George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 8 January 1790

To the United States Senate and House of Representatives

United States [New York] January 8th 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 favourable 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 recieved)—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.

In resuming your consultations for the general good, you cannot 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 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 on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.

The proper establishment of the Troops which may be deemed indispensible, 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 œconomy.

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 percieve, 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 fulfil my duty in that respect, in the manner, which circumstances may render most conducive to the public good: And to this end, that the compensations 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 cannot 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 pursuaded, that you will agree with me in opinion, that there is nothing, which can better deserve your patrionage, 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 recieve their impression so immediately from the sense of the Community as in our’s, it is proportionably essential. 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; 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 vigilence 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 endeavours to divise such a provision, as will be truly consistent with the end, I add an equal reliance on the chearful co-operation of the othe[r] branch of the Legislature. It would be superfluous to specify inducements to a measure in which the character and permanent interests of the United States are so obviously and so deeply concerned; and which has recieved 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 co-operation 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.

Go: Washington

DS, DNA: RG 46, First Congress, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; copy, DNA: RG 233, First Congress, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Journals.

GW delivered his first State of the Union address in the Senate chambers on 8 January. The Virginia Herald and Fredericksburg Advertiser, 21 Jan. 1790, noted that GW “was dressed in a crow coloured suit of clothes, of American manufacture. . . . This elegant fabric was from the manufactory in Hartford.” According to Sen. William Maclay’s account “The President was dressed in a second Mourning, and . . . read his speech well. the senate headed by their President were on his right The House of Representatives . . . with their Speaker were on his left his [official] Family with the Heads of Departments attended. the business was soon over and the Senate were left alone” (Bowling and Veit, Diary of William Maclay, description begins Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds. The Diary of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates. Baltimore, 1988. description ends 179–80). GW’s speech was widely printed in the newspapers. See, for example, the New York Daily Advertiser, 9 Jan. 1790, the Virginia Herald and Fredericksburg Advertiser, 21 Jan. 1790, the Connecticut Courant (Hartford), 14 Jan. 1790, and the New-York Daily Gazette, 9 Jan. 1790. After the president’s departure the Senate appointed a committee, consisting of Rufus King, Ralph Izard, and William Paterson, to prepare a reply. The committee reported on Monday, 11 Jan., and the following address was adopted in reply to GW’s speech: “We the Senate of the United States, return you our thanks for your speech delivered to both Houses of Congress. The accession of the State of North-Carolina to the Constitution of the United States, gives us much pleasure; and we offer you our congratulations on that event, which at the same time adds strength to our Union, and affords a proof that the more the Constitution has been considered, the more the goodness of it has appeared.—The information which we have received that the measures of the last session have been as satisfactory to our Constituents as we had reason to expect from the difficulty of the work in which we were engaged, will afford us much consolation, and encouragement in resuming our deliberations in the present session for the public good; and every exertion on our part shall be made to realize, and secure to our Country those blessings which a gracious Providence has placed within her reach.—We are persuaded that one of the most effectual means of preserving Peace, is to be prepared for War; and our attention shall be directed to the objects of common defence, and to the adoption of such plans as shall appear the most likely to prevent our dependence on other Countries for essential supplies.—In the arrangements to be made respecting the establishment of such Troops as may be deemed indispensable, we shall with pleasure provide for the comfortable support of the officers, and soldiers, with a due regard to economy.—We regret that the pacific measures adopted by Government with regard to certain hostile tribes of Indians, have not been attended with the beneficial effects toward the inhabitants of our Southern and Western frontiers, which we had reason to hope; and we shall chearfully co-operate in providing the most effectual means for their protection; and if necesssary, for the punishment of aggressors.—The uniformity of the currency, and of weights and measures, the introduction of new, and useful inventions from abroad, and the exertions of skill, and genius in producing them at home, the facilitating the communication between the distant parts of our country by means of the Post-Office, and Post Roads, a provision for the support of the department of foreign affairs, and a uniform rule of naturalization, by which Foreigners may be admitted to the rights of Citizens, are objects which shall receive such early attention as their respective importance requires.—Literature and Science are essential to the preservation of a free Constitution: The measures of Government should therefore be calculated to strengthen the confidence that is due to that important truth.—Agriculture, Commerce and Manufactures forming the basis of the wealth, and strength of our confederated Republic, must be the frequent subject of our deliberation; and shall be advanced by all proper means in our power.—Public credit being an object of great importance, we shall chearfully co-operate in all proper measures for its support.—Proper attention shall be given to such papers and estimates as you may be pleased to lay before us.—Our cares and efforts shall be directed to the welfare of our Country; and we have the most perfect dependence upon your co-operating with us on all occasions in such measures as will insure to our fellow citizens, the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government” (DHFC description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends , 1:219–20).

On 9 Jan. the House of Representatives appointed a committee of William Loughton Smith, George Clymer, and John Laurance to prepare an answer to GW’s address, and on 12 Jan. a committee of the whole approved the following reply: “The Representatives of the people of the United States, have taken into consideration your Speech to both Houses of Congress at the opening of the present session.

“We reciprocate your congratulations on the accession of the State of North Carolina, an event, which, while it is a testimony of increasing good will towards the Government of the Union, cannot fail to give additional dignity and strength to the American Republic, already rising in the estimation of the world in national character and respectability.

“The information that our measures of the last Session have not proved dis-satisfactory to our Constituents, affords us much encouragement at this juncture when we are resuming the arduous task of legislating for so extensive an empire.

“Nothing can be more gratifying to the Representatives of a free people, than the reflection that their labours are rewarded by the approbation of their fellow citizens: Under this impression, we shall make every exertion to realize their expectations, and to secure to them those blessings, which Providence has placed within their reach. Still prompted by the same desire to promote their interests which then actuated us, we shall in the present Session diligently and anxiously pursue those measures, which shall appear to us conducive to that end.

“We concur with you in the sentiment that Agriculture, commerce and manufactures are entitled to legislative protection; and that the promotion of Science and literature will contribute to the security of a free government: in the progress of our deliberations, we shall not lose sight of objects so worthy of our regard.

“The various and weighty matters which you have judged necessary to recommend to our attention, appear to us essential to the tranquility and welfare of the Union, and claim our early and most serious consideration. We shall proceed without delay to bestow on them that calm discussion which their importance requires.

“We regret that the pacific arrangements pursued with regard to certain hostile tribes of Indians, have not been attended with that success which we had reason to expect from them. We shall not hesitate to concur in such further measures, as may best obviate any ill effects which might be apprehended from the failure of those negotiations.

“Your approbation of the vote of this House, at the last Session, respecting the provision for the public Creditors, is very acceptable to us: the proper mode of carrying that resolution into effect, being a subject in which the future character and happiness of these States are so deeply involved, will be among the first to deserve our attention.

“The prosperity of the United States is the primary object of all our deliberations, and we cherish the reflection, that every measure, which we may adopt for its advancement, will not only receive your chearful concurrence, but will at the same time, derive from your co-operation, additional efficacy in ensuring to our fellow-citizens, the blessings of a free, efficient and equal government” (DLC:GW).

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