It was April 14, 1789. At his plantation home in Virginia, Mount Vernon, George Washington was handed a letter telling him he had been chosen as president of the brand new union of states. He had been elected unanimously (which has never happened since) and that was important: it meant the government could get started without fighting over a leader. Washington was a man who could be trusted. Almost everybody admired him, including Abigail Adams, who wrote, "He is polite with dignity, affable without familiarity, distant without haughtiness, grave without austerity, modest, wise, and good."
The general, who was now fifty-seven years-old, was sorry to give up his life as a private farmer once again . But he did what his sense of duty told him to do. In a letter he recorded his last minute sensations: "About ten o'clock I bade farewell to Mount Vernon [and] to private life ... and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York ."
It took eight days to make the 235-mile journey to New York, which was to be the capital until a new one could be built. It would have been faster, but all along the way citizens greeted their president-elect with parades, and bonfires, and fireworks, and speeches, and banquets. In Philadelphia, where the famous artist Charles Willson Peale had designed a floral archway for Washington to pass through, the president-elect was greeted by a surprise. Peale's fifteen-year-old daughter, Angelica, was hiding in the shrubbery. As Washington passed through, she pulled a lever, and a laurel wreath fell right onto the General's head!
At his swearing-in at New York's Federal Hall , Washington promised to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Then he added a prayer of his own: "So help me God."