Inaugural Post

“All I dare aver, is, that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance, by which it might be affected,” the newly-inaugurated George Washington said to Congress [1].

And so it will be for this website to provide the best information about the standard of presidential leadership that began on that afternoon in 1789.

It also appears as if Washington might be one of the most underrated Chief Executives in American history.

According to a 2009 survey conducted by C-SPAN, Abraham Lincoln is ranked as the best, based on his receiving the highest total score in ten categories judged by historians and professional observers of the presidency who participated in the survey [2].

Lincoln ranked first in categories of Crisis Leadership, Vision/Setting and Agenda, Pursued Equal Justice for All, and Performance within Context of Times, while tying with Washington for first place in Moral Authority.

By contrast, third was the lowest ranking achieved by Lincoln, behind Washington and Franklin Roosevelt in the category of International Relations and judged as inferior to Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson in Relations with Congress.

As in the prior C-SPAN survey from ten years ago, Washington received the next highest total score, keeping his rank at second-place. Despite being ranked equal to Lincoln in Moral Authority and judged to be the best in Economic Management, International Relations, and Administrative Skills, Washington was ranked worse than twelve other presidents – including Ulysses Grant and Gerald Ford – in the category of Pursued Equal Justice for All.

Perhaps they need to take a closer look at his first inaugural address.

Jill Lepore of Harvard spotlights the history of presidential rhetoric in inaugural addresses that began with Washington [3]. Curiously, as with most other comments about the remarks he made after taking the first oath of office, she doesn’t mention Washington’s recommendation to Congress for the abolition of slavery through a Bill of Rights amended to the Constitution.

“It will remain with your judgment to decide, how far an exercise of the occasional power delegated by the Fifth article of the Constitution is rendered expedient at the present juncture by the nature of objections which have been urged against the System,” said Washington.

Consistent with his becoming known as “first in the hearts of his countrymen,” Washington led the way against slavery, which he described as “the only unavoidable subject of regret” in founding the nation [4].

References

[1] John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, 39 vols. (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931-1944), 30:292.

[2] http://www.c-span.org/PresidentialSurvey/default.aspx

[3] Jill Lepore, “The Speech: Inaugural Addresses, Great and Otherwise,” The New Yorker, 48-53.

[4] Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington, 295.  George Washington, Writings (New York: Library of America, 1997), 701.

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2 thoughts on “Inaugural Post

  1. I was not aware of Washington’s recommendation for an amendment to abolish slavery. Very interesting. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  2. Thank you for writing!

    Slavery was debated more than commonly known during the American founding.

    Thomas Jefferson also included a whole section about the evil of slavery for the Declaration of Independence that was later removed.

    Learn more: http://RonaldGrey.com/JoinMe

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