As the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States approaches, everyone is getting excited about the office… and the history of the office.
The National Archives is one of the best places to explore one-of-a-kind artifacts and documents, and its current Featured Document exhibition is now presenting rarely seen items from our country’s first presidential inauguration, including George Washington’s handwritten inaugural address and the Bible upon which he swore his presidential oath!
On April 30, 1789, George Washington placed his hand upon a Bible and took the oath as the first president of the United States. The oath was administered on a second-floor balcony of Federal Hall, above a crowd assembled in the streets to witness this historic event. The Bible used for the occasion was provided by St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons. President Washington and members of Congress then retired to the Senate Chamber, where Washington delivered the first inaugural address to a joint session of Congress. Washington humbly noted the power of the nation’s call for him to serve as president and the shared responsibility of the president and Congress to preserve “the sacred fire of liberty” and a republican form of government.
After concluding his remarks, the President and Congress proceeded through crowds lined up on Broadway to St. Paul’s Church, where a service was conducted. Social gatherings and festivities closed the nation’s first inaugural day. Subsequent presidential inaugurations took place on March 4 (or March 5 when the 4 fell on a Sunday), until the 20th Amendment changed the date to January 20, beginning in 1937.
In addition to Washington’s address, additional documents include:
- In honor of the 100th Anniversary of 1st Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, Congresswoman Rankin’s 1916 Credentials (on display January 26 – April 3). On November 7, 1916, Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress, 4 years before the 19th Amendment added women’s suffrage to the Constitution. Since Rankin took her oath of office on April 2, 1917, over 300 women have been elected to Congress.
- In honor of the 100th Anniversary of the United States entering World War I, the Declaration of War against Germany signed by President Woodrow Wilson (on display April 4 – May 3). On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson delivered an address to a joint session of Congress and requested a declaration of war against Germany. The resulting congressional vote brought the United States into World War I on April 6, 1917. The United States later declared war against German ally Austria-Hungary on December 7, 1917.
- In honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Selective Service Act and the First Draft Registration, a Selection of Notable Individuals Draft Registration Cards (on display May 4 – June 7). On May 18, 1917, the Selective Service Act was passed authorizing the President to adopt a draft to temporarily increase U.S. military forces during WWI. During the war there were three registrations, the first of which was on June 5, 1917 for all men age 21-31. The Selective Service System was responsible for selecting men for induction into the military service and delivering them to military training camps.
- In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Thurgood Marshall’s Appointment to the Supreme Court, a selection of records from Marshall’s tenure as a Supreme Court Justice (on display June 8 – July 26). The first African American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson on June 13, 1967. His nomination followed a long and distinguished career as a prominent civil rights lawyer, and he argued more than 30 cases before the Supreme Court.
The inaugural address will be on display from January 5 – 25 in the Archives’ East Rotunda Gallery. The Washington Inaugural Bible – on loan from the St. John’s Lodge No.1, Ancient York Masons – joined the exhibit on January 7.
The National Archives’ rotating Featured Document exhibit is located adjacent to the original Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
“[The Ford Motor Company Fund’s] generous support will allow us to put one-of-a-kind historic documents on display for much of 2017,” said National Archives Foundation Executive Director Patrick M. Madden. “We are proud to partner with the Ford Motor Company Fund, which has a history of investing in opportunities to bring history to life.”