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America’s Unwritten Constitution by Akhil Reed Amar

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CHAPTER 8

FOLLOWING WASHINGTON’S LEAD

America’s “Georgian” Constitution

As America’s first “first man,” Washington set precedents from his earliest moments on the job. At his 1789 inauguration he wore civilian garb and swore his oath of office on the Bible. Nothing in the written Constitution specified this protocol, yet later presidents have emulated various elements of Washington’s inaugural etiquette and have closely followed many other Washingtonian precedents. Several presidents have even made a point of swearing their oaths on the same Bible that Washington used on April 30, 1789. Note also the foreground presence of two of the four men whom Washington would later bring into his first cabinet—future treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton at the far left and future war secretary Henry Knox at the far right.

THE INAUGURATION OF WASHINGTON (APRIL 30, 1789, AS DEPICTED IN 1876).

As America’s first “first man,” Washington set precedents from his earliest moments on the job. At his 1789 inauguration he wore civilian garb and swore his oath of office on the Bible. Nothing in the written Constitution specified this protocol, yet later presidents have emulated various elements of Washington’s inaugural etiquette and have closely followed many other Washingtonian precedents. Several presidents have even made a point of swearing their oaths on the same Bible that Washington used on April ...

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