George Washington's Presidency

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In Washington's First Inaugural Address, what does he say about himself as being elected or chosen to be president of the United States?

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In George Washington’s first inaugural address, he portrays himself as a reluctant leader who would have been happy to live out his life in obscurity.  He says that he was called by his country and that he could not refuse.  He says, then, that he accepted leadership of the country not because he wanted it but because he felt that it was his duty to do so.

After the Revolutionary War, Washington dropped out of public life for a while.  He wanted to be like Cincinnatus, an ancient Roman leader who led his country when it needed him and then gave up power to go back to his farm.  Washington admired Cincinnatus, thinking that he was a great example of what a true leader and patriot should be like.  He thought that a person should serve his country when it needed him but should not love power for its own sake.  This is why he retired from public life.

By 1787, though, Washington was worried about the direction the US was taking.  He participated in the Constitutional Convention and allowed himself to be elected president.  In his inaugural address, he talked about having come out of retirement because his country was calling him to serve.  In the address, he says

I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection…

In other words, he had chosen to retire and loved being retired, but he came back to public life because his country was calling for him to serve it.


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