The President’s Progress

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The President had prepared an acknowledgment of the Senate’s reply. Maclay noted that, when his turn came, he took the paper “out of his coat-pocket. He had his spectacles in his jacket pocket, having his hat in his left hand and the paper in his right. He had too many objects for his hands. He shifted his hat between his forearm and the left side of his breast. But taking the spectacles from the case embarrassed him. He got rid of this small distress by laying the spectacle-case on the chimney piece… . Having adjusted his spectacles, which was not very easy, considering the engagements on his hands, he read the reply with tolerable exactness and without much emotion.” Maclay commented that Washington should have received the Senate with his spectacles on, “which would have saved the making of some uncouth motions.”

Maclay’s gleeful mockery might well seem, as the first President of the United States grasped the wheel of state to almost universal cheering, a sour note so miniscule as not to be worth recording. Yet had Washington been conscious of what was happening in Maclay’s mind, he would have been alarmed. The enthusiasm that had accompanied his inauguration had not calmed the anxiety engendered during his triumphal progress from Mount Vernon to New York. “I fear,” he wrote an old Virginian associate, “if the issue of public measures should not corrispond with their [the public’s] sanguine expectations, they will turn die extravagent (and I may say undue) praises which they are heaping upon me at this moment, into equally extravagent (though I will fondly hope unmerited) censures. So much is expected, so many untoward circumstances may intervene, in such a new and critical situation, that I feel an insuperable diffidence in my own abilities. I feel … how much I shall stand in need of the countenance and aid of every friend of myself, of every friend to the Revolution, and of every lover of good Government. I thank you, my dear Sir, for your affectionate expressions on this point.”