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Our Fundamental Rights Remain a Few Votes Shy of Cancellation

Terence P. Jeffrey on

Did George Washington in his first act as president violate the first principle soon to be enshrined in the First Amendment?

Did the Congress that approved the First Amendment compel him to do so?

On April 7, 1789, three weeks before Washington was inaugurated, the Journal of the Senate reported that the Senate had ordered "a committee ... to take under consideration the manner of electing Chaplains, and to confer thereupon with a committee of the House of Representatives."

On April 15, 1789, the committee reported back: "That two Chaplains, of different denominations, be appointed to Congress, for the present session, the Senate to appoint one, and give notice thereof to the House of Representatives, who shall, thereupon, appoint the other; which Chaplains shall commence their services in the Houses that appoint them, but shall interchange weekly."

Two days later, the House concurred.

Then, on April 25, 1789, the Journal of the Senate reported: "The Senate proceeded to the appointment of a Chaplain, in the manner agreed upon the 15th of April; and (t)he right reverend Samuel Provoost was elected."

 

Two days after that, the House resolved: "That this House will, on Friday next, proceed by ballot to the appointment of a Chaplain to Congress on the part of this House."

Two days after that, the House agreed to a resolution, already adopted by the Senate, that said: "That after the oath shall have been administered to the President, the Vice-President and members of the Senate, the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives, will accompany him to St. Paul's Chapel to hear divine service performed by the Chaplains of Congress."

The Congress was then meeting at Federal Hall in New York City.

On April 30, 1789, Washington stood on the balcony of that hall and was sworn in as this nation's first president.

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