SAN JOSE, April 30, 2016 — It is unlikely that George Washington, the Father of the Country, would have made it through this year’s primary cycle, especially if he were running for the GOP nomination.
Washington was a polite man, a true gentleman and soft-spoken for a military commander. He tended to make references to God in his speeches. He would have done poorly in the televised debates.
Yet in his day, Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” according to Major General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee III.
Today, self-serving politicians barnstorm the nation in their hunt for the White House; Washington’s courage, dignity, and tenacious adherence to republican principles is hard to match among contemporary politicians.
The idea that a public figure should not lie to the American public now seems irrelevant. Candidates of the two major political parties no longer regard honesty as a virtue, but as an annoyance.
Washington was also a genuinely humble man, rare today in those seeking elected office. Although he may not have made it out of the primaries in 2016, he towers above the office seekers today.
Washington was elected unanimously as the first U.S. president on February 4, 1789; a majority of Americans had expected him to be their new leader, as he had led the troops during the war, then led during the convention that created the Constitution of the infant United States.
Yet Washington wrote to Henry Knox in March of 1789 of his reluctance to proceed to his inauguration:
“… in confidence I assure you with the world it would obtain little credit that my movements to the chair of Government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution …”
On April 30, 1789, Washington, dressed in a plain brown broadcloth suit, stood on the second balcony of Federal Hall in New York City before approximately 10,000 spectators, and swore the oath of office to affirm his determination to fulfill the duties of the new office of President of the United States.
Washington did not serve in the city named after him, but in New York. This first inauguration set the tradition, and subsequent inaugurations have change little since Washington’s day.
Several distinguished officials, among them Vice President John Adams and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, appeared on the balcony with Washington. A King James Bible was opened, Washington placed his left hand upon it, raised his right hand, and repeated the oath of office that he had helped write. It is reported that after the official oath, Washington said “so help me God,” and bent down to kiss the open Bible.
Those final words have raised controversy among some Americans. Some claim that Washington never said them, as they are recorded nowhere in the official records of the ceremony.
Some seek to eliminate the phrase “So help me God,” which is now an entrenched part of the presidential oath.
One of these is Michael Newdow, an attorney who filed a lawsuit to block reference to God in President Obama’s inauguration. Yet efforts like this run counter to the Judeo-Christian foundations of the United States, and counter to most faiths.
One major political party has tried twice to eliminate a reference to God in its official platform in the past two presidential elections. Washington’s words, however, should indicate America’s initial connectedness to God. In his first inaugural address, he offered gratitude to “that Almighty Being who rules over the universe.”
As he delivered his address, some sources say that Washington seemed a bit fidgety, and that he spoke in a low voice which was sometimes inaudible. But his inaugural address was a powerful expression of faith:
“… 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. 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.”
Newdow and his compatriots would have sued Washington for bringing God so fully into his inauguration. But in attendance at that inauguration was not only the President of the Constitutional Convention (Washington), but also many of the original delegates to the Convention, which created the U.S. Constitution. None of them raised a voice against that public display of faith as a breach of the “separation clause.”
Many Americans have lost touch with our heritage. The nation has changed since the days of Washington and the founding generation. These men had faith in an “Almighty Being” and did not want to limit worship of the Almighty, or God, nor to limit the freedom of others in their religious practices. They had their own relationship with God; yet they felt it was a personal issue, nothing the government had any right to restrict. Yet that does not stop people demanding that it do just that.
The disconnect from our heritage can be blamed upon cultural amnesia, as historian David McCullough observes. But some is due to calculated attempts to loosen Americans’ grip upon the founding ideals, especially any connectedness to God.
No matter how many progressive-revisionist historians reinterpret him, Washington offered his first-hand witness on how he benefitted from Heaven’s help in the fight for American freedom. Attempts to diminish or ignore this do not negate that reality.
Washington offered his humble gratitude to God for His help, and did it on the occasion of his inauguration as the first American president. He was clear in his words, and he meant them. As he ended his inaugural address, he invoked God’s blessing upon the new nation:
“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 favor the American people, with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled 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.”
Washington said and meant these words, and God did favor the American people for a long time. It may behoove Americans to raise up new Washingtons to incur God’s continued blessing upon America.