A unanimous decision
Inauguration Day for our current president has come and gone marking the continuation of a cycle since the founding of our nation. Go back exactly 224 years ago to Feb. 4, 1789, and what would be seen? Not yet the first inauguration, but a step toward it on the day when General George Washington was unanimously elected the first president. Respected and beloved for leading untrained and inexperienced men against a world power in the fight for independence and again leading during the Constitutional Convention, he was definitely “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen” as said by his friend Henry Lee at Washington’s eulogy.
Of course, our presidents are not elected by popular vote, but rather the Electoral College. Whether this is still the most valid way to choose our president today is questioned, but with just a few changes in procedure, it has always been the case since the days of George Washington. He won with all 69 electors. Interesting to note about New York State history according to W. Kimberling at uselections.org is that even though New York would be the seat of our new country, it “failed to choose its eight presidential electors in time for the vote on Feb. 4, 1789.”
Some may be quick to say that that was the beginning of New York’s bungling of affairs, but New Yorkers can be proud that we were one of the last states to ratify the Constitution; only ratifying it with the promise of an added Bill of Rights to guarantee individual citizen and state rights and to prohibit another form of a dictatorial federal government which we just fought against with Great Britain.
One prevalent notion that people have is that the electoral system was set up due to the population as a whole being generally uneducated and unable to make such decisions as choosing the president. However, a look into more of its background reveals that there were other valid reasons. It is easy to forget in our age of technology and with a large population that our new nation at the time of Washington only had about four million people, widely dispersed along the eastern coastline with laborious transportation methods and slow communication. As also pointed out in uselections.org, this made national campaigns nearly impossible in any kind of timely manner. It was also thought that a system of indirect electors from each state would avoid the problems stemming from the new states being intensely distrustful of a federal government and under the influence of political parties. The system was originally designed for the “most knowledgeable and informed individuals from each state to select the president based solely on merit and without regard to state of origin or political party.” Unfortunately, such politicizing did occur, causing the Twelfth Amendment to be adopted a short time later in 1804 to prevent some of the problems under the old system. Perhaps still a safeguard today, it may also prevent the chaos that could occur under a genuine democracy.
George Washington eventually made his way to New York City and was inaugurated in April on the balcony at Federal Hall on Wall Street with thousands of enthusiastic people witnessing the historic event. As described last week in the column “Breaking the ice,” typical New York fourth grade student knows the history of the early days of New York City when it was settled by the Dutch and named New Amsterdam in the early 1600s. The Dutch played an early form of hockey called “kolven,” but they also originally constructed the wall-like fortification on what is currently Wall Street. This protective wall protected the early settlers from both hostile Native Americans and English. Another explanation for its name however comes from some of the first inhabitants; the French speaking Walloons who joined the Dutch settlers. Whatever the case, this was the site of the first inauguration after the unanimous election of George Washington. A man dedicated to service to his country, he was a national hero who was humble and careful to avoid anything that would resemble the intrusive monarchy we had just won independence from and carefully worked to make a fragile and infant nation grow and become strong.
The month of February certainly lends itself to reflection of our first president. His birthday during the month does not give us what some call “Presidents Day” or a day to honor presidents in general. According to the official listing of federal holidays as well as New York’s, “Presidents Day” does not even exist. The official holiday is called “Washington’s Birthday” to honor him and him alone. He deserves it. Perhaps soon to come in the near future will be some reflection of his deeper thoughts. Federal Hall in New York City was also the location of the passing of the Bill of Rights and Washington had some interesting things to say about the Second Amendment, a citizen right that was ranked important enough to come immediately after freedom of religion and speech.
Make it a good week and reflect on what and who has made our country great. Personally, it seems sad that some people are willing to sell such things as Washington’s inaugural buttons as seen on the television show “Pawn Stars.” Thanks for reading, Mary
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