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EXIT 15E I-95n in Port Newark–Elizabeth Marine Terminal to Holland Tunnel to NYC
Of his presidency, George 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. In 1789, on the steps of the Federal Hall on Wall Street in Manhattan, George Washington was inaugurated as the first nationally elected President of the United States. It marked the beginnings of the first modern democracy in the world.
The concept of democracy was utterly unique. It required wholly new and invented protocols. A man of great civility and a student of The Liberal Enlightenment, Washington believed dignity, and admiration of the truth were tantamount to the character of a leader.
At the same time, he had always been ambitious — perhaps since he was not born into Virginia’s aristocracy, the so-called “Planter Elite”. So while not immodest, he was not a naif. In fact, on the day the Continental Congress was to choose the Supreme Leader of the Continental Army in open revolt against British Overlords, Washington was the only Delegate to show up in his old military Uniform from the French and Indian War. Supposedly, no less than Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson chuckled at that not-so-subtle suggestion.
Needless to say, he got the job!
Fast forward 10 years to Federal Hall in Manhattan. After swearing a solemn oath to uphold the US Constitution, the world’s first President retired indoors to read Congress his inaugural address. With not a little trepidation, he spoke of “the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
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 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 English Revolution: to throw off the yoke of monarchy and give power to the people.
Washington threatened to arrest any officer who spoke further of such treason.
History would remember this incident as the Newburgh Conspiracy.
Still, at Federal Hall, Congress was certainly aware that Washington was close to ideal as the first president. Not only was he a man of law, but he had no children which meant no dynastic aspirations. And then there was his huge personal bravery and honesty. He would not destroy the Constitution for personal gain.
Whatever he faced, Washington would act "presidential".
In his 2 terms as President, George Washington set the bar for all who followed.
Happy President’s Day!
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