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George Washington’s Eight State of the Union Addresses -
A Complete Collection, 1790 - 1796
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This remarkable collection of the first eight annual messages to Congress shows the emerging foundation of this American tradition and Constitutional mandate.  Delivered as nearly all Americans in the new nation would have received it—in a newspaper—each address conveys the accomplishments, growth, and challenges, both foreign and domestic, of the new Republic.

[GEORGE WASHINGTON]. Newspapers. Massachusetts Centinel and Columbian Sentinel. Eight 4-page issues. January 16, 1790 – December 14, 1796. Boston, MA. 32 pp.

Inventory #30027.01-.08       Price: $12,500

These addresses include some of Washington’s most memorable pronouncements to Congress, including:

  • To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.
  • Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.
  • The laws you have already passed for the establishment of a judiciary system, have opened the doors of justice to all descriptions of persons.
  • the revenues for the present year is likely to supersede the necessity of additional burthens on the community
  • I have obeyed the suffrage which commanded me to resume the Executive power.
  • If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace,…it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.
  • with the deepest regret do I announce to you that during your recess some of the citizens of the United States have been found capable of insurrection.
  • the will of the majority shall prevail.
  • Faithful to ourselves, we have violated no obligation to others.
  • our country exhibits a spectacle of national happiness never surpassed
  • it a sacred duty to exercise with firmness and energy the constitutional powers with which I am vested, yet it appears to me no less consistent with the public good than it is with my personal feelings to mingle in the operations of Government every degree of moderation and tenderness which the national justice, dignity, and safety may permit.
  • To an active external commerce the protection of a naval force is indispensable.
  • a primary object of such a national institution should be the education of our youth in the science of government.
  • I…congratulate you and my country on the success of the experiment.

 

Historical Background

Article II, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution requires that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.…”  As with many other aspects of the Presidency, George Washington established patterns that his successors followed.  Between 1790 and 1796, Washington delivered eight annual addresses to Congress to fulfill his Constitutional obligations.

President John Adams followed Washington’s practice of appearing in person before Congress to deliver his address, but President Thomas Jefferson feared the practice seemed too much like the British monarch’s custom of presenting mandates to Parliament in person, rather than making recommendations, as the U.S. Constitution required.  He and his successors throughout the nineteenth century sent written annual messages to Congress, which a clerk read to the assembled legislators.  In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson returned to Washington’s practice of delivering an oral address to Congress.  After a brief reversion to written messages from 1924 to 1932, President Franklin D. Roosevelt inaugurated the modern oral State of the Union address in 1934.  Although there have been occasional exceptions, most Presidents since have delivered an annual oral message to a joint session of Congress, usually early in each year, to fulfill their Constitutional obligation. 

Published in newspapers since 1790, broadcast on radio since 1923, televised since 1947, and webcast on the Internet since 2002, the annual State of the Union messages are also addressed to the American people.  In these major speeches, Presidents recount the accomplishments of their administrations and make policy recommendations to Congress and the American people.

George Washington’s First State of the Union Address, 1790

Massachusetts Centinel, Boston, Mass.: Benjamin Russell, January 16, 1790. Including the complete text of Washington’s January 8, 1790, first Annual Message to Congress, now officially known as the State of the Union Address. 4 pp., 14 ¾ x 9 ½ in. Disbound.  #30027.01

Partial Transcript: 

“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 …  – the rising credit and respectability of our country – the general and increasing good-will towards 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.…

Among the many interesting objects, which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. – To be prepared for war is one 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.…

 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….

Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness…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 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.…

 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 ensuring to our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient and equal government.”

Historical Background

Dressed in a “crow coloured suit of clothes, of American manufacture,” Washington delivered his first State of the Union address to Congress in Federal Hall in New York City on January 8, 1790.

In this first address, written on January 3, 1790, Washington expresses both his general philosophy of governance for the young nation and his list of priorities for Congress’ consideration. Primary among his concerns is “providing for the common defence” and the need for domestic self-sufficiency. He also advocates a uniform rule of naturalization, standardized currency, weights and measures, technological innovation, promotion of science and literature and democratic education: “teaching the people themselves to know, and to value their own rights…to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority…”   He also notes North Carolina’s recent adoption of the Constitution.  Not only is this State of the Union address the first in U.S. history, but at just over 1,000 words, it is also the shortest ever delivered by an American President.

This issue also contains essays on an excise tax and the new federal oath, domestic and foreign news, current prices, and various advertisements.  On page four appears an interesting editorial about the importance of education and a call for a national university. In part, the anonymous author writes, “It remains for America, by an early attention to the encouragement of every art and science, and the cultivation of the human mind, to the highest pitch of improvement, to fit the inhabitants of his western world for the enjoyment of that freedom and independence for which they so nobly fought….

George Washington’s Second State of the Union Address, 1790

Columbian Centinel, Boston, Mass.: Benjamin Russell, December 22, 1790. Printing Washington’s December 8, 1790, second Annual Message to Congress.  4 pp. 16 ¼ x 10 ¾ in. Disbound. #30027.02

Partial Transcript:

“… I feel much satisfaction in being able to repeat my congratulations on the favourable prospects which continue to distinguish our public affairs. ...

 Since your last sessions I have received communications by which it appears that the district of Kentucky, at present a part of Virginia, has concurred in certain propositions contained in a law of that State, in consequence of which the district is to become a distinct member of the Union; in case the requisite sanction of Congress be added. For this sanction application is now made.....

It has been heretofore known to Congress, that frequent incursions have been made on our frontier settlements by certain banditti of Indians from the northwest side of the Ohio. ...The lives of a number of valuable citizens have thus been sacrificed, and some of them under circumstances peculiarly shocking, whilst others have been carried into a deplorable captivity.

…the aggressors should be made sensible that the government of the union is not less capable of punishing their crimes, than it is disposed to respect their rights and reward their attachments. As this object could not be affected by defensive measures, it became necessary to put in force the act which empowers The President to call out the militia for the protection of the frontiers. ...

The disturbed situation of Europe, and particularly the critical posture of the great maritime powers, whilst it ought to make us more thankful for the general peace and security enjoyed by the United States, reminds us at the same time of the circumspection with which it becomes us to preserve these blessings. It requires also, that we should not overlook the tendency of a war, and even of preparations for a war, among the nations most concerned in active commerce with this country, to abridge the means, and thereby at least enhance the price of transporting its valuable productions to their markets.…

The laws you have already passed for the establishment of a judiciary system, have opened the doors of justice to all descriptions of persons. You will consider in your wisdom whether improvements in that system may yet be made.… 

The establishment of The Militia, of a Mint, of standards of Weights and Measures, of the Post Office and Post Roads are subjects which (I presume) you will resume of course, and which are abundantly urged by their own importance.…

It will be happy for us both, and our best reward, if by a successful administration of our respective trusts, we can make the established Government more and more instrumental in promoting the good of our fellow-citizens, and more and more the object of their attachment and confidence.”

Historical Background

Dressed in black, President Washington delivered his second annual message to Congress in the Senate chamber at noon on December 8, 1790. Although the President read his speech “well enough, or at least tolerably,” after his departure, Vice President and President of the Senate John Adams read it again to the assembled senators.

In his speech, Washington reports that Kentucky, formerly a part of Virginia, now seeks admission to the Union.  He also explains to Congress that he has had to call out the militia to protect against Native American depredations on the western frontier.  He commends Congress for establishing the federal judiciary and reminds them of the importance of addressing foreign affairs while avoiding entanglements in European wars.

This issue also contains a letter to the editor on the orthodoxy of Isaac Watts (1674-1748), domestic and foreign news, and various advertisements.

George Washington’s Third State of the Union Address, 1791

Columbian Centinel, Boston, Mass.: Benjamin Russell, November 5, 1791. Printing Washington’s October 25, 1791, third Annual Message to Congress.  4 pp. 17 ¾ x 11 ½ in. Disbound.    #30027.03 

Partial Transcript:

“…Numerous as are the providential blessings which demand our grateful acknowledgments, the abundance with which another year has again rewarded the industry of the husbandman is too important to escape recollection. 

Your own observations in your respective situations will have satisfied you of the progressive state of agriculture, manufactures, commerce, and navigation. In tracing their causes you will have remarked with particular pleasure the happy effects of that revival of confidence, public as well as private, to which the Constitution and laws of the United States have so eminently contributed; and you will have observed with no less interest new and decisive proofs of the increasing reputation and credit of the nation.… The rapid subscriptions to the Bank of the United States, which completed the sum allowed to be subscribed in a single day, is among the striking and pleasing evidences which present themselves, not only of confidence in the Government, but of resource in the community.…

Among the most important of these is the defense and security of the western frontiers. To accomplish it on the most humane principles was a primary wish.

Accordingly, at the same time the treaties have been provisionally concluded and other proper means used to attach the wavering and to confirm in their friendship the well-disposed tribes of Indians, effectual measures have been adopted to make those of a hostile description sensible that a pacification was desired upon terms of moderation and justice.

Those measures having proved unsuccessful, it became necessary to convince the refractory of the power of the United States to punish their depredations. Offensive operations have therefore been directed, to be conducted, however, as consistently as possible with the dictates of humanity.…

Overtures of peace are still continued to the deluded tribes, and considerable numbers of individuals belonging to them have lately renounced all further opposition, removed from their former situations, and placed themselves under the immediate protection of the United States.

It is sincerely to be desired that all need of coercion in future may cease and that an intimate intercourse may succeed, calculated to advance the happiness of the Indians and to attach them firmly to the United States.…

The powers specially vested in me by the act laying certain duties on distilled spirits, which respect the subdivisions of the districts into surveys, the appointment of officers, and the assignment of compensations, have likewise carried into effect.…  The novelty… of the tax in a considerable part of the United States and a misconception of some of its provisions have given occasion in particular places to some degree of discontent; …

Pursuant to the authority contained in the several acts on that subject, a district of 10 miles square for the permanent seat of the Government of the United State has been fixed and announced by proclamation, which district will comprehend lands on both sides of the river Potomac and the towns of Alexandria and Georgetown. A city has also been laid out agreeably to a plan which will be placed before Congress,…

The completion of the census of the inhabitants, for which provision was made by law…will give you the pleasing assurance that the present population of the United States borders on 4,000,000 persons.…

It is particularly pleasing to me to be able to announce to you that the revenues which have been established promise to be adequate to their objects, and may be permitted, if no unforeseen exigency occurs, to supersede for the present the necessity of any new burthens upon our constituents.…

A provision for the sale of the vacant lands of the United States is particularly urged, among other reasons, by the important considerations that they are pledged as a fund for reimbursing the public debt; that if timely and judiciously applied they may save the necessity of burthening our citizens with new taxes for the extinguishment of the principal; and that being free to discharge the principal but in a limited proportion, no opportunity ought to be lost for availing the public of its right.”

Historical Background

Washington’s October 25, 1791, speech was the first delivered in the new capital of Philadelphia.  In this third annual message, Washington addresses issues facing the young country, including establishing the First Bank of the United States, security of the Western frontier, excise taxes on luxury items like alcohol, relations with Native Americans, and the creation of the District of Columbia. He restates the importance of peace, both without and within, as key to continued success and prosperity of the fledgling Republic. 

George Washington’s Fourth State of the Union Address, 1792

Columbian Centinel, Boston, Mass.: Benjamin Russell, November 14, 1792. Printing Washington’s November 6, 1792, fourth Annual Message to Congress. 4 pp. 18 x 11 ⅝  in. Disbound.   #30027.04

Partial Transcript:

            “…in felicitating you on a continuance of the national prosperity generally, I am not able to add to it information that the Indian hostilities which have for some time past distressed our Northwestern frontier have terminated.…

            It must add to your concern to be informed that, besides the continuation of hostile appearances among the tribes north of the Ohio, some threatening symptoms have of late been revived among some of those south of it.…

            In looking forward to the future expense of the operations which may be found inevitable I derive consolation from the information I receive that the product of the revenues for the present year is likely to supersede the necessity of additional burthens on the community for the service of the ensuing year.…

            I can not dismiss the subject of Indian affairs without again recommending to your consideration the expediency of more adequate provision for giving energy to the laws throughout our interior frontier and for restraining the commission of outrages upon the Indians, without which all pacific plans must prove nugatory. To enable, by competent rewards, the employment of qualified and trusty persons to reside among them as agents would also contribute to the preservation of peace and good neighborhood.…

the impediments which in some places continue to embarrass the collection of the duties on spirits distilled within the United States…have lessened and are lessening in local extent,…

But symptoms of increased opposition having lately manifested themselves in certain quarters, I judged a special interposition on my part proper and advisable, and under this impression have issued a proclamation warning against all unlawful combinations and proceedings having for their object or tending to obstruct the operation of the law in question, and announcing that all lawful ways and means would be strictly put in execution for bringing to justice the infractors thereof and securing obedience thereto.…

Observations on the value of peace with other nations are unnecessary. It would be wise, however, by timely provisions to guard against those acts of our own citizens which might tend to disturb it, and to put ourselves in a condition to give that satisfaction to foreign nations which we may sometimes have occasion to require from them.…

It is represented that some provisions in the law which establishes the post office operate, in experiment, against the transmission of news papers to distant parts of the country. Should this, upon due inquiry, be found to be the fact, a full conviction of the importance of facilitating the circulation of political intelligence and information will, I doubt not, lead to the application of a remedy.…

The results of your common deliberations hitherto will, I trust, be productive of solid and durable advantages to our constituents, such as, by conciliating more and more their ultimate suffrage, will tend to strengthen and confirm their attachment to that Constitution of Government upon which, under Divine Providence, materially depend their union, their safety, and their happiness.

Still further to promote and secure these inestimable ends there is nothing which can have a more powerful tendency than the careful cultivation of harmony, combined with a due regard to stability, in the public councils.”

Historical Background

Washington had been anxious to return to Mount Vernon after the end of his first term—even asking James Madison to draft a farewell address for him—but members of his cabinet, particularly Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, persuaded him to serve again. His fourth State of the Union address, delivered only days before the election, gives insight into his priorities for a second term. To nobody’s surprise, when the electoral votes were counted on February 13, 1793, Washington’s election proved to be unanimous once again. John Adams, with the second highest number of electoral votes was re-elected as vice president.

Washington devoted nearly half of his fourth State of the Union, delivered on November 6, 1792, to relations with Native American tribes.  He also discusses the establishment of the Mint, early opposition to the “Whiskey tax,” the operation of the Post Office, and the adoption of a constitution by Kentucky, which had been admitted to the Union as the fifteenth state on June 1.

This issue also includes two speeches by John Hancock, selection of presidential electors, news of Indian disturbances, a smallpox outbreak, an editorial on the National Bank, foreign news, and advertisements.

George Washington’s Fifth State of the Union Address, 1793

Columbian Centinel, Boston, Mass.: Benjamin Russell, December 14, 1793. Printing Washington’s December 3, 1793, fifth Annual Message to Congress. 4 pp. 20 x 12 ¼ in. Disbound.   #30027.05

Partial Transcript:

            “Since the commencement of the term for which I have been again called into office no fit occasion has arisen for expressing to my fellow citizens at large the deep and respectful sense which I feel of the renewed testimony of public approbation.… I have obeyed the suffrage which commanded me to resume the Executive power; and I humbly implore that Being on whose will the fate of nations depends to crown with success our mutual endeavors for the general happiness.

            As soon as the war in Europe had embraced those powers with whom the United States have the most extensive relations there was reason to apprehend that our intercourse with them might be interrupted and our disposition for peace drawn into question by the suspicions too often entertained by belligerent nations.…

I can not recommend to your notice measures for the fulfillment of our duties to the rest of the world without again pressing upon you the necessity of placing ourselves in a condition of complete defense and of exacting from them the fulfillment of their duties toward us. The United States ought not to indulge a persuasion that, contrary to the order of human events, they will forever keep at a distance those painful appeals to arms with which the history of every other nation abounds. There is a rank due to the United States among nations which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness. If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.…

The connection of the United States with Europe has become extremely interesting.…

When we contemplate the war on our frontiers, it may be truly affirmed that every reasonable effort has been made to adjust the causes of dissension with the Indians north of the Ohio. The instructions given to the commissioners evince a moderation and equity proceeding from a sincere love of peace, and a liberality having no restriction but the essential interests and dignity of the United States. The attempt, however, of an amicable negotiation having been frustrated, the troops have marched to act offensively.… 

No pecuniary consideration is more urgent than the regular redemption and discharge of the public debt.…

But here I can not forbear to recommend a repeal of the tax on the transportation of public prints. There is no resource so firm for the Government of the United States as the affections of the people, guided by an enlightened policy; and to this primary good nothing can conduce more than a faithful representation of public proceedings, diffused without restraint throughout the United States.… 

Without an unprejudiced coolness the welfare of the Government may be hazarded; without harmony as far as consists with freedom of sentiment its dignity may be lost. But as the legislative proceedings of the United States will never, I trust, be reproached for the want of temper or of candor, so shall not the public happiness languish from the want of my strenuous and warmest cooperation.”

Historical Background

In this first State of the Union Address of his second term, Washington’s primary attention shifts from conflict with Native Americans on the western frontier to the dangers of involvement in a European war.  He urges Congress to clarify the judicial branch’s role in preventing Americans from aiding any side in the European war and in adjudicating the disposition of vessels and cargoes captured on the high seas.  He also discusses relations with Native Americans, the payment of the public debt, and the importance of the widespread dissemination of newspapers for educating the public and securing their support of the new nation.

George Washington’s Sixth State of the Union Address, 1794

Columbian Centinel, Boston, Mass.: Benjamin Russell, November 29, 1794. Printing Washington’s November 19, 1794, sixth Annual Message to Congress. 4 pp. 19 x 12 in. Disbound.  #30027.06

Partial Transcript:

            “When we call to mind the gracious indulgence of Heaven by which the American people became a nation; when we survey the general prosperity of our country, and look forward to the riches, power, and happiness to which it seems destined, with the deepest regret do I announce to you that during your recess some of the citizens of the United States have been found capable of insurrection.… 

            During the session of the year 1790 it was expedient to exercise the legislative power granted by the Constitution of the United States ‘to lay and collect excises.’…  In the four western counties of Pennsylvania a prejudice, fostered and imbittered by the artifice of men who labored for an ascendency over the will of others by the guidance of their passions, produced symptoms of riot and violence.…

            an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States notified to me that ‘in the counties of Washington and Allegheny, in Pennsylvania, laws of the United States were opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings or by the powers vested in the marshal of that district.’

            On this call, momentous in the extreme, I sought and weighed what might best subdue the crisis. On the one hand the judiciary was pronounced to be stripped of its capacity to enforce the laws; crimes which reached the very existence of social order were perpetrated without control; the friends of Government were insulted, abused, and overawed into silence or an apparent acquiescence; and to yield to the treasonable fury of so small a portion of the United States would be to violate the fundamental principle of our Constitution, which enjoins that the will of the majority shall prevail. On the other, to array citizen against citizen, to publish the dishonor of such excesses, to encounter the expense and other embarrassments of so distant an expedition, were steps too delicate, too closely interwoven with many affecting considerations, to be lightly adopted.…

            As commander in chief of the militia when called into the actual service of the United States, I have visited the places of general rendezvous to obtain more exact information and to direct a plan for ulterior movements.… If the state of things had afforded reason for the continuance of my presence with the army, it would not have been withholden. But every appearance assuring such an issue as will redound to the reputation and strength of the United States, I have judged it most proper to resume my duties at the seat of Government, leaving the chief command with the governor of Virginia.…

To every description of citizens, let praise be given. but let them persevere in their affectionate vigilance over that precious depository of American happiness, the Constitution of the United States. Let them cherish it, too, for the sake of those who, from every clime, are daily seeking a dwelling in our land. And when in the calm moments of reflection they shall have retraced the origin and progress of the insurrection, let them determine whether it has not been fomented by combinations of men who, careless of consequences and disregarding the unerring truth that those who rouse can not always appease a civil convulsion, have disseminated, from an ignorance or perversion of facts, suspicions, jealousies, and accusations of the whole Government.

Having thus fulfilled the engagement which I took when I entered into office, ‘to the best of my ability to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,’ on you, gentlemen, and the people by whom you are deputed, I rely for support.…

            whatsoever is unfinished of our system of public credit can not be benefited by procrastination; and as far as may be practicable we ought to place that credit on grounds which can not be disturbed, and to prevent that progressive accumulation of debt which must ultimately endanger all governments.…

            my policy in our foreign transactions has been to cultivate peace with all the world; to observe the treaties with pure and absolute faith; to check every deviation from the line of impartiality; to explain what may have been misapprehended and correct what may have been injurious to any nation, and having thus acquired the right, to lose no time in acquiring the ability to insist upon justice being done to ourselves.

Let us unite, therefore, in imploring the Supreme Ruler of Nations to spread his holy protection over these United States; to turn the machinations of the wicked to the confirming of our Constitution; to enable us at all times to root out internal sedition and put invasion to flight; to perpetuate to our country that prosperity which his goodness has already conferred, and to verify the anticipations of this Government being a safeguard of human rights.”

Historical Background

In 1790, Congress passed a tax on domestically produced distilled liquor that became effective in March 1791.  Because western farmers distilled their excess grain into whiskey, which was easier to transport to distant markets, and some in cash-poor regions used whiskey as currency, they felt that the “whiskey tax” fell disproportionately on them.

In 1791, a rebellion began in Pittsburgh when a group of disguised farmers snatched a federal tax collector from his bed, and marched him five miles to a blacksmith shop where they stripped him of his clothes, and burned him with a poker.  Over the next three years, many tax collectors were beaten, shot at, and tarred and feathered.   They even burned one tax collector’s house to the ground.  By 1794, the excise taxes went largely uncollected, and the national debt was rising.   With respect for the federal authority waning, rebel forces swelled to 5,000.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice James Wilson declared that western Pennsylvania was in a state of open rebellion, and President Washington called on the militia in August 1794.  In October 1794, President Washington traveled west from Philadelphia to meet the 13,000-man militia army raised to quell the resistance.  Leaving the army in the command of Virginia governor Lighthorse Harry Lee, with Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s secretary of state, as a civilian advisor, Washington returned to Philadelphia.  The federal troops met little opposition, and within a month, most of the rebels had dispersed, disavowed their cause, or left the state.   More than 150 people were arrested for being suspect of criminal activity, but only ten men stood trial for treason in federal court.  The court found two guilty and sentenced them to death, but President Washington later pardoned them.  State courts found others guilty of assault and rioting.

At nearly 3,000 words, this annual message was Washington’s longest.  Delivered in the midst of the “Whiskey Rebellion,” approximately three-quarters of the address focuses on Washington’s response to the violent opposition to the whiskey tax.  He also discusses briefly the success of military operations against Native Americans, the public debt, and the mint.

George Washington’s Seventh State of the Union Address, 1795

Columbian Centinel, Boston, Mass.: Benjamin Russell, December 19, 1795. Printing Washington’s December 8, 1795, seventh Annual Message to Congress. 4 pp. 19 ½ x 12 in. Disbound.  #30027.07

Partial Transcript:

            “I trust I do not deceive myself when I indulge the persuasion that I have never met you at any period when more than at the present the situation of our public affairs has afforded just cause for mutual congratulation, and for inviting you to join with me in profound gratitude to the Author of all Good for the numerous and extraordinary blessings we enjoy.

The termination of the long, expensive, and distressing war in which we have been engaged with certain Indians northwest of the Ohio is placed in the option of the United States by a treaty which the commander of our army has concluded provisionally with the hostile tribes in that region.…

The Creek and Cherokee Indians, who alone of the Southern tribes had annoyed our frontiers, have lately confirmed their preexisting treaties with us, and were giving evidence of a sincere disposition to carry them into effect by the surrender of the prisoners and property they had taken.…

This interesting summary of our affairs with regard to the foreign powers between whom and the United States controversies have subsisted, and with regard also to those of our Indian neighbors with whom we have been in a state of enmity or misunderstanding, opens a wide field for consoling and gratifying reflections. If by prudence and moderation on every side the extinguishment of all the causes of external discord which have heretofore menaced our tranquillity, on terms compatible with our national rights and honor, shall be the happy result, how firm and how precious a foundation will have been laid for accelerating, maturing, and establishing the prosperity of our country.

Contemplating the internal situation as well as the external relations of the United States, we discover equal cause for contentment and satisfaction. While many of the nations of Europe, with their American dependencies, have been involved in a contest unusually bloody, exhausting, and calamitous…our favored country, happy in a striking contrast, has enjoyed tranquillity - a tranquillity the more satisfactory because maintained at the expense of no duty. Faithful to ourselves, we have violated no obligation to others.…

Every part of the Union displays indications of rapid and various improvement; and with burthens so light as scarcely to be perceived, with resources fully adequate to our present exigencies, with governments founded on the genuine principles of rational liberty, and with mild and wholesome laws, is it too much to say that our country exhibits a spectacle of national happiness never surpassed, if ever before equaled?...

It is a valuable ingredient in the general estimate of our welfare that the part of our country which was lately the scene of disorder and insurrection now enjoys the blessings of quiet and order. The misled have abandoned their errors, and pay the respect to our Constitution and laws which is due from good citizens to the public authorities of the society. These circumstances have induced me to pardon generally the offenders here referred to, and to extend forgiveness to those who had been adjudged to capital punishment. For though I shall always think it a sacred duty to exercise with firmness and energy the constitutional powers with which I am vested, yet it appears to me no less consistent with the public good than it is with my personal feelings to mingle in the operations of Government every degree of moderation and tenderness which the national justice, dignity, and safety may permit.

Among the objects which will claim your attention in the course of the session, a review of our military establishment is not the least important.…”

Historical Background

Easily his most optimistic annual message, Washington congratulates Congress—and himself—on the nation’s peace internationally and with Native American nations on the western frontier.  Among other topics, Washington also discusses a treaty of navigation with Great Britain, a review of the United States military and militia, and the mint. 

George Washington’s Eighth and Final State of the Union Address, 1796

Columbian Centinel, Boston, Mass.: Benjamin Russell, December 14, 1796. Printing Washington’s December 7, 1796, eighth Annual Message to Congress. 4 pp.  12 x 20 in. Disbound.  #30027.08

Partial Transcript:

            “In recurring to the internal situation of our country since I had last the pleasure to address you, I find ample reason for a renewed expression of that gratitude to the Ruler of the Universe which a continued series of prosperity has so often and so justly called forth.…

Measures calculated to insure a continuance of the friendship of the Indians and to preserve peace along the extent of our interior frontier have been digested and adopted. In the framing of these care has been taken to guard on the one hand our advanced settlements from the predatory incursions of those unruly individuals who can not be restrained by their tribes, and on the other hand to protect the rights secured to the Indians by treaty - to draw them nearer to the civilized state and inspire them with correct conceptions of the power as well as justice of the Government.…

To an active external commerce the protection of a naval force is indispensable. This is manifest with regard to wars in which a State is itself a party. But besides this, it is in our own experience that the most sincere neutrality is not a sufficient guard against the depredations of nations at war. To secure respect to a neutral flag requires a naval force organized and ready to vindicate it from insult or aggression. This may even prevent the necessity of going to war by discouraging belligerent powers from committing such violations of the rights of the neutral party as may, first or last, leave no other option.… 

These considerations invite the United States to look to the means, and to set about the gradual creation of a navy. The increasing progress of their navigation promises them at no distant period the requisite supply of sea-men, and their means in other respects favor the undertaking.…

Congress have repeatedly, and not without success, directed their attention to the encouragement of manufactures. The object is of too much consequence not to insure a continuance of their efforts in every way which shall appear eligible.…

I have heretofore proposed to the consideration of Congress the expediency of establishing a national university and also a military academy. The desirableness of both these institutions has so constantly increased with every new view I have taken of the subject that I can not omit the opportunity of once for all recalling your attention to them.…

Amongst the motives to such an institution, the assimilation of the principles, opinions, and manners of our country-men by the common education of a portion of our youth from every quarter well deserves attention. The more homogenous our citizens can be made in these particulars the greater will be our prospect of permanent union; and a primary object of such a national institution should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic what species of knowledge can be equally important and what duty more pressing on its legislature than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?

The institution of a military academy is also recommended by cogent reasons. However pacific the general policy of a nation may be, it ought never to be without an adequate stock of military knowledge for emergencies.…

Our trade has suffered and is suffering extensive injuries in the West Indies from the cruisers and agents of the French Republic…It has been my constant, sincere, and earnest wish, in conformity with that of our nation, to maintain cordial harmony and a perfectly friendly understanding with that Republic.…

The situation in which I now stand for the last time, in the midst of the representatives of the people of the United States, naturally recalls the period when the administration of the present form of government commenced, and I can not omit the occasion to congratulate you and my country on the success of the experiment, nor to repeat my fervent supplications to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe and Sovereign Arbiter of Nations that His providential care may still be extended to the United States, that the virtue and happiness of the people may be preserved, and that the Government which they have instituted for the protection of their liberties may be perpetual.”

Historical Background

In his valedictory annual message, delivered four months before he left office for retirement at Mount Vernon, Washington summarizes the internal and external peace of the nation and potential threats to it.  His concerns over French actions in the Caribbean are early indications of the coming quasi-war with France (1798-1800).  Washington again calls for the rapid payment of the public debt, attention to the regulations governing the militia, and proposes the creation of a navy, a national university, and a national military academy.

Washington’s decision to “return to the plow” a second time (the first having been his relinquishment of command at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War) once again earned him laurels as the American Cincinnatus and put to rest those critics who had questioned his motives and patriotism.


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