Inauguration Stories: George Washington’s Surprising Speech

George Washington really didn’t want to be president.

Sure, he might have led the rag-tag American forces to victory on the battlefield over Britain in the American Revolution, but taking political leadership over the new nation filled him with dread. When a messenger arrived at Mount Vernon with the news that he’d been elected, he all but said he’d rather not.

Obviously, he bit his lip and accepted the job, but this was not a feeling that soon passed. After a trip by horseback to New York, then the seat of the national government, he decided to give an inaugural speech — no one was expecting him too — and he reiterated that “no event could have filled me with greater anxieties” than becoming president.

In the video above, Julie Miller, the Library’s historian on early America, explains Washington’s trip to New York, the reception he got and that unexpected speech, which contains the famous phrase, “the sacred fire of liberty.”

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