On today’s date, January 7 in 1789, George Washington was unanimously elected President of the United States of America. It was the first Wednesday in January that year, and while I’m not entirely certain that the date of Jan. 7 is correct, I’ve found it in three different sites, so I’ll go with it. Of course it wasn’t done in the traditional fashion which we have come to know… each person going to his humble polling place, etc. It was a new thing this election of the president, and the machinery was still being worked out. In this case it was the presidential electors from each state met on this day and cast their votes. The new Constitution of the United States left it up to each state how to elect its presidential electors, and some of these were elected by popular vote, and some were appointed. And those doing the voting were restricted to property-owning white men over 21.
George Washington Was THE MAN!!
Nevertheless, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind who the first Chief Executive would absolutely have to be. There he was. THE MAN! At a height of 6 feet 2 inches and a weight of over 200 pounds, Washington would have made a decent sized NFL line backer. He literally towered over most men of his day. He had served honorably, bravely and successfully as the General in charge of the Army that had won independence from the Brits. And when the delegates at the Constitutional Convention (May to September of 1787) created the office of the President they clearly had him in mind. As President of that convention (above), Washington said very little, but his formidable presence right there on the podium set the standard for how a man in charge should behave, and the delegates knew that here was a man.. perhaps the only man whom they all agreed could be trusted to wield executive power wisely and carefully.
Mr. Washington Didn’t Really Want the Job
Really the only difficulty that there was in this first and only UNANIMOUS election of a president in our nation’s history was in getting the man himself to accept the post. The fact is that he didn’t really want it. At 57 years old – he was pushing the limits of life expectancy in those days. So while he was still up to the job, he was getting on in years. And after his long arduous service during the revolution, he really did wish to settle down to the life of a gentleman farmer at his beloved home of Mt. Vernon. But from all over the
country, men were urging him to accept the post. Alexander Hamilton, who had been Washington’s aid during the war, and who was one of the primary architects of the new Constitution wrote: “every public and personal consideration will demand from you an acquiescence in what will certainly be the unanimous wish of your country” But Washington wasn’t buying it. When he replied to Hamilton in August of 1788, he really was pushing to settle down. Regarding the “delicate subject with which you conclude your letter, I can say nothing, because the event alluded to may never happen; and because, in case it should occur, it would be a point of prudence to defer forming one’s ultimate and irrevocable decisions . . . it is my great and sole desire to live and die, in peace and retirement on my own farm.”
But eventually Washington’s sense of duty to his country outweighed his private considerations, and he accepted the job. He served two terms as our president, from 1789 to 1797. He only lived a brief time after his long-delayed retirement to Mount Vernon, dying in December of 1799. Upon his death he was eulogized by Henry Lee of Virginia as being “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.” And it is worth noting: in that picture of Washington above, those are indeed African American slaves – all of whom he freed in his will.
“Presidential Campaigns” by Paul F. Boller Jr., Oxford University Press, New York, 1984