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Inauguration's 200th anniversary is a 'time for praise and thanks'

On April 30, we celebrate the bicentennial of the swearing in of George Washington as the first president of the United States. The wheels for this momentous occasion were put in motion by one of the last acts of the Confederation Congress, meeting in New York City. At that time it authorized the states to select presidential electors to elect the president of the United States.

On Feb. 4, 1789, electors from 10 of 11 states met in their respective states, voted, sealed their ballots, and forwarded them to New York City for counting. Originally the ballots were scheduled to be opened on March 4, 1789. However, for lack of a quorum in the Senate, they were not opened until April 6. Washington was unanimously elected the first president of the United States.The people had spoken and given him their trust and set the course for their new ship of state. It only seemed logical that this great trust should be given to the president of the Constitutional Convention who led the new nation in its struggle for independence during eight long years and who oversaw the writing of that great document.

Col. Henry Lee, writing to Washington before his election, said, "If the same success should attend your efforts on this important occasion which have distinguished you hitherto, then, to be sure, you will have spent a life which Providence rarely if ever before gave to the lot of man. . . . Without you the government can have but little chance of success. . . ."

Immediately after the ballots were counted, David Humphreys, secretary of the Senate, was dispatched to Mount Vernon to inform Washington of his election. He arrived at Mount Vernon on April 14, and delivered his message. Washington responded in part by saying:

"I am so much affected by this fresh proof of my country's esteem and confidence, that silence can best explain my gratitude. While I realize the arduous nature of the task which is conferred on me, and feel my inability to perform it, I wish there may not be reason for regretting the choice. All I can promise is only that which can be accomplished by an honest zeal."

Two days later, April 16, David Humphreys, Charles Thompson and George Washington were en route to New York City. Although the journey from Mount Vernon only took a week to complete, it had taken several centuries to rear a nation that could create and implement this "great experiment."

Washington's trip from Mount Vernon represented a triumphal procession through six states with throngs of admirers, the pealing of church bells and celebratory events all along the way.

Arriving in Philadelphia on April 21, 1789, Washington said to the thousands gathered to wish him well: "When I contemplate the interposition of Providence, as it was visibly manifested, in guiding us through the Revolution, in preparing us for the reception of a general government, and in conciliating the good will of the people of America towards one another after its adoption; I feel myself oppressed, and almost overwhelmed with a sense of Divine munificence."

Washington arrived in New York City April 23, amid gun salutes, church bells ringing, and the cheers and acclamations of thousands of New Yorkers. The father of his country had arrived to take his rightful place.

The morning of April 30, 1789, was greeted by the bark of a 13-gun salute. Not long afterward, dressed in a suit of American-made broadcloth with silver buttons, exhibiting a wing-spread eagle, white silk stockings, silver shoe buckles, and a dress sword in a steel scabbard, Washington was ready to be escorted to Federal Hall and then to the Senate Chambers where the two Houses ofCongress were waiting.

After he arrived, a brief statement was made by John Adams, and then Washington was led to a small, half-enclosed portico overlooking Wall and Broad streets.With his right hand on the Bible, he was administered the oath of office by Robert Livingston while thousands of supporters looked on.

"Do you," began Livingston, "solemnly swear that you will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States and will to the best of your ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States?"

"I solemnly swear," Washington began as he repeated the oath. As he finished, he added, "So help me God." He then bent forward and kissed the Bible.

"It is done," said Livingston.

"Long live George Washington, President of the United States!" the crowd shouted. As the nation's new leader bowed, the cheers grew louder and more emotional.

America had its first president. With Washington's simple and reverent statement, "So help me God," he established his first precedent as president of the United States. Every president since has used those same words upon completion of the oath.

In his first inaugural address, Washington said, "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. . . ."

This statement represents a literal acknowledgment of the fulfillment of the prophecy made by Jesus Christ in 3 Nephi 21:4.

During the delivery of his inaugural address, Washington fumbled once or twice with the pages of his speech and probably did not show the grace of movement that other great orators would have. Nevertheless, because of his sincerity, presence, and personality, he stirred his audience to the heart and caused many to shed tears.

In May 1789, Fisher Ames, the greatest orator in Congress, wrote a friend: "It was a very touching scene and quite of the solemn kind. [Washington'sT aspect grave, almost to sadness; his modesty, actually shaking; his voice deep, a little tremulous, and so low as to call for close attention; added to the series of objects presented to the mind, and overwhelming it, produced emotions of the most affecting kind upon the members. I . . . sat entranced."

No nation has ever been more blessed with Founding Fathers of such high caliber, an auspicious beginning, or a leader of the integrity and virtue of George Washington. (See D&C 101:80.)

The successful implementation of the U.S. government by George Washington and the other Founding Fathers made possible the restoration of the gospel for which we should be doubly thankful. Let us commemorate this event and give praise and thanks to our Father in Heaven who made it all possible.