Fragments of the Discarded First Inaugural Address

George Washington

April 1789

(1) We are this day assembled on a solemn and important occasion.

(2) not as a ceremony without meaning, but with a single reference to our dependence

(3) upon the Parent of all good. It becomes a pleasing commencement of my office to offer my heart-felt congratulations on the happy

(4) Justice, and unanimity in those States

(5) fairs. It will doubtless be conceded

(6) fore we entered upon the performance of our several functions, it seemed to be our indispensable part, as rational Beings,

(7) reputation and a decent respect for the sentiments of others, require that something should be said by way of apology for my

(8) need be bestowed in exculpating myself from any suggestions, which might be made “that the incitement of pleasure or grandeur, or power have wrought a change in my resolution.” Small indeed must be the resources for happiness in the mind of that man, who cannot find a refuge from the tediousness of solitude but in a sound of dissipation, the pomp of state, or the homage of his fellowmen. I am not conscious of being in that predicament. But if there should be a single citizen of the United States, to whom the tenor of my life is so little known, that he could imagine me capable of being so smitten with the allurements of sensual gratification, the frivolities of ceremony or the baubles of ambition, as to be induced from such motives to accept a public appointment: I shall only lament his imperfect acquaintance with my heart, and leave him until another retirement (should Heaven spare my life for a little space) shall work a conviction of his error. In the meantime it may not, perhaps, be improper to mention one or two circumstances which will serve to obviate the jealousies that might be entertained of my having accepted this office, for a desire of enriching myself or aggrandizing my posterity.

In the first place, if I have formerly served the community without a wish for pecuniary compensation, it can hardly be suspected that I am at present influenced by avaricious schemes. In the next place, it will be recollected, that the Divine Providence hath not seen fit, that my blood should be transmitted or my name perpetuated by the endearing, though sometimes seducing channel of immediate offspring. I have no child for whom I could wish to make a provision—no family to build in greatness upon my country’s ruins. Let then the Adversaries to this Constitution—let my personal enemies if I am so unfortunate as to have deserved such a return from

(9) from any one of my countrymen—point to the sinister object, or to the earthly consideration beyond the hope of rendering some little service to our parent country, that could have persuaded me to accept this appointment.

(10) myself with the idea it was all that would ever be expected at my hand. But in this I was disappointed. The Legislature of Virginia in opposition to my express desire signified in the clearest terms to the Governor of that State, appointed me a Delegate to the federal Convention. Never was my embarrassment or hesitation more extreme or dis

(11) tressing. By letters from some of the wisest and best men in almost every quarter of the Continent, I was advised, that it was my indispensable duty to attend, and that, in the deplorable condition to which our affairs were reduced, my refusal would be considered a desertion of

(12) by my country for repelling force by force; yet it is known, I was so far from aspiring to the chief military command, that I accept[ed] it with unfeigned reluctance.—My fellow soldiers of the late patriotic army will bear me testimony that when I accepted that appointment, it was not to revel

(13)in luxury, to grow proud of rank, to eat the bread of idleness, to be insensible to the sufferings, or to refuse a share in the toils and dangers to which they were exposed. I need not say what were the complicated cares, the cruel reverses or the unusual perplexities inseparable from my office, to

(14) to prove that I have prematurely grown old in the Service of my Country. For in truth, I have now arrived at that sober age, when, aside of any extraordinary circumstances to deter me from encountering new fatigues, and then, without having met with any par

(15) ticular shocks to injure the constitution the love of retirement naturally encreases; while the objects of human pursuit, which are most laudable in themselves and most

(16) as in their consequences, lose much in captivating [    ]. —— It is then high [time] to have learnt the vanity of this foolish dream of life. It is then high [time] to contract the sphere of action, to [    ] the remnant of our days peculiarly [   ], and to compensate for the [inquietude]

(17) tude of turbulent scenes by the tranquility of domestic repose. After I had rendered an account of my military trust to Congress and retired to my farm, I flattered myself that this unenviable lot was reserved for my latter years. I was delighted with agricultural affairs and excepting a few avocations

(18) set up my own judgment as the standard of perfection? And shall I arrogantly pronounce that whosoever differs from me, must discern the subject through a distorting medium, or be influenced by some nefarious design? The mind is so formed in different persons as to contemplate the same object in different points of view. Hence originates the difference on questions of the greatest import, both human and Divine. In all institutions of the former kind, great allowances are doubtless to be made for the fallibility and imperfection of their authors. Although the agency I had in forming this system, and the high opinion I entertained of my Colleagues for their ability and integrity may have tended to warp my judgment in its favour; yet I will not pretend to say that it appears absolutely perfect to me, or that there may not be many faults which have escaped my discernment. I will only say, that, during and since the session of the Convention, I have attentively heard and read every oral and printed information on both sides of the question that could be procured. This long and laborious investigation, in which I endeavored as far as the frailty of nature would permit to act with candour has resulted in a fixed belief that this Constitution, is really in its formation a government of the people; that is to say, a government in which all power is derived from, and at stated periods reverts to them—and that, in its operation, it is purely, a government of Laws made and executed by the fair substitutes of the people alone. The election of the different branches of Congress by the Freemen, either directly or indirectly is the pivot on which turns the first wheel of the government—a wheel which communicates motion to all the rest. At the same time the exercise of this right of election seems to be so regulated as to afford less opportunity for corruption and influence; and more for stability and system than[t] has usually been incident to popular governments. Nor can the members of Congress exempt themselves from consequences of any unjust and tyrannical acts which they may impose upon others. For in a short time they will mingle with the mass of the people. Their interests must therefore be the same, and their feelings in sympathy with those of their Constituents. Besides, their reelection must always depend upon the good reputation which they shall have maintained in the judgment of their fellow citizens. Hence I have been induced to conclude that this government must be less obnoxious to well-founded objections than most which have existed in the world. And in that opinion I am confirmed on three accounts;—first—because every government ought to be possessed of powers adequate to the purposes for which it was instituted:— Secondly, because no other or greater powers appear to me to be delegated to this government than are essential to accomplish the objects for which it was instituted, to wit, the safety and happiness of the governed:—and thirdly because it is clear to my conception that no government before introduced among mankind ever contained so many checks and such efficacious restraints to prevent it from degenerating into any species of oppression. It is unnecessary to be insisted upon, because it is well known, that the impotence of Congress under the former Confederation, and the inexpediency of trusting more ample prerogatives to a simple Body, gave birth to the different branches which constitute the present government. Convinced as I am that the balances arising from the distribution of the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers, are the best that have been instituted; I presume now[t] to assert, that better may not still be devised. On the article of proposed amendments I shall say a few words in another place. But if it was a point acknowledged on all parts that the late federal government could not have existed much longer; if without some speedy remedy a dissolution of the Union must have ensued, if without adhering to the Union we

(19) But the result, after very many trials, was infinitely distant from what we had been led to expect. As the process was strictly in conformity to the presented rules, I knew not to what cause the failure of success should be attributed.

(20) to any favoured nation. We have purchased wisdom by experience. Mankind are believed to be naturally averse to the coercion of government. But when our countrymen had experienced the inconveniences, arising from the feebleness of our

(21) affairs were seen[k] to decline. I will ask your patience for a moment, while I speak on so unpleasant a subject as the rotten part of our old Constitution. It is not a matter for wonder that the first projected plan of a federal government, formed on the defective models of some foreign confederacies, in the midst of a war, before we had much experience; and while, from the concurrence of external danger and

(22) At the beginning of the late War with Great Britain, when we thought ourselves justifiable in resisting to blood, it was known to those best acquainted with the different condition of the combatants & the probable cost of the prize in dispute, that the expense in comparison with our circumstances as Colonists must be enormous—the struggle protracted, dubious & severe. It was known that the resources of Britain were, in a manner, inexhaustible, that her fleets covered the Ocean, and that her troops had harvested laurels in every quarter of the globe. Not then organised as a Nation, or known as a people upon the earth—we had no preparation. Money, the nerve of War, was wanting. The Sword was to be forged on the Anvil of necessity: the treasury to be created from nothing. If we had a secret resource of a nature unknown to our enemy, it was in the unconquerable resolution of our Citizens, the conscious rectitude of our cause, and a confident trust that we should not be forsaken by Heaven. The people willingly offered themselves to the battle; but the means of arming, clothing & subsisting them; as well as of procuring the implements of hostility were only to be found in anticipations of our future wealth. Paper bills of credit were emitted: monies borrowed for the most pressing emergencies: and our brave troops in the field unpaid for their services. In this manner, Peace, attended with every circumstance that could gratify our reasonable desires, or even inflate us with ideas of national importance, was at length obtained. But a load of debt was left upon us. The fluctuations of and speculations in our paper currency, had, but in too many instances, occasioned vague ideas of property, generated licentious appetites & corrupted the morals of men. To these immediate consequences of a fluctuating medium of commerce, may be joined a tide of circumstances that flowed together from sources mostly opened during and after the war. The ravage of farms, the conflagration of towns, the diminution

(23) But Congress, constituted in most respects as a diplomatic body, possessed no power of carrying into execution a simple Ordinance, however strongly dictated by prudence, policy or justice. The individual States, knowing there existed no power of coercion, treated with neglect, whenever it suited their convenience or caprice, the most salutary measures of the most indispensable requisitions [acquisitions] of Congress. Experience taught

(24) We are now[t] to take upon ourselves the conduct of that government. But be

(25) of this government, it may be proper to give assurances of our friendly dispositions to other Powers. We may more at our leisure, meditate on such Treaties of Amity and Commerce, as shall be judged expedient to be propounded to or received from any of them.

In all our appointments of persons to fill domestic and foreign offices, let us be careful to select only such as are distinguished for morals and abilities. Some attention should likewise be paid, when

(26) even the circumstances will conveniently admit, to the distribution of Offices among persons, belonging to the different parts of the Union. But my knowledge of the characters of persons, through an extent of fifteen hundred miles, must be so imperfect as to make me liable to fall into mistakes; which, in fact, can only be avoided by the disinterested aid of my coadjutors. I forbear to enlarge on the delicacy there certainly will be, in discharging this part of our trust with fidelity, and without giving occasion for uneasiness.

(27) It appears to me, that it would be a favorable circumstance, if the characters of Candidates could be known, without their having a pretext for coming forward themselves with personal applications. We should seek to find the Men who are best qualified to fill offices: but never give our consent to the creation of Offices to accommodate men.

(28) It belongs to you especially to take measures for promoting the general welfare. It belongs to you to make men honest in their dealings with each other, by regulating the coinage and currency of money upon equitable principles as well as by establishing just weights and measures upon an uniform plan. Whenever an opportunity shall be furnished to you as public or as private men, I trust you will not fail to use your best endeavors to improve the education and manners of a people; to accelerate the progress of arts and Sciences; to patronize works of genius; to confer rewards for inventions of utility; and to cherish institutions favorable to humanity. Such are among the best of all human employments. Such exertions of your talents will render your situations truly dignified and cannot fail of being acceptable in the sight of the Divinity.

By a series of disinterested services it will be in our power to show, that we have nothing

(29)Certain propositions for taking measures to obtain explanations and amendments on some articles of the Constitution, with the obvious intention of quieting the minds of the good people of these United States, will come before you and claim a dispassionate consideration. Whatever may not be deemed incompatible with the fundamental principles of a free and efficient government ought to be done for the accomplishment of so desirable an object.

The reasonings which have been used, to

(30) prove that amendments could never take place after this Constitution should be adopted, I must avow, have not appeared conclusive to me. I could not understand, by any mathematical analogy, why the whole number of States in the Union should be more likely to concur in any proposed amendment, than three fourths of that number: before the adoption, the concurrence of the former was necessary for effecting this measure—since the adoption, only the latter. Here I will not presume to dictate as to the time, when it may be most expedient to attempt to remove all the redundancies or supply all the defects, which shall be discovered in this complicated machine. I will barely suggest, whether it would not be the part of prudent men to observe it fully in movement, before they undertook to make such alterations, as might prevent a fair experiment of its effects? And whether, in the meantime, it may not be practicable for this Congress (if their proceedings shall meet with the approbation of three fourths of the Legislatures) in such manner to secure to the people all their justly esteemed privileges as shall produce extensive satisfaction?

The complete organization of the Judicial Department was left by the Constitution to the ulterior arrangement of Congress. You will be pleased therefore to let a supreme regard for equal justice and the inherent rights of the citizens be visible in all your proceedings on that important subject.

I have a confident reliance that your wisdom and patriotism will be exerted to raise the supplies for discharging the interest on the national debt and for supporting the government during the current year, in a manner as little burdensome to the people as possible. The necessary estimates will be laid before you. A general, moderate Impost upon imports; together with a higher tax upon certain enumerated articles, will, undoubtedly, occur to you in the course

(31) It might naturally be supposed that I should not silently pass by the subject of our defense. After excepting the unprovoked hostility committed against us by one of the Powers of Barbary, we are now at peace with all the nations of the globe. Separated as we are from them, by intervening Oceans, an exemption from the burden of maintaining numerous fleets and Armies must ever be considered as a singular felicity in our National lot. It will be in our choice to train our youths to such industrious and hardy professions as that they may grow into an unconquerable force, without our being obliged to draw unprofitable Drones from the hive of Industry. As our people have a natural genius for Naval affairs and as our materials for navigation are ample; if we give due encouragement to the fisheries and the carrying trade, we shall possess such a nursery of Seamen and such skill in maritime operations as to enable us to create a navy almost in a moment. But it will be wise to anticipate events and to lay a foundation in time. Whenever the circumstances will permit, a grand provision of war like stores, arsenals and dock-yards ought to be made.

As to any invasion that might be meditated by foreigners against us on the land, I will only say, that, if the Mighty Nation with which we lately contended could not bring us under the yoke, no nation on the face of the earth can ever effect it; while we shall remain United and faithful to ourselves. A well organized Militia would constitute a strong defense [degree]; of course, your most serious attention will be turned to such an establishment. In your recess, it will give me pleasure, by making such reviews, as opportunities may allow, to attempt to revive the ancient military spirit. During the present impoverished state of our Finances I would not wish to see any expense incurred by augmenting our regular

(32) on the one hand and an unalterable habit of error on the other, are points in policy equally desirable; though, I believe, a power to effect them never before existed. Whether the Constitutional door that is opened for amendments in ours, be not the wisest and apparently the happiest expedient that has ever been suggested by human prudence I leave to every unprejudiced mind to determine.

Under these circumstances I conclude it has been the part of wisdom to ad[vise] it. I pretend to no unusual foresight into futurity, and therefore cannot undertake to decide, with certainty, what may be its ultimate fate. If a promised good should terminate in an unexpected evil, it would not be a solitary example of disappointment in this mutable state of existence. If the blessings of Heaven showered thick around us should be spilled on the ground or converted to curses, through the fault of those for whom they were intended, it would not be the first instance of folly or perverseness in short-sighted mortals. The blessed Religion revealed in the word of God will remain an eternal and awful monument to prove that the best Institutions may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in some instances be made subservient to the vilest purposes. Should, hereafter, those who are entrusted with the management of this government, incited by the lust of power and prompted by the Supineness or venality of their Constituents, overleap the known barriers of this Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity: it will only serve to shew, that no compact among men (however provident in its construction and sacred in its ratification) can be pronounced everlasting and inviolable, and if I may so express myself, that no Wall of words, that no mound of parchm[en]t can be so formed as to stand against the sweeping torrent of boundless ambition on the one side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other. But

(33) been happily diffused or fostered among them

(34) of the soil and the Sea, for the wares and merchandize of other Nations is open to all. Notwithstanding the embarrassments under which our trade has hitherto laboured, since the peace, the enterprising spirit of our citizens has steered our vessels to almost every region of the known world. In some distant and heretofore unfrequented countries, our new Constellation has been received with tokens of uncommon regard. An energetic government will give to our flag still greater respect: While a sense of reciprocal benefits will serve to connect us with the rest of mankind in stricter ties of amity. But an external commerce is more in our power; and may be of more importance. The surplus of produce in one part of the United States, will, in many instances, be wanted in another. An intercourse of this kind is well calculated to multiply Sailors, exterminate prejudices, diffuse blessings, and increase the friendship of the inhabitants of one State for those of another. While the [the] individual States shall be occupied in facilitating the means of transportation, by opening canals and improving roads, you will not forget that the purposes of business and Society may be vastly promoted by giving cheapness, dispatch and security to communications through the regular Posts. I need not say how satisfactory it would be, to gratify the useful curiosity of our citizens by the conveyance of News Papers and periodical Publications in the public vehicles without expense.

Notwithstanding the rapid growth of our population, from the facility of obtaining subsistence, as well as from the accession of strangers, yet we shall not soon become a manufacturing people. Because men are ever better pleased with laboring on their farms, than in their workshops. Even the mechanics who come from Europe, as soon as they can procure a little land of their own, commonly turn Cultivators. Hence it will be found more beneficial, I believe, to continue to exchange our Staple commodities for the finer manufactures we may want, than to undertake to make them ourselves. Many articles however, in wool, flax, cotton, and hemp; and all in leather, iron, fur and wood may be fabricated at home with great advantage. If the quantity of wool, flax, cotton and hemp should be increased to ten-fold its present amount (as it easily could be) I apprehend the whole might in a short time be manufactured. Especially by the introduction of machines for multiplying the effects of labor, in diminishing the number of hands employed upon it. But it will rest with you to investigate what proficiency we are capable of making in manufactures, and what encouragement should be given to particular branches of them. In almost every house, much Spinning might be done by hands which otherwise would be in a manner idle.

It remains for you to make, out of a Country poor in the precious metals and comparatively thin of inhabitants a flourishing State. But here it is particularly incumbent on me to express my idea of a flourishing state with precision; and to distinguish between happiness and splendor. The people of this Country may doubtless enjoy all the great blessings of the social State: and yet United America may not for a long time to come make a brilliant figure as a nation, among the nations of the earth. Should this be the case, and should the people be actuated by principles of true magnanimity, they will not suffer their ambition to be awakened. They should guard against ambition as against their greatest enemy. We should not, in imitation of some nations which have been celebrated for a false kind of patriotism, wish to aggrandize our own Republic at the expense of the freedom and happiness of the rest of mankind. The prospect that the Americans will not act upon so narrow a scale affords the most comfortable reflections to [in] a benevolent mind. As their remoteness from other nations in a manner precludes them from foreign quarrels: so their extent of territory and gradual settlement, will enable them to maintain something like a war of posts, against the invasion of luxury, dissipation, and corruption. For after the larger cities and old establishments on the borders of the Atlantic, shall, in the progress of time, have fallen a prey to those Invaders; the Western States will probably long retain their primaeval simplicity of manners and incorruptible love of liberty. May we not reasonably expect, that, by those manners and this patriotism, uncommon prosperity will be entailed on the civil institutions of the American world? And may you not console yourselves for any irksome circumstances which shall occur in the performance of your task, with the pleasing consideration, that you are now employed in laying the foundation of that durable prosperity?

(35) when they shall witness the return of more prosperous times. I feel the consolatory joys of futurity in contemplating the immense deserts, yet untrodden by the foot of man, soon to become fair as the garden of God, soon to be animated by the activity of multitudes & soon to be made vocal with the praises of the Most High. Can it be imagined that so many peculiar advantages, of soil & of climate, for agriculture & for navigation were lavished in vain—or that this Continent was not created and reserved so long undiscovered as a Theatre, for those glorious displays of Divine Munificence, the salutary consequences of which shall flow to another Hemisphere & extend through the interminable series of ages? Should not our Souls exult in the prospect? Though I shall not survive to perceive with these bodily senses, but a small portion of the blessed effects which our Revolution will occasion in the rest of the world; yet I enjoy the progress of human society & human happiness in anticipation. I rejoice in a belief that intellectual light will spring up in the dark corners of the earth; that freedom of enquiry will produce liberality of conduct; that mankind will reverse the absurd position that the many were, made for the few; and that they will not continue slaves in one part of the globe, when they can become freemen in another.

Thus I have explained the general impressions under which I have acted: omitting to mention until the last, a principal reason which induced my acceptance. After a consciousness that all is right within and an humble hope of approbation in Heaven—nothing can, assuredly, be so grateful to a virtuous man as the good opinion of his fellow citizens Tho’ the partiality of mine led them to consider my holding the Chief Magistracy as a matter of infinitely more consequence than it really is; yet my acceptance must be ascribed rather to an honest willingness to satisfy that partiality, than to an overweening presumption upon my own capacity. Whenever a government is to be instituted or changed by Consent of the people, confidence in the person placed at the head of it, is, perhaps, more peculiarly necessary

(36) rest, neither life or reputation has been accounted dear in my sight. And, from the bottom of my Soul, I know, that my motives on no [on] former occasion were more innocent than in the present instance. At my time of life and in my situation I will not suppose that many moments need

(37) situation could be so agreeable to me as the condition of a private citizen. I solemnly assert and appeal to the searcher of hearts to witness the truth of it, that my leaving home to take upon myself the execution of this Office was the greatest personal sa

(38) crifice I have ever, in the course of my existence, been called upon to make. Altho’ when the last war had become inevitable, I heartily concurred in the measures to

(39) I have now again given way to my feelings, in speaking without reserve, according to my best judgment, the words of soberness and affection. If anything in disrespect or foreign to the occasion has been spoken, your candour, I am convinced will not impute it to an unworthy motive. I come now to a conclusion by addressing my humble petition to the

(40) which will conduce to their temporal & eternal peace—I most earnestly supplicate that Almighty God, to whose holy keeping I commend my dearest country, will never suffer so fair an inheritance to become a prey to [Anar-]

(41) to all the protection & emoluments of the general government—I wish that every unkind distinction may be entirely done away; and that the word , once used to signify opposition to a federal government, may be consigned to eternal oblivion.—But let antirepublican

(42) While others in their political conduct shall demean themselves as [or] may seem [ ] to them, let us be honest. Let us be firm. Let us advance directly forward in the path of our duty. Should the path at first prove intricate and thorny, it will grow plain and smooth as we go. In public as in private life, let the eternal line that separates right from wrong, be the fence to

 

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