George Washington” was echoed and re-echoed by the people.

The President and the members of Congress retired to the Senate Chamber, where Washington gave the inaugural address.

Notice the references in the inaugural address that Washington reverently made to God:

"In tendering this homage [act of worship] 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 those 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 [i.e., the creation and adoption of the Constitution] . . . cannot be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude...

"We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious [favorable] smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained...

"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... 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."

At the conclusion of the inaugural address, the new President and the members of Congress went in procession to St. Paul's Church (which, with the other churches, had been opened for prayers at nine o'clock that morning). The leaders sought the blessings of God on the new government.

The service at St. Paul’s was conducted by The Right Reverend Samuel Provoost – the Episcopal Bishop of New York, who had been chosen chaplain of the Senate the week preceding the inauguration. The service was performed according to The Book of Common Prayer, and included a number of prayers taken from Psalms 144-150 as well as Scripture readings and lessons from the book of Acts, I Kings, and III John.

May the faith of our founding fathers continue to inspire and inform our great nation.

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