- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

On Jan. 8, 1790, George Washington honored Article II, Section III of the Constitution, which states "the President shall from time to time give to Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."
Like this evening's speech by President Bush, Washington's first address before both houses of Congress was filled with much ceremony so much so that President Thomas Jefferson, after seeing Washington's successor, John Adams, adhere to the first president's pomp, abandoned the practice of speechmaking, instead sending a written message in 1801.
Jefferson's break with Washington's personal appearance before Congress remained precedent until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson set the tone for all subsequent presidents by venturing to Capitol Hill for the occasion.
Washington's first State of the Union address was brief (11 paragraphs, about 850 words), deferential, and pointed: He congratulated Congress for its productive first session and urged that present conditions "call for the cool and deliberate exertion of your patriotism, firmness and wisdom."
He underscored the solid economic foundation of the young nation ("the ruling credit and respectability of our country") as well as the support of the American people ("the general and increasing good will towards the government of the union").
First and foremost, the nation, said Washington, had to be concerned about defense.
"To be prepared for war," he said, "is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."
That meant not only a disciplined army, but a system of manufacturing war supplies that was home-based, independent of foreign firms. Of course, military preparations, the former general said, had to be balanced "with a due regard to economy."
As for other needs of the nation, Washington urged adequate pay to attract members of his diplomatic corps, establishment of a uniform system of weights and measures and of rules for naturalization of newly arrived immigrants, and the encouragement of more useful inventions from citizens.
"Post Office" and "Post Roads" were critical legislative areas if commerce with "distant parts of our country" were to become a reality.
Most of his address was devoted to education, for he believed that "knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
Recommending creation of a national university to ensure the federal government's concern about education, Washington went on to delineate the multifaceted rewards of knowledge:
"To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways by convincing those who are entrusted 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. … "
Not surprisingly, the first president would not get all that he wanted. Congress was slow to move in the area of education in deference to states' rights, and the idea of a national, federal university would never become a reality, in large part because its location was likely to become the stumbling block among legislators concerned about placing this prized federal plum in their own districts.
Perhaps Washington's most significant contribution to subsequent State of the Union speeches was his willingness to extend the hand of cooperation to "Gentlemen of the Senate, and House of Representatives" on an equal basis no small feat, given the fact that Washington could have readily capitalized on his enormous popularity and desire by some to model the presidency along the lines of a monarchy:
"I have directed the proper officers," he concluded his address, "to lay before you respectively such papers and estimates as regards 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 ensuring to our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect, from a free and equal government."

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