Skip to main content

An Experiment Reaches 232nd Birthday

On April 30, 1789, the first President of the United States was sworn into office amid the strange mixture of uncertainty and resolve that characterized the tumultuous birth of our nation. Yet with as much that has changed in regard to presidential rhetoric over the past 219 years, it seems fitting to begin with a reminder that the sentiments expressed by Washington on the day of his inauguration have remained constant — sometimes right to the very word.

"...the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people."

— George Washington's 1st Inaugural Address

The passage above has been quoted by nine of his successors, often multiple times — Ronald Reagan himself used it on six different occasions. It has graced a proclamation, two State of the Unions, and three inaugural addresses, with its potency seeming to increase rather than diminish with time — our four most recent presidents have included it in speeches to the nation.

Perhaps most timely, however, is the repeated use of Washington's "sacred fire of liberty" in presidential messages on the observance of Independence Day. It's a reference that certainly captures the spirit of July Fourth — if only to give new meaning to the fireworks you watched (or sheepishly launched) on Friday night.

* * *

This post is the first of a series on intriguing, amusing and memorable moments of the American presidency inspired by the American Presidency Project ( and running until the November election.