Friday, October 24, 2008

Another Perspective of an American First

A Comparison between Washington's First and Second Inaugural Ceremonies by Ray Soller

On April 30, 1789, the day of this nation's first inaugural ceremony, President George Washington was sworn into office and presented his inaugural speech. Then, according to fellow blogger, Tom Van Dyke, "The whole bunch, president and congress, packed over to St. Paul's Chapel immediately for a prayer service." That, of course is not entirely true. There was at least one Senator who didn't parade over to the chapel singing "koom-bye-yah." He was Pennsylvania Senator William Maclay. Fortunately what Maclay did do was keep a journal, where he recorded his concerns during the legislative process that led up the parade into Saint Paul's Church.

Here's the pertinent part of his journal entry for Monday, April 27th, 1789, the day on which the Senate took up the matter of scheduling a church service as part of the inauguration:
Tried my knee and walked a good deal. Attended the Hall. We had prayers this day by the [recently appointed] chaplain, Dr. [Samuel] Provost. A new arrangement was reported from the Joint Committee of Ceremonies. This is an endless business. [Virginia Senator Richard Henry] Lee [of the JCC] offered a motion to the Chair that after the President was sworn (which now is to be in the gallery opposite the Senate chamber), the Congress should accompany him to Saint Paul's Church and attend divine service. This had been agitated in Joint Committee. But Lee said expressly that they would not agree to it. I opposed it as an improper business after it had been in the hands of the Joint Committee and rejected, as I thought this a certain method of creating a dissension between the Houses.[South Carolina Senator Ralph] Izard [of the JCC] got up in great wrath and stuttered that the fact was not so. He, however, would say nothing more. I made an effort to rise. The Vice-President [John Adams] hurried the question, and it was put and carried by the churchman [Senator Lee]. [Maryland's Catholic Senator] Mr. [Charles] Carrol[l], though he had been the first to speak against it, yet was silent on this vote. This proves him not [the rank and] file man of firmness which I once thought him.

Two days later on April 29, 1789, the same day the House approved the measure to attend the service at Saint Paul's Church, Maclay added the following:
I have observed ever since we began to do business that a Jehu-like spirit has prevailed with a number of gentlemen, and with none more than with the member [Richard Henry Lee] from the Ancient Dominion [Virginia], who is said to be a notorious anti-Federalist (a most expensive and enormous machine of a Federal Judiciary, pompous titles, strong efforts after religious distinctions, coercive laws for taking the oaths, etc.). I have uniformly opposed, as far as I was able, everything of this kind, and I believe have sacrificed every chance of being popular and every grain of influence in file Senate by so doing. But be it so.' I have the testimony of my own conscience that I am right. High-handed measures are at no time justifiable, but now they are highly impolitic. Never will I consent to straining the Constitution, nor never will I consent to the exercise of a doubtful power. We come here the servants, not the lords, of our constituents. The new Government, instead of being a powerful machine whose authority would support any measure, needs helps and props on all sides, and must be supported by the ablest names and the most shining characters which we can select. The President's amiable deportment, however, smooths and sweetens everything. Charles Thomson [the congressional envoy sent to Washington with word of his election] has, however, been ill used by the Committee of Arrangements of the ceremonial. This is wrong. His name has been left out of the arrangements for tomorrow.

On the day of the Inauguration, after an unflattering description of Washington's inaugural speech, Maclay reported:
From the hall there was a grand procession to Saint Paul's Church, where prayers were said by the Bishop. The procession was well conducted and without accident, as far as I have heard. The militia were all under arms, lined the street near the church, made a good figure, and behaved well.

Four years later, on March 4, 1789, Washington's inauguration in Philadelphia was a much simpler affair. In contrast to the first inauguration, there were no elaborate preparations, no parades, no swearing on or kissing the Bible, no church services, and not a single reported reference to the Almighty. Washington merely informed Congresss as to when he would appear to take the oath. William Maclay's two-year term as a senator had expired, so it is unlikely that he had been able to advise the President, but we can find have clues regarding the deliberations that went into the inaugural planning if we turn to a June 6, 1824 Jefferson letter addressed to Martin Van Buren. (See The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Augustine Washington, especially pages 367-8). In part, Jefferson recalled:
"We met at my office. Hamilton and myself agreed at once that there was too much ceremony for the character of our government, and particularly, that the parade of the installation at New York ought not to be copied on the present occasion, that the President should [in addition: dah - dah - dah] . [Attorney General Edmund] Randolph and [Secretary of War Henry] Knox differed from us, the latter vehemently; they thought it not advisable to change any of the established forms, and we authorized Randolph to report our opinions to the President. As these opinions were divided, and no positive advice given as to any change, no change was made."

Jefferson's self-serving statement that "[n]o change was made" is obviously incorrect. His first inaugural ceremony followed the simplistic example set by Washington's second inauguration, except for one noticeable difference. Jefferson walked to the Senate chamber while Washington preferred his plush carriage pulled by four of his well-groomed horses. (Oh yes, another difference - there were, much like as at Washington's first inauguration, several punctuated volleys of celebratory cannon fire.)


Tom Van Dyke said...

A very good rejoinder to my post and account of the opposing view, Ray. As Shanna Riley noted, there was no unanimity at the Founding, which we should all keep in mind.

Maclay does seem to be a quarrelsome man, however, disparaging the character of the well-respected Charles Carroll of Maryland. Perhaps he thought he had a natural ally in Carroll, a Catholic, and was disappointed. We all have our religious wars, even secularists.

We should not skip over John Adams' inaugural, his address containing this passage guaranteed to set certain folks' teeth on edge, and no doubt Maclay's---

"I feel it to be my duty to add, if a veneration for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service, can enable me in any degree to comply with your wishes, it shall be my strenuous endeavor that this sagacious injunction of the two Houses shall not be without effect."

As for Jefferson keeping his inauguration pompless and circumstanceless, it was certainly in his character. This is an account of Jefferson receiving the new foreign minister from britain at the White House:

"In a few moments after our arrival," said the senator, writing two years before Merry's mishap, "a tall high-boned man came into the room. He was dressed, or rather undressed, in an old brown coat, red waistcoat, old corduroy small-clothes much soiled, woolen hose, and slippers without heels. I thought him a servant, when General Varnum surprised me by announcing that it was the President."

The man was a pig. More here on his slovenliness in Henry Adams' "History of the United States".

Ray Soller said...

Tom, I can't see why you label Maclay as particularly "quarrelsome." Was it the expression he gave to the convictions deeply rooted in his "conscience" that disagreed with the congressional Jehu-types who were "straining the constitution" with their "religious distinctions"?

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's more his overblown rhetoric and slag on Charles Carroll.