This morning, let’s take a walk back in history to visit with one of our nation’s founders: George Washington.
On April 30, 1789, Washington was inaugurated as president. In his inaugural address, he asked the people of the United States to weigh his presidency by both his motives and his accomplishments.
On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love…On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my Country called me… could not but overwhelm with dispondence, one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions, all I dare aver, is, that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance, by which it might be affected. All I dare hope, is, that, if in executing this task I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof, of the confidence of my fellow-citizens; and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me; my error will be palliated by the motives which misled me, and its consequences be judged by my Country, with some share of the partiality in which they originated.
As we celebrate Washington’s Birthday today, also known as Presidents’ Day (officially celebrated since the late 1800s), we have the opportunity to do just that. We study history and government to judge each president’s actions and decisions. We examine his duties in Article II of the U.S. Constitution:
Clause 1: The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
Clause 2: He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
Clause 3: The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.
Then, we use tools acquired from studying literature to read the president’s speeches and letters. We attempt to gauge his motives, principles, and worldview. In the process, we learn to celebrate each president’s heroism and accomplishments while acknowledging weakness and sin.
Ultimately, as Washington says in his speech, human frailty sends us back to the One whose providential aid, both then and now, “can supply every human defect,” “consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes,” and “enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge.”
Happy Presidents’ Day!