Friday, January 20, 2017

The First Inauguration of George Washington

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States of America.  “Since nearly first light that morning, a crowd of people had begun to gather around Washington's home, and at noon they made their way to Federal Hall by way of Queen Street and Great Dock (both now Pearl Street) and Broad Street in New York. Washington dressed in an American-made dark brown suit, with white silk stockings and silver shoe buckles; he also wore a steel-hilted sword and dark red overcoat.”[1] 

“As the first of every thing, in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent,” he wrote James Madison, “it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles.”[2]   Standing on the balcony of Federal Hall, George Washington took his Constitutional oath of office as the first President of the United States.  The Constitution proscribes the following Presidential oath:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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." 
(Article II, Section 1)

Washington took this oath with his right hand resting on the Bible, which had been opened to Genesis, chapter 49 (Jacob’s blessings upon his twelve sons -- the heads of the Twelve Tribes of Israel).  With his head bowed in a reverential manner, Washington added in a clear and distinct voice, "I swear, so help me God!" then bowing over the Bible, he reverently kissed it. Whereupon, Chancellor of New York, Robert Livingston (who administered the oath), exclaimed in a ringing voice, "Long live George Wash­ington, President of the United States!" -- which was replied to with loud cheers from the crowd, followed by a 13-gun salute.

The first inaugural address was subsequently delivered by Washington in the Senate chamber (to read the text of his address, please see: At this time there were no inaugural balls on the day of the ceremony, though a week later, on May 7th, a ball was held in New York City to honor the first President. “Washington arrived at the ball in the company of other American statesmen and their wives. That evening he danced with many of New York’s society ladies. Vice President John Adams, members of Congress and visiting French and Spanish dignitaries, as well their wives and daughters, joined in the festivities. Eliza Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton, recorded her impressions of the ball in her memoirs, noting that the president liked to dance the minuet, a dance she thought was suited to his dignity and gravity.”[3]

To preserve the memory of the first Presidential Inauguration, a page was inserted in the Bible used by Washington, with the date and an inscription that included this poetic verse (the Bible used in the ceremony was from the Masonic St. John's Lodge No. 1, A.Y.M.)[4]:

Fame stretched her wings and with her trumpet blew.
Great Washington is near. What praise is due?
What title shall he have? She paused, and said
‘Not one - his name alone strikes every title dead.

(Bible kept at St. John's Lodge in New York City)[5]

[2] W. Abbott, ed., The Papers of George Washington (University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 1987), 2:216-17.
[4] “George Washington joined the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia, at the age of twenty in 1752. During the War for Independence, General Washington attended Masonic celebrations and religious observances in several states. He also supported Masonic lodges that formed within army regiments.” See

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Pledge of Allegiance

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Recited by school children across our nation since 1892 (as amended in 1923 and 1954), the Pledge of Allegiance serves as a reminder to each citizen of our individual duty to appreciate and uphold our constitutional republic and of our mutual obligation to treat each other with civility and respect in spite of any political, religious and cultural differences. What is the meaning of the Pledge?

I pledge”… similar to an oath, a pledge is a solemn promise and undertaking in which we vow to do something, which may require personal sacrifice.

allegiance” … is an expression of loyalty and commitment to a union of citizens and to a cause greater than ourselves.

to the flag of the United States of America” … with its thirteen red and white stripes representing the original colonies of the American revolution, and fifty white stars on the blue chief representing all of the states of the union, the flag is a symbol of our national heritage. Whether carried into battle, flown above the Whitehouse, the U.S. Capitol, or our own home’s front porch, the flag is an emblem of our patriotism, devotion to our country and to equality & liberty.

and to the republic for which it stands”… on September 17, 1787 the framers of our government established a democratic republic under the Constitution of the United States of America based upon the consent of the governed (“We the People”), with a separation of powers and checks and balances in order “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” (Preamble). Our loyalty to the Constitution should be placed above politics, parties, and individual leaders.

one nation” … as George Washington stated, “It is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity…” (Farewell Address).

under God”… our national unity is secured by the principle that we have each been endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and that these liberties cannot be secure without “a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God…” (Thomas Jefferson).

indivisible” … the Constitution was designed to create a perpetual union of citizens and states. We must remember that a bloody civil war ensued and was fought when the nation allowed division to prevail.

with liberty and justice for all”… both civil and religious liberty are the inheritance of all Americans. Justice endures when founded upon virtue and honesty. Our nation’s laws and courts seek to establish and uphold fairness and truth, respectively, but cannot do so without individual integrity.

On June 14, 1954 (Flag Day), President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the revised pledge bill passed by Congress, officially adding the words "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance, and told the nation:

“From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country's true meaning … In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war.[1]

[1] Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Statement by the President Upon Signing Bill To Include the Words "Under God" in the Pledge to the Flag," The American Presidency Project, June 14, 1954.

Note: On November 12, 2010, in a unanimous decision[2], the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston affirmed a ruling by a New Hampshire lower federal court which found that the pledge's reference to God does not violate non-pledging students' rights if student participation in the pledge is voluntary.[3]  A United States Supreme Court appeal of this decision was denied on June 13, 2011.[4]

[2] Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Hanover School District (1st Cir. Nov 12, 2010). 

[3] Lavoie, Denise (November 15, 2010). "Court OKs NH law allowing 'God' pledge inschools". Boston Globe. Boston, MA: Christopher M. Mayer. Retrieved 2010-11-16. The constitutionality of a New Hampshire law

[4] Supreme Court of the United States (June 13, 2011). "Freedom From Religion Foundation, Petitioner v.United States, et al.". Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved 2011-06-15.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Founders' Message of Happiness

Our Founding Fathers were concerned with political issues of liberty, equality, law, and self-government. However, above the rest, they were concerned with what they firmly believed to be the ultimate purpose of life and government – the individual and aggregate happiness of the people. Following are a few quotes from the Founders with their teachings and counsel as to the sources and foundation of happiness.

"[T]here is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists . . . an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness." – George Washington (First Inaugural Address, 1789). 

“The aggregate happiness of society, which is best promoted by the practice of a virtuous policy, is or ought to be the end of all government.” -- George Washington (Letter to Count De Moustier. Mount Vernon, November 1, 1790).

“[I]t is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety . . . .” –George Washington (Farewell Address, 1796).

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness ‑these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.” –George Washington (Farewell Address, 1796).

"Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue?"  -- George Washington (Farewell Address, 1796).

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence, 1776)

“What more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens -- a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” – Thomas Jefferson (First Inaugural Address, 1801)

"If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy." - Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Thomas Cooper, November 29, 1802).

The order of nature [is] that individual happiness shall be inseparable from the practice of virtue.” – Thomas Jefferson (Letter to M. Correa de Serra, 1814). 

 “Without virtue, happiness cannot be.”  – Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Amos J. Cook, 1816).

"The equal rights of man, and the happiness of every individual, are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of government." --Thomas Jefferson (Letter to A. Coray, 1823)

“The happiness of society is the end of government.” – John Adams (Thoughts on Government, 1776

“The form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.” – John Adams (Thoughts on Government, 1776

"To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea." – James Madison (Virginia Ratifying Convention, 20 June 1788).

 “A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained.” – James Madison (Federalist No. 62, 1788).

“The diminution of public Virtue is usually attended with that of public Happiness, and the public Liberty will not long survive the total Extinction of Morals.” – Samuel Adams (Letter to John Scollay, 1776). 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Religious Liberty and the Founding Workshop

James Madison stated in Federalist No. 51 that “In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights.” And, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The constitutional freedom of religion [is] the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights.” (Minutes of the Board of Visitors, University of Virginia, 1819).

The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute's is pleased to announce that its next continuing education workshop will be on the topic of “Religious Liberty and the Founding.” The program will include four, 50-minute sessions, each led by a moderator with an open discussion focused on original source documents.  Instead of lectures or presentations, the format of the "roundtable" will be a civic conversation that draws deeply on the documents with participation by all.  If you would like to participate in the roundtable, we ask you to prepare by doing the document readings (about 50 pages) and coming ready to discuss with your fellow teachers.  After you register we will email you the Reader (or mail if you prefer a hard copy).  Copies of the Reader will be provided at the conference as well.  The outline of the sessions and source documents are as follows:

1. The Foundation: The Declaration of Independence, Natural Rights, and Limited Government 

2. Religious Liberty in Virginia: George Mason v. James Madison: Toleration v. Freedom of Conscience in the Virginia Declaration of Rights; and James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom 

3. The First Amendment: Free Exercise and the Establishment Clause 

4. George Washington & Religious Liberty: Letters to the Congregations 

WJMI welcomes the following panel of moderators to this conference:

Jeffry H. Morrison, Ph.D., Director of Academics at the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation and Professor of Government at Regent University
Tony Williams, WJMI Program Director and Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute
J. David Gowdy, J.D., WJMI Founder & President
All class materials including the Reader, a continental breakfast, as well as a luncheon, are complimentary. The roundtable is primarily for public and private Virginia secondary school teachers who teach Social Studies, U.S. Government, Virginia Government, and U. S. History.  The Workshop qualifies for four recertification points or 4 hours.
The Roundtable will be held Friday morning, October 7th, 2016 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Prospect Hill Plantation Inn near Charlottesville.  If you wish to attend, please Contact Us.

Image: First Prayer in the Continental Congress (1974). See: 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

George Washington, Alexander Hamilton & the Constitution

George Washington and Alexander Hamilton were instrumental figures in the making and ratification of the Constitution.  However, they played very different roles at the Constitutional Convention and in the ratification debate that followed.  The differences resulted in their different characters and their respective public positions. 

Both Washington and Hamilton were nationalists who adopted a continental vision of America after the Revolutionary War.  They both lamented that the government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to govern the new nation effectively.  Congress did not have the power to tax or regulate trade, states almost went to war with each other several times, and states routinely violated the 1783 peace treaty.  Washington responded by hosting the Mount Vernon Conference to help Virginia and Maryland resolve some trade disputes.  Hamilton attended the Annapolis Convention which advocated a stronger central government and called for a Philadelphia Convention. 

Washington played a pivotal role before the Convention helping Madison create the Virginia Plan and the strategy to win a stronger government.  When the Convention opened, the delegates unanimously selected Washington as president of the proceedings.  Washington’s prestige as the great hero of the American Revolution ensured that any resulting document would bear his considerable stamp of approval even when the delegates exceeded their mandate to revise the Articles. 

Hamilton for his part clearly sided with the nationalists but was consistently frustrated and thwarted in his design when two anti-federalists outvoted him in the New York delegation (as each state had only one vote).  Hamilton played a highly controversial role in the Convention when he delivered a six-hour speech on June 18.  The Convention had been deadlocked between the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan, so Hamilton presented a more radically nationalist plan that would tend to moderate the Virginia Plan in the minds of the delegates.  The plan stretched the limits of republican government with a president and senate elected for life, but the strategic prudence contributed to the eventual Connecticut Compromise. 

On September 17, Hamilton appealed to the moderation of the other delegates he signed the new Constitution despite his reservations about some parts of it.  Washington affixed his signature to the document, thereby announcing to all Americans that he supported it as the law of the land.  The Constitution was then submitted to the representatives of the people in ratifying conventions in the states and the debate began between its supporters (Federalists) and opponents (Anti-Federalists). 

Washington and Hamilton were keen strategists who were fated to play different roles in the ratification debate.  Washington refused to enter into partisan debates and avoided the fray.  Instead, he wrote letters to friends in favor of the Constitution that he knew would be made public.  But, he obsessively read newspapers to follow the progress of the Constitution and avidly exchanged letters with correspondents to predict its chances for ratification.  Virginian James Monroe wrote of Washington, “Be assured, his influence carried this government.” 

On the other hand, Hamilton was a one-man wrecking crew.  He conceived of the Federalist essays and penned fifty-five of them, which were lauded by Thomas Jefferson as “the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written.”  Hamilton also was instrumental in winning ratification in the New York Convention, where the Anti-Federalists outnumbered their opponents by a margin of three to one.  The persuasive force of his arguments, and the successful ratification of the document in Virginia, led to victory for Federalists in New York.  Hamilton, like Washington, closely followed the results in every state and even dispatched series of writers to speed news of the outcomes. 

Washington and Hamilton were key figures in the making of the Constitution and winning ratification.  This alliance would continue to bear fruit when Washington was unanimously elected the country’s first president, and Hamilton was appointed Secretary of the Treasury.  Together they helped breathe life into the new government created by the Constitution. 

Tony Williams is the Program Director of the WJMI and the author of five books on the American Founding period including Washington & Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Benjamin Franklin's Speech For Adoption Of The Constitution of the United States of America

DOC'r FRANKLIN rose with a speech in his hand, which he had reduced to writing for his own coveniency, and which Mr. Wilson read in the words following:
MR. PRESIDENT,  I confess, that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgement of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said, "I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right -- Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison."
In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavour to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favour among foreign Nations, as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our Influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavours to the means of having it well administered.
On the whole, Sir, I cannot help expressing a wish, that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this Instrument. – 
He then moved that the Constitution be signed by the members . . .
Philadelphia, September 17th, 1787

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Benjamin Franklin: The Sage of Philadelphia

"…His origins were humble but respectable, the 15th child of a Boston tallow-chandler. He loved to read from an early age, and was formed by the writings of Plutarch and Xenophon, as well as Cotton Mather and Daniel Defoe. His reading of the anti-Deist tracts in his father's small library had the effect of making him a "thorough Deist." This, together with his fondness for Socratic disputation, garnered him a bad enough reputation that he felt compelled to leave Boston. Thus he became Franklin of Philadelphia, whose legendary industry and frugality, along with his skill as a writer, allowed him to prosper sufficiently in the printing business that he could retire at age 42.

This was the end of one career, but the beginning of many others. Public service was the creed of Cotton Mather and Daniel Defoe, and Franklin from his youth combined it with his gently biting wit. While a mere printer's apprentice in Boston he invented the persona of Silence Dogood, whose satirical pieces appeared in his brother's newspaper. Her satire had the serious purpose of exposing the moral foibles and hypocrisies of her fellow-citizens, to put them in the way of moral improvement. This task was taken up in later years by the likes of "the Busy-Body," and above all Poor Richard, all of whom used homespun wit to chide Americans to virtue.

…Franklin may have lost touch with American sentiment when he responded with resignation to the Stamp Act and was surprised at the violence of the colonial response. Though it was his job to defend colonial interests in London, he was slower than many back home to see the threats that that evolving colonial policy presented. Being a generation older than most of the revolutionaries, perhaps he was more loath to give up on what he once called "that fine China vase, the British Empire."  Still, Franklin was a quick study. Once he saw the colonial reaction to it, he became instrumental in the repeal of the Stamp Act. Once he saw the bullheadedness of George III and a succession of ministries in London, he took an increasingly stalwart position in favor of American rights—to the point that George III eventually came to see Franklin as the entire motive force behind American recalcitrance. When he finally returned to America in 1775, Franklin was ahead of most of his colleagues in the Continental Congress in seeing independence as the only viable course of action.

…In his Autobiography, Franklin claims that he came rather early to a set of fundamental moral beliefs that guided him through life. Shifts in his position on the empire, or even on the rights of the colonies, are not real changes if they represent nothing more than applications of the same moral outlook to different circumstances. Franklin's moral outlook was distinctive in some respects. Unlike many of his fellow-revolutionaries, he resisted seeing right and wrong in terms of rights, particularly rights of man. 

Franklin may well have underestimated the importance of theories of government, but his concern from his earliest days in Boston was the cultivation of the private and social virtues needed to support free government, whatever its form. If he made a distinctive contribution to the fashioning of the American experiment, it was this. Silence Dogood, Poor Richard, and even Franklin's Autobiography are all vehicles for spreading these virtues abroad. His view of the virtues themselves remained essentially constant through his life. Industry and frugality, and other virtues of economic self-reliance, are the best-known. Franklin understood that these must come first for people who begin life with little, and subsequent history has affirmed their importance to the success of free societies. But he was also concerned to cultivate virtues of public service, for a society of individualistic self-reliance needs these fully as much as the economic virtues.  

During his lifetime, Franklin was, except for George Washington, the most famous American in the world. It's widely accepted that large numbers of Americans supported the proposed Constitution of 1787 principally because they knew that Franklin and Washington endorsed it. Franklin loomed large in the American pantheon for generations thereafter, where he occupied a special place as Poor Richard, man of the people, [the] model “Everyman.” …Franklin played a critical role in the development of American liberty. He spent decades abroad, first in a futile attempt to defend American liberties in London, then in a successful attempt in Paris to secure French support during the War of Independence. French assistance, in money, naval protection, materiel, and finally even troops, was indeed critical to the securing of American nationhood. It required all of Franklin's diplomatic skill to deal simultaneously with the French court and with the often obstreperous and paranoid fellow-commissioners dispatched to Paris by the Continental Congress. Finally, he returned to the United States to play a secondary role in framing the new Constitution, but a primary one in securing its ratification.

Upon his "retirement," Franklin added more conventional forms of public service to his repertoire, entering the colonial legislature, serving as colonial postmaster (where he vastly increased the efficiency of the service), and ultimately emissary to London and Paris. It was in these years also that Franklin conducted the researches into electricity that gained him an international reputation, including membership in the Royal Society and other learned societies in Europe. It is not always appreciated today that despite Franklin's lack of formal training in the field, his work in electricity was pathbreaking and in every way worthy of the honors bestowed upon it. Yet, as both our biographers point out, he regarded this work (and his other scientific pursuits, from researching the nature of the Gulf Stream to developing the efficient and smokeless "Franklin stove") as another form of public service. In this respect, he was the very spirit of modern, technological science: knowledge accumulated for the purpose of improving human comfort and happiness.

…A similar distance between Franklin and many of his fellow founders was visible in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Franklin, now over 80 years old, played a relatively minor role. His views were generally more populist than his colleagues', and virtually all the positions he explicitly supported were rejected by the convention. Nonetheless, he supported the final document, he said, because none better could be expected, because the precise form of government is less important than how it is administered, and because republics depend more on the spirit of the people in any case than on the outline of their institutions. Abstract notions of government carried less weight with Franklin than the concrete result of good government."
From: The Winter 2002 issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Article by Steven Forde: A review of Benjamin Franklin, by Edmund S. Morgan and Franklin: The Essential Founding Father, by James Srodes