Gateway to the Classics: American History Stories, Volume III by Mara L. Pratt
American History Stories, Volume III by  Mara L. Pratt

The First President

When, at last, the States had all agreed to accept the Constitution as the basis of government, the next thing to do was to elect a President, and so establish themselves as the American Nation at once.

As might be expected, Washington was the man chosen for this important office; and when we recall how generous, how brave, and how wise he had been during the Revolution, we cannot doubt for a moment that he was the very best choice for this new position.

It was decided to make New York City the capital of the United States; and thither Washington in his coach-and-four set forth from his beautiful home in Virginia to take his place as first President of the United States of America. It is said that his journey was one ovation from the time he left Mt. Vernon (his home) until he reached New York City. Crowds of gaily-dressed people, bearing baskets and wreaths of flowers, hailed his appearance at every village, with shouts and songs of joy.

When he reached Trenton—the very place where, a few years before, so heartsick and discouraged he had crossed the Delaware on that wintry Christmas night to attack the drunken Hessians,—at this very place the road was strewn with roses, the young maidens held arches of flowers over him, and the air rang with songs of gratitude and welcome.

In New York City a grand ball was given. Never before had this little community seen so much elegance. Washington had left off his blue "soldier coat," and was now dressed in a handsome suit of black velvet, with white silk stockings, beautiful silver buckles, and satin waistcoat. He was very tall, and straight, and manly looking; and with his elegant dress, and his powdered hair, he must indeed have made a very distinguished appearance.


Statue of Washington. United States Treasury Building, New York City. On this site in Federal Hall, April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath as the first President of the United States of America.

John Adams, the Vice-president, was there, and so was Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury. General Knox, too, with his beautiful wife—the most beautiful woman of her time, so it is said, was there. Jefferson, who had been in France some time, now came back to America to be present at this "Inauguration Ball." He took everybody by surprise by appearing dressed as were the French people at that time—in white broadcloth coat, scarlet waistcoat, and breeches, cocked hat, and white stockings. It was indeed a wonderful ball, and I am sure there were beauty, and elegance, and grace, such as any court in Europe might well have been proud of.

In all the large towns celebrations of all sorts were held. In the city of New York there was a grand procession, such as never before had been seen in America. This procession was headed by a man dressed to look like Columbus, the discoverer of the country. Behind him were long lines of men with axes, who represented the pioneers—that is, the men who first came here from Europe, and felled the trees and cleared the places for roads and cities; then came lines of men dressed to represent the farmers, with plows, and scythes, and reapers; then came carts, fitted up like work-shops to represent the different trades. One cart, which represented a bake-shop, had upon it a huge loaf of bread, ten feet high, on which were printed the names of all the states; the coopers were putting together a barrel with thirteen staves, and binding it with a strong iron band, which they called "The New Constitution;" the butchers were roasting a whole ox, which, when the celebration was over, was to be eaten by the people in the procession.

In the procession there were thirteen boys, each thirteen years old, dressed in white, with ribbons and garlands of green.

On another cart was a printing press; and, as it passed along, the printers printed copies of patriotic verses, and flung them right and left to the people.

Greatest of all, was a big ship—the "Ship of State"—drawn by ten large milk-white horses. O, it was a grand day for New York! The people shouted and hurrahed till they were hoarse; and, at last, when the procession had been everywhere and had been seen by everybody, all went into a great tent, decorated with flags and banners, where the women of the city had prepared a feast for them; then they shouted and hurrahed more, listened to speeches, drank toasts to the "new Government" and to the "new President," and finally went to their different homes, prouder than ever, I've no doubt, of the new "American Nation."

We hear in these days a great deal of fault found over the manner in which our Presidents from time to time choose their aids. It is often said, perhaps unjustly, that they are chosen with very little regard to their fitness for the offices which they are to fill, but rather because they chance to be friends or relations, or to have some other claim upon the president.

Whether this is so or not, Washington certainly set for all his successors a glorious example in this one line.

During his administration as President of the United States, a gentleman, a friend of the President throughout the whole course of the Revolutionary war, applied for a certain office. The gentleman was at all times welcome to Washington's table. He had been, to a certain degree, necessary to the man who had for seven years fought the battles of his country. At all times and in all places Washington regarded his Revolutionary associate with an eye of partiality and confidence.

He was a jovial, pleasant, companion; and in applying for the office, his friends already cheered him in his prospect of success.

The opponent of this gentleman was known to be an enemy of Washington. He dared, however, to stand as a candidate for the office to which the friend and favorite of Washington aspired.

Every one considered the appointment of this man hopeless. No flattering testimonial of merit had he to present to the eye of Washington. He was known to be his political enemy. He was opposed by a favorite of the General; and yet with such fearful odds he dared to stand as a candidate. What was the result? The enemy of Washington was appointed to the office, and his table companion left destitute and rejected.

A mutual friend, who interested himself in the affair, ventured to remonstrate with the President for the injustice of his appointment. "My friend," said he, "I receive with a cordial welcome. He is welcome to my house and welcome to my heart. But, with all his good qualities, he is not a man of business. His opponent is, with all his political hostility to me, a man of business. My private feelings have nothing to do in this case. I am not George Washington, but President of the United States. As George Washington, I would do this man any kindness in my power; but as President of the United States I can do nothing."

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