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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The First Inaugural

Maclay's journal:

April 25th, Saturday.-- The Vice-President, as usual, made us two or three speeches from the Chair. I will endeavor to recollect one of them. It was on the reading of a report which mentioned that the President should be received in the Senate chamber and proceed thence to the House of Representatives to be sworn: "Gentlemen, I do not know whether the framers of the Constitution had in view the two kings of Sparta or the two consuls of Rome when they formed it; one to have all the power while he held it, and the other to be nothing. Nor do I know whether the architect that formed our room and the wide chair in it (to hold two, I suppose) had the Constitution before him. Gentlemen, I feel great difficulty how to act. I am possessed of two separate powers; the one in esse and the other in posse. I am Vice-President. In this I am nothing, but I may be everything. But I am president also of the Senate. When the President comes into the Senate, what shall I be? I can not be [president] then. No, gentlemen, I can not, I can not. I wish gentlemen to think what I shall be."

Here, as if oppressed with a sense of his distressed situation, he threw himself back in his chair. A solemn silence ensued. God forgive me, for it was involuntary, but the profane muscles of my face were in tune for laughter in spite of my indisposition...Thursday next is appointed for swearing in the President. 

27th April, 1789, Monday.-- A new arrangement was reported from the Joint Committee of Ceremonies. This is an endless business. Lee offered a motion to the Chair that after the President was sworn (which now is to be in the gallery opposite the Senate chamber), the Congress should accompany him to Saint Paul's Church and attend divine service. This had been agitated in Joint Committee. But Lee said expressly that they would not agree to it. I opposed it as an improper business after it had been in the hands of the Joint Committee and rejected, as I thought this a certain method of creating a dissenion between the Houses. Izard got up in great wrath and stuttered that the fact was not so. He, however, would say nothing more. 

29th April.-- A bill was read the second time respecting the administering the oath for the support of the new Government. A diversity of opinion arose whether the law should be extended so as to oblige the officers of the State governments to take the oaths. The power of Congress to do this was asserted by some and derided by others in pointed terms. I did not enter into the merits of either side, but before the question was put gave my opinion that the first step toward doing good was to be sure of doing no harm. Gentlemen had been very pointed for and against this power; if we divided here, what must we expect the people out of doors to be? That in the exercise of the powers given us by Congress we should deal in no uncertainties; that while we had the Constitution plainly before us all was safe and certain, but if we took on us to deal in doubtful matters we trod on hollow ground, and might be charged with an assumption of powers not delegated.

30th April, Thursday.-- This is a great, important day. Goddess of etiquette, assist me while I describe it. The Senate stood adjourned to half after eleven o'clock. About ten dressed in my best clothes; went for Mr. Morris' lodgings, but met his son, who told me that his father would not be in town until Saturday. Turned into the Hall. The crowd already great. The Senate met. The Vice-President rose in the most solemn manner. This son of Adam seemed impressed with deeper gravity, yet what shall I think of him? He often, in the midst of his most important airs--I believe when tie is at loss for expressions (and this he often is, wrapped up, I suppose, in the contemplation of his own importance)-- suffers an unmeaning kind of vacant laugh to escape him. This was the case to-day, and really to me bore the air of ridiculing the farce he was acting. "Gentlemen, I wish for the direction of the Senate. The President will, I suppose, addressthe Congress. How shall I behave? How shall we receive it? Shall it be standing or sitting?"
Repeated accounts came [that] the Speaker and Representatives were at the door. Confusion ensued; the members left their seats. Mr. Read rose and called the attention of the Senate to the neglect that had been shown Mr. Thompson, late Secretary. Mr. Lee rose to answer him, but I could not hear one word he said. The Speaker was introduced, followed by the Representatives. Here we sat an hour and ten minutes before the President arrived--this delay was owing to Lee, Izard, and Dalton, who had stayed with us while the Speaker came in, instead of going to attend the President. The President advanced between the Senate and Representatives, bowing to each. He was placed in the chair by the Vice-President; the Senate with their president on the right, the Speaker and the Representatives on his left. The Vice-President rose and addressed a short sentence to him. The import of it was that he should now take the oath of office as President. He seemed to have forgot half what he was to say, for he made a dead pause and stood for some time, to appearance, in a vacant mood. He finished with a formal bow, and the President was conducted out of the middle window into the gallery, and the oath was administered by the Chancellor. Notice that the business done was communicated to the crowd by proclamation, etc., who gave three cheers, and repeated it on the President's bowing to them.

As the company returned into the Senate chamber, the President took the chair and the Senators and Representatives their seats. He rose, and all arose also and addressed them (see the address). This great man was agitated and embarrassed more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed musket. He trembled, and several times could scarce make out to read, though it must be supposed he had often read it before. He put part of the fingers of his left hand into the side of what I think the tailors call the fall of the breeches [corresponding to the modern side-pocket], changing the paper into his left [right] hand. After some time he then did the same with some of the fingers of his right hand. When he came to the words all the world, he made a flourish with his right hand, which left rather an ungainly impression. I sincerely, for my part, wished all set ceremony in the hands of the dancing-masters, and that this first of men had read off his address in the plainest manner, without ever taking his eyes from the paper, for I felt hurt that he was not first in everything. He was dressed in deep brown, with metal buttons, with an eagle on them, white stockings, a bag, and sword.

From the hall there was a grand procession to Saint Paul's Church, where prayers were said by the Bishop. The procession was well conducted and without accident, as far as I have heard. The militia were all under arms, lined the street near the church, made a good figure, and behaved well.

I just love that they had to figure out EVERYTHING to establish a new government, including the niceties of how to address the president.  And they argued about it all...


January 22, 2013 in Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink


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