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EXIT 15E I-95n in Port Newark–Elizabeth Marine Terminal to Holland Tunnel to NYC
OK Road Crew, you are about to pass under a lot of Presidents. The Exits up ahead offer you the options of getting into the City of New York via either the Lincoln Tunnel named for Honest Abe Lincoln, or taking the George Washington Bridge named obviously for the first President of well, any nation on earth. In fact the concept of democracy was so novel back in 1789 that President Washington actually went to his grave 10 years later believing this government, as Lincoln wrote, “For the People, by the people” would not in fact succeed.
Good thing Washington was wrong. It has lasted for over 225 years. But even before he took the first oath of office, George Washington was aware he was setting a precedent for all other Presidents to follow.
Of his presidency, Washington himself said, “I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn in precedent.”
First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, if you take the Lincoln Tunnel and drive south to Wall Street, there on the steps of the Federal Hall in Manhattan, America's First President was inaugurated as the first nationally elected President of the United States. Today a large statue marks the spot.
It also marks the beginnings of the first modern democracy in the world.
In an era of absolute rulers, the concept of democracy was utterly unique. It required wholly new and invented protocols and beliefs. Washington was a man of great civility. He was an adherent of liberal enlightenment, dignity, and admiration of the truth. Despite his sorry hypocritical record as a Slave Owner, in white society, these attributes were tantamount in Washington's character.
After taking a vow to uphold the Constitution on the Federal Hall steps, the first President then retired indoors to read Congress his inaugural address in which he spoke of “the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” Being a politician, Washington was not ignorant of the art of self promotion. But he was not boastful either.
No one in the room was certain democracy would work. Many even hoped that Washington would take over as King.
But Washington did not seek to be a tyrant. Years earlier in the throes of the American Revolution, on a sub-zero day in icebound Newburgh, New York, a coterie of his officers had even proposed that he seize power from Congress.
Their pay was late. Their rations thin. They had no winter uniforms. Some had no shoes. Even Washington had to sleep in the frozen elements.
But Washington was aghast. He angrily disavowed any desire to create another tyranny. That was precisely the purpose of the American Revolution -- to throw off the yoke of monarchy and give power to the people!
General Washington threatened to arrest any who spoke further of such treason. The incident went down in history as the Newburgh Conspiracy. Yet no officers were arrested and General Washington held sway.
Still, at Federal Hall in nearby Manhattan, Congress was certainly aware that Washington was ideal as the first president. Not only was he a lover of democracy but he had no biological children which meant no dynastic aspirations. His kids were those of his wife Martha from a previous marriage.
And then there was his huge personal bravery, honesty, and extreme decorum. Whatever he faced, Washington would act "presidential".
In summation, Washington was expected to set the standards for all who followed. And to a large extent, he did.
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