Washington’s first inaugural address and America’s dependence on God
Today, April 30, 2006, is the 217th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration as first president of the United States. It took place, of course, at Federal Hall, at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets in New York City, several miles from where I am writing this. Washington took the oath of office on a balcony facing the street where vast crowds were gathered, then retired into the Senate chamber where he delivered his inaugural address.
In the address President Washington returned again and again, with unmistakable sincerity and a profound sense of urgency, to his idea that the United States had been founded under God’s favor and that it could only continue so by humbly seeking his blessings. He launched into this theme almost immediately after the beginning of the speech, in the second paragraph:
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.He then speaks of the reasons why America is peculiarly connected to God:
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.Not only the events of the War of Independence, but the successful forming of the Constitution, betoken providential aid:
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 seem to presage.Having referred to the outward events in which divine guidance has been at work, he then turns to the pressing inner necessity he feels to speak about it:
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.Then, at about midpoint in the address, Washington says that instead of recommending specific government measures, he wants to commend the good character of the men who constitute the government, because he sees in them
the surest pledges, that as on one side, no local prejudices, or attachments; no separate views, nor 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 pre-eminence 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.He expands further on the connection between morality and political prosperity:
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 [private] virtue and [public] happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity:The health of the state thus depends on the morality of its leaders and citizens; and on what does this morality depend? Here Washington reaches the culmination of the speech:
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:Goodness does not come from man; it comes from God. And the happiness of human society depends on men’s following it.
Having come to the end of the speech, he cannot resist returning yet one last time to the idea, or rather the prayer, that as God has given such great blessings to America in the peaceful making and ratifying of the Constitution, his guidance will continue to be present in the conduct and operation of the government:
Having thus imported 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 favour the American people, with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparellelled 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.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 30, 2006 08:48 PM | Send