On March 4, 1789, George Washington was sworn in as America’s first President and the new U.S. Congress opened its first session. Both took place near Wall Street in New York City. The District of Columbia didn’t exist then. It was not until 1801 that Thomas Jefferson became the first President to be inaugurated in the District of Columbia.
The first inaugural was a pretty low-key affair. Only nine of 22 Senators and 13 of 59 Representatives even bothered showing up on opening day. But Washington’s brevity in his first inaugural address was more than matched by his second inaugural four years later. His speech in 1793 totaled only 133 words.
For the first 144 years of this Republic’s existence the Presidential inauguration was held on March 4. The extra time from election to inauguration was considered necessary, since travel took so long.
That tradition ended with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inauguration in 1933, when FDR declared that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself." In 1937, the inauguration was moved to late January. By then, our 144-year legacy of small government had also come to an end.