January 8, 1790: Washington Delivers First State of the Union Address

Sunday, January 8, AD 2017

On January 8, 1790 George Washington delivered the first State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress.  Then called the Annual Message, the practice of the President delivering a speech to Congress would be ended by Thomas Jefferson who regarded such a practice as monarchical, too much like the British King’s Speech From the Throne at the beginning of Parliaments.  Perhaps, or perhaps it was simply that Jefferson was a bad public speaker and hated making speeches.  At any rate the custom of delivering the Annual Message to Congress in writing endured for over a century until Wilson revived delivering the Message via a speech to a joint session of Congress.

Wahington’s speech is the shortest state of the union address on record.  In that, as in so much else, one might wish that his successors had observed Washington’s example.  Here is the text of Washington’s address:

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.

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4 Responses to January 8, 1790: Washington Delivers First State of the Union Address

  • I’d be delighted if they returned to delivering a written message (and the message consisted mostly of a recitation of the crimes of the federal judiciary logged over the previous 12 months). We would benefit from hearing less of the President’s voice. The outgoing incumbent ran his mouth and traveled all over the place at hideous public expense (headlining fundraisers, sitting for photo ops with foreign potentates, prancing around Martha’s Vineyard with Material Girl wife, and playing golf with the pro-shop superintendent). What he could not do was negotiate with members of Congress (or even play golf with them).

  • “Material Girl” ? Would that be just another of the Glittariti ? I still don’t know who any of these people are.
    Timothy R.

  • Regarding the antics of BO (Obama) by Art Deco : The Corruptor was then himself corrupted.
    Timothy R.

  • Doris Kearns Goodwin notes that the practice was at one time to send the speech to Congress and have a clerk read it. This was what Teddy Roosevelt did with his first one after the assassination of McKinley. Perhaps Jefferson would have preferred that method.