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    Certification of the first presidential election and the oaths of office by Washington and Adams, 1789

    Samuel A. Otis (1740-1814) statesman, brother of James Otis, important manuscript Document Signed "Sam. A. Otis" as Secretary of the United States Senate, one page, 9.25" x 14", "Office of the Secretary of the Senate" [New York], April 6, 1789 to June 3, 1789. A truly unusual document bearing three dates between April 6 and June 3, 1789 certifying the first United States presidential election and the oaths of office taken by George Washington and John Adams. The document, written in a neat hand by a secretary, reads:

    "This may certify that the President and Vice President of the United States appeared from the returns of the Electors examined as the Constitution requires to be this day duly elected, and the oath required by the constitution was on the 30th of April 1780 administered to the President of the United States, and the oath required by the constitution and Law was administered to the Vice President on the 3d day of June 1789."

    The document is quite unusual in that it appears to have been prepared over a period of time: namely April 6 to June 3, 1789. David Mearns, late Chief of Manuscripts Division at the Library of Congress, wrote on this piece in 1955: "April 6th, the date at the head of the document, was indeed the date on which the Secretary of the Senate certified that the President and Vice-President were elected. April 30th was the date on Washington took the oath; and June 3rd was the date on which Adams was sworn in. This particular document, then, is apparently a summary-type certification... I think the periods (or seeming periods), which follow the words 'elected1' and 'States,1' might indicate that the document was in the process of preparation over a two-month period."

    The electoral college had voted on February 4, 1789, unanimously electing George Washington first President under the Constitution. John Adams, however, won the Vice Presidency only by a plurality (garnering 34 of 69 possible votes). Although the outgoing Continental Congress had set the 4th of March as the date for convening for the first United States Congress, members took some time to reach New York. The House of Representatives was unable to reach a quorum until April 1, 1789 and the Senate, April 6. On the latter date, the two houses met jointly and opened to count the electoral vote declaring Washington and Adams elected: hence the initial dateline on the document. Samuel Otis himself was not elected Secretary of the Senate until April 8; Adams appeared in the Senate Chamber to assume his duties on April 21 and Washington would enter New York triumphantly at take the oath of office in a public ceremony at Federal Hall on April 30, 1789.

    Why this document was prepared is open to speculation and it is not entirely certain whether it was prepared over a two-month period, or a very accurate copy of another document (as the odd periods were faithfully noted). If the latter explanation is true, then it may have been a draft destined to a state governor as was the custom with acts of Congress during the confederation period. This particular issue may have been an extra copy that was never sent though we don't know of any similar documents appearing in any state collections. It would not have been for the use of the government as all of this information would have been entered into the Senate and House journals. Notifications of acts of Congress were normally printed and distributed to the governors of the several states by the Secretary of State. The early weeks of both houses of Congress were spent drafting rules and procedures so formal documents like these had very little precedent. No document like this is mentioned in the Senate Journal. Thus this makes this a truly unusual and important piece. Accompanied by LOA from PSA/DNA.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2006
    20th-21st Monday-Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 7
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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