General George Washington elected as the first President of the United States; first Congress under new Constitution. Jefferson returns to U.S. to become first Secretary of State; Hamilton becomes first Secretary of the Treasury. There were no political parties at the time of the first political election – there were only federalists (for ratification of the constitution) and anti-federalists (against ratification of the constitution). Over 90 percent voted federalist, or to ratifiy the constitution.
George Washington became the first and only president to be unanimously elected by the Electoral College. He repeated this notable feat on the same day in 1792.
Presidential ‘candidates’ for the 1788-89 election below:
As the former leader of the Continental Army and chairman of the Continental Congress, Washington possessed the necessary credentials for the presidency, if not the enthusiasm. After months of appearing to sidestep, and even outright rejecting the idea of assuming the presidency, Washington reluctantly accepted Congress’ decision. Runner-up John Adams became Washington’s vice president.
Washington’s reluctance stemmed in part from the fact that becoming president would place him squarely in the middle of a raging legislative debate regarding the character of the new government, a conflict that persisted to the end of his second term. Washington dreaded presiding over a fragile young nation that already appeared to be dividing along partisan lines. He also expressed concern over his advancing age. In his memoirs, he wrote that on the eve of his inauguration he felt more like a culprit who is going to the place of his execution than a national hero. His letters at the time reveal his trepidation and reluctant sense of duty. Nevertheless, he knew he had earned the nation’s trust and respect while leading the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War and that it was now relying on him once again.
Washington’s humility meshed well with the new nation’s democratic sensibilities. Fearing any comparison to the monarchal government from which American had just been liberated, an aging Washington took care to avoid any physical or symbolic references to European monarchs from the beginning of his term, including ordering his tailor to make his inauguration suit out of simple broadcloth. (Later on, as he settled in to the presidency, Washington took to wearing slightly more presidential black velvet.) When the Senate proposed that he be called by the official title His Highness the President of the United States of America and the Protector of Their Liberties, an embarrassed Washington opted for the more modest address of Mr. President.
The first Mr. President embarked on a week-long journey from his estate at Mount Vernon to his inauguration in New York without his wife, Martha, who chose to stay at home. During a presidency in which the role of the president was still evolving and under constant scrutiny, Washington periodically revealed his longing for a return to a more relaxed life at his beloved Mount Vernon and still managed to keep close tabs on the farm, sending detailed instructions for the estate’s maintenance.
The peculiarities of early American voting procedure meant that although Washington won unanimous election, he still had a runner-up, John Adams, who served as vice president during both of Washington’s terms. Electors in what is now called the Electoral College named two choices for president. They each cast two ballots without noting a distinction between their choice for president and vice president. Washington was chosen by all of the electors and therefore is considered to have been unanimously elected. Of those also named on the electors’ ballots, Adams had the most votes and became vice president.
While the current presidential cabinet includes sixteen members, George Washington’s cabinet included just four original members: Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph. Washington set the precedents for how these roles would interact with the presidency, establishing the cabinet as the chief executive’s private, trusted advisors.
While there are currently sixteen cabinet level positions, George Washington’s original cabinet consisted of only four members.
In order to establish both credibility and balance, George Washington chose a cabinet that included members from different regions of the country.
On September 11, 1789, George Washington sent his first cabinet nomination to the Senate. Just minutes later, the Senate approved the appointment of Alexander Hamilton unanimously as the Secretary of the Treasury.
The group came to be known as the cabinet based on a reference made by James Madison, who described the meetings as “the president’s cabinet.”
The constitutional reference utilized to serve as justification for the creation of the cabinet reads that the President: “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.”