George Washington’s Speeches: a Lasting Impression
It was hardly an easy time in American history when George Washington became the nation’s first President. Still today, we look back at the father of our country as an example and a model.
Democracy was an untested concept when George Washington was elected to the highest position in the novice government. Yet, as history tells us, he always held to his strong moral compass and gave our country the strong foundation that has allowed it to prosper over the decades. Having been unanimously elected to the position, George Washington also found himself creating and defining the new leader role of President.
While he is often remembered for his great military leadership and his unbending nobility, George Washington also set an expectation for the American people and a precedent for future leaders about how a president should address his citizens. Two of the more famous of Washington’s communications include the first Presidential inaugural address, and Washington’s speech to the officers.
The First Presidential Inaugural Address
George Washington’s inaugural address was not only George Washington’s first speech as President, it was also the first speech made by ANY president. Knowing that they were also setting a precedent for future inaugural ceremonies, Congress debated what such an event should entail. Congress agreed that the ceremony should take place in a public place and that any citizens, regardless of social or economic status, should be permitted to witness the event. For the ceremony, Washington gave his Presidential oath, kissed the Bible, and was greeted by cheering and a celebratory barrage of 13 cannons.
These celebrations concluded the event as Congress had agreed upon, however George Washington met with his Congress immediately following his inauguration and, unprompted by tradition or any expectation, made the first Inaugural Address. This unexpected gesture would provide a foundation for the future and prompt all future American Presidents to follow the example of this first great leader upon their own inaugurations.
Preserving Hope for Democracy: Washington’s Address to the Troops
As the Revolutionary War came to a close, military officers in the United States Army were becoming increasingly less satisfied with how the government had rewarded them for their service. Congress had made many promises to members of the army including salaries, bounties, and life pensions, however Congress had failed to deliver on these promises. In an attempt to collect their just rewards and to protect their personal interests, officers were meeting to discuss the possibility of turning their influence on the government.
On March 15, 1783, George Washington arrived at the meeting of his officers and addressed them. The men were unimpressed by his speech, however they were moved by Washington’s vulnerability when he had to take out his spectacles in order to read a letter from Congress. The officers saw that Washington had also fought for his country and given his own youth and his own eyesight to see it succeed.
Following Washington’s speech, a vote was cast amongst the officers and they unanimously decided to continue under the rule of Congress. This decision not to take up arms against the new and fragile government system allowed for that system to develop and grow into a strong and long-lasting nation.
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