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The Scene at the Signing of the Constitution, oil painting (reproduction) by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940. Courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol.

The 55 delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention, including General George Washington, were a distinguished body of men who represented a cross section of 18th-century American leadership. Almost all of them were well-educated men of means who were dominant in their communities and states, and many were also prominent in national affairs. Virtually every one had taken part in the Revolution; at least 29 had served in the Continental forces, most of them in positions of command.

The Federal Convention convened in the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation.  Through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention would draft an entirely new frame of government. All through the summer, in closed sessions, the delegates debated, and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. Among the chief points at issue were how much power to allow the central government, how many representatives in Congress to allow each state, and how these representatives should be elected–directly by the people or by the state legislators. The work of many minds, the Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.

If you could ask our Founding Fathers one question, what would you ask them? 

Page one of George Washington’s first Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789. National Archives, Records of the U.S. Senate.

George Washington’s first inauguration took place in Federal Hall in New York City, where the first Congress was assembled.  Keenly aware of the momentousness of the occasion, Washington accepted the Presidency and spoke of his determination to make the American experiment a success.

What would be the key theme of your first Inaugural Address?

Washington’s signature appears inside of this custom bound copy of the Acts of Congress.

Over two centuries ago, on April 30, 1789, George Washington delivered his first Inaugural Address knowing that he had little to guide him in the job that lay ahead but the principles stated in the Constitution.  Washington was a strong supporter of the Constitution and would look to it for guidance in his unprecedented role as President.
In George Washington’s personal copy of the Acts of Congress, his handwritten notes can be seen in the margins.  The notes provide insight into Washington’s crucial role in the implementation and interpretation of the Constitution and the establishment of the new American government.

As President of a new nation, what would be the first thing you do?