WASHINGTON, George. Autograph manuscript leaf from his undelivered FIRST INAUGURAL ADDRESS, consisting of pages 19 and 20, comprising approximately 325 words in the President-elect's hand, n.p., n.d. [early 1789]. 2 pages, 4to (9 x 6¼ in.), neatly paginated by Washington, neat repair to one corner and a small tear at top margin.
THE FIRST INAUGURAL ADDRESS: THE "FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY" DENIES DYNASTIC AMBITIONS (POINTING TO HIS CHILDLESSNESS) AND VIGOROUSLY DENIES THAT IN ACCEPTING THE OFFICE OF PRESIDENT, HE HAS ANY DESIRE FOR "PLEASURE, OR GRANDEUR, OR POWER"
A very revealing leaf--its striking, highly personal allusions quoted and scrutinized by many biographers--from Washington's undelivered first inaugural address. In it, the President-elect painstakingly defends his motives in accepting the office of President, denying personal ambition, and points to his lack of children as defense against any accusations that, in becoming President, he might entertain dynastic ambitions. In preparation for his inauguration, Washington and his secretary David Humphreys meticulously drafted a thoughtful, formal address, spelling out a host of crucial issues facing the new nation: the implementation of the Constitution, the organization of the judiciary, national defense, trade, commerce and taxation. In late February 1787, the draft was sent to James Madison (this leaf is likely to have been part of the version read by him, as no other copy is extant). Madison evidently advised Washington that the speech was too long and perhaps too controversial for the inauguration. In any case, the address was set aside and Madison helped the President-elect draft a new, rather perfunctory address (See Papers: Presidential Series, ed. D. Twohig 2:152-173).
The text is as follows (italicized portions are part of the preceding and folling pages): "And from the bottom of my soul, I know that my motives on no former occasion were more innocent than in the present instance--At my time of life and in my situation I will not suppose that mant moments need be bestowed in exculpating myself from any suggestions, which might be made 'that the incitement of pleasure, or grandeur, or power have wrought a change in my resolution.' Small ind[ee]d must be the resources for happiness in the mind of that man, who cannot find a refuge from the tediousness of solitude but in a round of dissipation, the pomp of State, or the homage of his fellow men. I am not conscious of being in that predicament. But if there should be a single citizen of the United States, to whom the tenour of my life is so little known, that he could imagine me capable of being so smitten with the allurements of sensual gratification, the frivolities of ceremony, or the baubles of ambition, as to be induced from such motives to accept a public appointment: I shall only lament his imperfect acquaintance with my heart, and leave him until another retirement (should Heaven spare my life for a little space) shall work a conviction of his error. In the meantime it may not, perhaps, be improper to mention one or two circumstances wch. will serve to obviate the jealousies that might be entertained of my having accepted this Office, from a desire of enriching myself or aggrandising my posterity. In the first place, it will be recollected, that the Divine Providence hath not seen fit that my blood should be transmitted or my name perpetuated by the endearing, though sometimes seducing channel of immediate offspring. I have no child for whom I could wish to make a provision--no family to build in greatness upon my Country's ruins. Let then the Adversaries to this Constitution--let my personal enemies if I am so unfortunate as to have deserved such a return from any one of my countrymen, point to the sinester [sic] object, or to the earthly consideration beyond the hope of rendering some little service to our parent Country, that could have persuaded me to accept the appointment"
Biographer Richard Brookhiser (Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, New York, 1996) has perceptively analyzed the significance of Washington's role as surrogate father; first to his step-children and step-grandchildren, then to a succession of young aides-de-camp and secretaries (Lafayette, Hamilton, Lear, Humphreys) and eventually to an entire nation. Interpreting the present fragment of the inaugural, with Washington's unprecedented public admission of childlessness, Brookhiser speculates that by this date Washington had come to accept that painful personal loss and, in doing so "transmuted the loss into a political benefit" by transforming himself into the patriarch of a nation (Brookhiser, p.164). "It is undeniable that he had to invent substitute children," writes Brookhiser, and "the children he settled on were his countrymen."
Washington's original 73-page manuscript "has been the victim of the most horrendous historical vandalism" (Flexner) at the hands of Washington's early editor, Jared Sparks (1789-1866), who acquired the manuscript but chose to suppress its publication and subsequently gave away individual leaves and small segments as souvenirs. Today, only a handful of leaves and small scraps are extant. According to the most thorough register of surviving fragments and leaves, complete leaves can be located (Washington, Papers, Presidential Series, ed. D. Twohig, 2:159-173). Surviving whole leaves recorded there comprise pp. 5/6, 15/16, 19/20, 23/24, 27/28, 29/30, 33/34, 45/46, 47/48, 57/58, 59/60 and 61/62 (Stein's 1958 census recorded 11 leaves, 12 half-leaves and two three-line fragments.) An additional previously unrecorded page (leaf 49/50) was sold at Christie's, New York, 20 May 1994, lot 95, $180,000), and another (leaf 35/36), was discovered in England in 1996 (Phillips, 13 June 1996, £180,000). Most of the extant leaves, though, are now in permanent institutional collections. See Nathaniel E. Stein, "The Discarded Inaugural Address of George Washington," in Manuscripts; The First Twenty Years, pp. 239-254.
Provenance: Jared Sparks (1789-1866), editor, historian and manuscript collector who borrowed from Washington's nephew Bushrod some eight cartons of Washington's original manuscripts at Mount Vernon for his research.--Nathaniel E. Stein (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 25 January 1979, lot 189, illustrated).