This Day in History: George Washington tours the new American nation
On this day in 1789, George Washington returns from his first presidential tour. Our first President thought it important to visit every part of the country during his time in office.
Surely a visit from the much-loved President would help unify the country under its new government and its new Constitution.
Washington left New York City on October 15, 1789, not too long after the first Congress adjourned on September 29. This first trip would weave its way through New England—he ultimately visited nearly sixty towns and hamlets!
Southern states would have their own, separate tour later, as would Rhode Island. This small state, sometimes dubbed “Rogue’s Island,” would not ratify the Constitution until 1790, well after Washington’s New England tour was complete.
The new President was welcomed enthusiastically as he traveled. “[W]e passed through the Citizens classed in their different professions, and under their own banners,” Washington’s diary notes of Boston, “till we came to the State House; from which, across the Street, an Arch was thrown; in the front of which was this Inscription—“To the Man who unites all hearts” and on the other—“To Columbia’s favourite Son” . . . . This arch was handsomely ornamented, and over the Center of it a Canopy was erected 20 feet high with the American Eagle perched on the top. . . . . The Streets, the Doors, Windows & Tops of the Houses were crouded with well dressed Ladies and Gentlemen.”
As Washington continued his tour, he was able to observe the area’s various industries, factories and exports. For instance, he visited (and was impressed by) a sail factory. “They have 28 looms at work,” he wrote in his diary, “and 14 Girls spinning with Both hands, (the flax being fastened to their waste.) Children (girls) turn the wheels for them, and with this assistance each spinner can turn out 14 lbs of Thread pr. day when they stick to it.”
In the end, Washington was always happy to return home. His diary recounts that, on the morning of November 13, he began the last leg of his trip “as soon as we could see the Road . . . and three Oclock arrived at my House at New York where I found Mrs. Washington and the rest of the family all well.”
Unfortunately for him, there was a large crowd present. His diary simply states: “[I]ts being Mrs. Washington’s Night to receive visits a pretty large Company of Ladies and Gentlemen were present.”
And such, really, was the story of Washington’s life. Always wanting peace and quiet (preferably at Mt. Vernon) but always surrounded by the Americans who loved him.
Annals of Congress (Sept. 29, 1789)
George Washington, Diary Entry (Oct. 24, 1789)
James Thomas Flexner, Washington: The Indispensable Man (1994) (paperback edition)
Letter from George Washington to Betty Washington Lewis (Oct. 12, 1789)
New England Tour (George Washington's Mount Vernon website)
The Diary of George Washington from 1789 to 1791 (Benson J. Lossing ed. 1860)