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George Washington’s first State of the Union Address

In a few weeks on January 25th President Obama will deliver his address to congress on the State of the Union.  I thought I would use today to take the opportunity to post the first State of the Union address delivered to congress by George Washington on this day 221 years ago.  At the time of the first address, 12 of the 13 colonies original colonies had already ratified the new constitution with Rhode Island the only hold out.  The debt from the war for independence was crippling the States and stifling economic growth.   The young nation faced serious threats to its security both at home and abroad and there was a large segment of society that vehemently opposed the constitution feeling it created too powerful of a central government that threatened the sovereignty of the individual States.  These were times of great angst and hope as George Washington stepped up and delivered his first address to the congress.  His words would set the tone for a nation embarking on a great journey; one of self-governance.  Below is a transcript of that first address. 

 

The State of the Union Address of President George Washington

January 8, 1790

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

I embrace with great satisfaction the opportunity which now presents itself of congratulating you on the present favorable prospects of our public affairs. The recent accession of the important state of North Carolina to the Constitution of the United States (of which official information has been received), the rising credit and respectability of our country, the general and increasing good will toward the government of the Union, and the concord, peace, and plenty with which we are blessed are circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity.

In resuming your consultations for the general good you can not but derive encouragement from the reflection that the measures of the last session have been as satisfactory to your constituents as the novelty and difficulty of the work allowed you to hope. Still further to realize their expectations and to secure the blessings which a gracious Providence has placed within our reach will in the course of the present important session call for the cool and deliberate exertion of your patriotism, firmness, and wisdom.

Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention that of providing for the common defense will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is on e of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies.

The proper establishment of the troops which may be deemed indispensable will be entitled to mature consideration. In the arrangements which may be made respecting it it will be of importance to conciliate the comfortable support of the officers and soldiers with a due regard to economy.

There was reason to hope that the pacific measures adopted with regard to certain hostile tribes of Indians would have relieved the inhabitants of our southern and western frontiers from their depredations, but you will perceive from the information contained in the papers which I shall direct to be laid before you (comprehending a communication from the Commonwealth of Virginia) that we ought to be prepared to afford protection to those parts of the Union, and, if necessary, to punish aggressors.

The interests of the United States require that our intercourse with other nations should be facilitated by such provisions as will enable me to fulfill my duty in that respect in the manner which circumstances may render most conducive to the public good, and to this end that the compensation to be made to the persons who may be employed should, according to the nature of their appointments, be defined by law, and a competent fund designated for defraying the expenses incident to the conduct of foreign affairs.

Various considerations also render it expedient that the terms on which foreigners may be admitted to the rights of citizens should be speedily ascertained by a uniform rule of naturalization.

Uniformity in the currency, weights, and measures of the United States is an object of great importance, and will, I am persuaded, be duly attended to.

The advancement of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures by all proper means will not, I trust, need recommendation; but I can not forbear intimating to you the expediency of giving effectual encouragement as well to the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home, and of facilitating the intercourse between the distant parts of our country by a due attention to the post-office and post-roads.

Nor am I less persuaded that you will agree with me in opinion that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. In one in which the measures of government receive their impressions so immediately from the sense of the community as in ours it is proportionably essential.

To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways – by convincing those who are intrusted with the public administration that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people, and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burthens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness – cherishing the first, avoiding the last – and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws.

Whether this desirable object will be best promoted by affording aids to seminaries of learning already established, by the institution of a national university, or by any other expedients will be well worthy of a place in the deliberations of the legislature.

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

I saw with peculiar pleasure at the close of the last session the resolution entered into by you expressive of your opinion that an adequate provision for the support of the public credit is a matter of high importance to the national honor and prosperity. In this sentiment I entirely concur; and to a perfect confidence in your best endeavors to devise such a provision as will be truly with the end I add an equal reliance on the cheerful cooperation of the other branch of the legislature.

It would be superfluous to specify inducements to a measure in which the character and interests of the United States are so obviously so deeply concerned, and which has received so explicit a sanction from your declaration.

Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives:

I have directed the proper officers to lay before you, respectively, such papers and estimates as regard the affairs particularly recommended to your consideration, and necessary to convey to you that information of the state of the Union which it is my duty to afford.

The welfare of our country is the great object to which our cares and efforts ought to be directed, and I shall derive great satisfaction from a cooperation with you in the pleasing though arduous task of insuring to our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government.

GEORGE WASHINGTON

Source: University of Oklahoma, College of Law

Note the paragraph I bolded; it says it all.  We must look to the past to understand where we came from and what truly matters; liberty and freedom my friends.

Liberty forever, freedom for all!

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Comments
  • Country Thinker January 8, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    I am strongly influenced by the writing and thinking of F.A. Hayek. He argued that the collective wisdom of man is an evolutionary process that grows gradually over time, with even the greatest thinkers making but small contributions to the enormous volume of human wisdom. “Revolutionary” thinkers bring failed ideas because they dispense with the accumulated wisdom of human history. In spite of their claims of originality, these so-called revolutionaries have their historical antecedents, and as their antecedents failed, so will revolutionary thinkers.

    In that vein, the words of George Washington that you have shared are not only profound, but they are also cemented into the bedrock of human progress. Ignoring his words would be like doing calculus without algebra. Many, particularly liberals, reject exercises like this post as pointless, or worse, harmful nostalgia. They are wrong. The words of the founding fathers are not an anchor to human progress, but a rung in the ladder as we climb ever higher.

    • John Carey January 9, 2011 at 1:59 AM

      George Washington got it. You are correct when you say the words he used were so profound and key in the progression of humanity. Liberty usually is.

  • Quite Rightly January 8, 2011 at 8:03 PM

    Thanks for this.

    Right out of the gate, Washington understood that America’s military supplies should be obtained within this country and not from abroad; that foreigners ought to gain the rights of citizenship in an consistent manner and according to law; that the salaries of executive branch employees should be regulated by law and not by presidential whim; and that Americans should know and value their rights rather than abandon them.

    Reading this underscores why a great many self-promoters don’t want Americans to read or teach our founding documents.

    If we did, the entire country would have to admit with shame how many lessons we’ve forgotten in the last 221 years.
    Quite Rightly recently posted..That Magic MomentMy Profile

    • John Carey January 9, 2011 at 2:05 AM

      We have forgotten a great deal. Back then they had fresh in their minds the dangers of tyranny because they lived under it for so long. Today we have lost the sense of how important both liberty and freedom is because we have never really had to fight for them. This is why so many seem so willing to give up something so precious and rare.
      John Carey recently posted..George Washington’s first State of the Union AddressMy Profile

  • Trestin Meacham January 9, 2011 at 3:47 AM

    It troubles me that our leaders have made the name Washington synonymous with corruption.
    Trestin Meacham recently posted..THE GAY AGENDA- DADTMy Profile

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  • Steve Dennis January 9, 2011 at 6:44 AM

    You are 100% right, we need to look back and see where we came from in order to understand where we are going and how misguided we have become. That portion that you highlighted said it all!
    Steve Dennis recently posted..Merry Christmas everybody!My Profile

  • World Spinner January 9, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    George Washington's first State of the Union Address SENTRY ……

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

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