First of Firsts

First of Firsts

Symposium will focus on Washington’s first term as president.

Since its founding in 1749, Alexandria has had to live in the long shadow of George Washington. He helped create the city, and every street corner has its own Washington mythology — where he slept, where he ate, whom he talked to. No place celebrates Washington more than the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, which will host the sixth annual George Washington Symposium Feb. 11. The day-long event will feature historians, authors, themed entertainment, historic displays and vignettes performed by costumed re-enactors.

“Washington is the glue that holds everything together,” said Hugh Barton, who is co-chairman of the annual symposium. “We have a distinguished group of academics talking about a vital period in Alexandria’s life.”

For the past five years, the symposium has focused on a different period of his life — moving chronologically from Washington’s birth in Westmoreland County toward the Revolution and then the constitutional ratification process. Now in its sixth year, the symposium will focus on the years 1789 to 1793 — when Washington served his first term as the first president of the United States of America. The symposium’s theme, “First President and First Precedence,” will explore the many groundbreaking decisions that were made in the late 1780s and early 1790s.

“It was during Washington’s first administration that the first patent board was set up,” said Richard Maulsby, director of public relations for the United States Patent and Trade Office, who will speak at the symposium. “We are the only country in the world that provided for a patent system in its constitution.”

The event will be moderated by James Mackay, who is director of the Lyceum and interim director of the Office of Historic Alexandria. Featured speakers include author Bruce Chadwick, who will address Washington’s presidency; Mary Wiseman as Martha Washington, who will speak on her experience as first lady; Ellen Miles, curator of painting and sculpture at the National Portrait Gallery, who will speak about portraits of Washington; and a representative from the British Embassy, who will examine Washington from the British perspective.

“This gives us kind of a scholarly retreat from the other events connected with Presidents Day weekend so we can take an enjoyable and scholarly look at Washington,” said Mackay, who will speak about Alexandria’s history during this period. “This is a very busy time for Alexandria’s port — part of what historians call the Golden Age.”


Where and When


The George Washington Symposium will be held at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial on Feb. 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost is $35 for general admission and $20 for students. Free parking is available at the memorial.




* April 14, 1789: Charles Thomson, secretary of state for the newly formed federal Congress, arrives at Mount Vernon to inform George Washington that he has been elected president.

* April 30, 1789: On the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, Washington is inaugurated as the first president.

* July 10, 1790: Congress votes to locate a new capital on a 10-square-mile tract along the Potomac River to be chosen by President Washington.

* March 4, 1791: President Washington personally selects the site for the proposed capital of the United States. Virginia eventually cedes Alexandria and Arlington to the federal government for the District of Columbia.

* Oct. 2, 1792: Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson meets with President Washington at Mount Vernon in an unsuccessful attempt to end the feud between Jefferson and Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton.

* Nov. 1, 1792: A general election takes place to choose presidential electors for the nation’s second presidential election. Washington is reelected, winning a unanimous victory from electors in all 15 states.

* April 22, 1793: President Washington issues a proclamation of neutrality between warring superpowers England and France. Rep. James Madison of Virginia questions the president’s authority to issue such a proclamation without congressional approval.

* July 31, 1793: Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson submits his resignation to President Washington.

* Sept. 18, 1793: President Washington lays the cornerstone for Congress House, which would later become the Capitol.

* Dec. 31, 1793: Edmund Randolph is appointed secretary of state.