Washington Delivers First State of the Union Address 

U.S. #4 – A scarce reproduction of #2, produced for the 1876 Centennial Exposition.

On January 8, 1790, President George Washington delivered the very first State of the Union address at Federal Hall in New York City.

Part of the U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, states 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.”

U.S. #37 is from the first issue of perforated U.S. stamps.

While the State of the Union address is a regular and expected part of presidencies today, at the time it was an important event. The Constitution was still relatively new, and our government and citizens were learning how to interpret and live by it. So by giving this address, President Washington was fulfilling one of his duties and setting an example for Americans and future presidents alike.

U.S. #65 was issued for use during the Civil War, after previous stamps were demonetized to prevent Southern use.

The importance of his role as America’s first president was not lost on Washington. He knew that his actions would be the model for future presidents. He thought it important to clearly show the difference between a president and a king.

Washington delivered his first inaugural address on April 30, 1789. In that speech, he didn’t make any significant recommendations, but asked for everyone to cooperate to guarantee their success as a new government. Then nine months later, on January 8, 1790, Washington delivered his first Annual Message to a Joint Session Congress (more commonly known today as a State of the Union Address). In this speech, Washington was cautious to not make direct demands, to avoid appearing like a monarch. Instead, he offered specific goals while providing encouragement to his listeners.

U.S. #115 from the now-popular 1869 Pictorials.

Washington began his speech by congratulating the Senate and House on North Carolina’s recent addition to the Union. His next point, which he considered especially important, was the formation of a standing army. While the idea was somewhat controversial at the time, Washington insisted, that “providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”

U.S. #320 – Click the stamp image to read the interesting story behind this 1906 Washington issue!

President Washington then shared what he considered to be some of the new nation’s greatest challenges. He suggested that Congress make further attempts to protect America in foreign affairs. Washington also brought attention to the issues of immigration, establishing a national currency and system of weights and measures, as well as post office and educational systems. His final points concerned public credit and the repayment of public debt.

U.S. #1283B is a redesign of #1283 that had excessive shading, which the public called unshaven Washington.

Washington’s address was well received. The Senate and House both agreed to start acting on his suggestions. Several newspapers reprinted the address in its entirety and included positive comments on his ideas – and his clothes. (Washington’s every move, including his choice in clothing, was under constant scrutiny.)

Click here to read the full text of Washington’s address.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. I wish we could reach back into time to see and hear Washington give his State of the Union Speech, or any speech for that matter.

    1. How about hearing Washington’s comments after hearing last year’s or even the upcoming State of the Union Address?

      1. President Obama has alway given exceptional state of the union addresses, insightful, intelligent and classy. We are in for an inaugural address that will very likely miss on all three points.

    1. The last eight years under Obama were dreadful. Thank God he is history and we have a President who makes NO apologies for America

      1. Ernest…another extreme right-wing Republican blinded by partisanship. Obama is probably going to go down as a great President particularly when compared to his predecessor, G.W. Bush and the upcoming administration of D. Trump. I’m looking forward to President Obama’s farewell address. I’m sure it will be a good one.

        1. Conrad . Well Obama gave his farewell speech. Two things are significant, it should win the 1st prize for historical fiction and second he should buy new shirts because I’m sure his arms are now longer from patting himself on the back. I’m also glad to see that Congress has started to dismantle that abominal ACA better known as Obamacare

        2. I agree with both you and Ernest, but mostly with Ernest.
          Obama is a glib talker; it’s what got him into the White House.
          I was excited about him at first. I had never heard of him before and I thought “how kool! somebody new and different”
          Well he was new but not different. It was business as usual, the globalist agenda.
          Trump on the other hand stood against the new world order, one world government, world socialism and life on the global plantation.
          C’mon Trump! America first! Make America Great Again!

    1. This is from his address …..”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. ….”

    2. George will surely be turning over in his grave soon. After 227 years, we will soon have a monarch (an archaic term, but if the shoe fits …)

      1. Come on Roger…think about the term Monarch and then tell me how that is going to happen with our form of government. Sore loser!

  2. In so many ways, we’re still concentrating on the same important needs of a country: debt, defense, diplomacy, education, & immigration. We can’t seem to get them exactly right. It’s wonderful to see how Washington truly was a leader.

  3. First time I actually read the entire address. Washington’s words were enlightening, and touched on most aspects of ensuring a free, industrious, and democratic nation. He stressed that members of Congress were appointed to protect and serve THE PEOPLE. Wonder what happened to these ideals and principles.
    Thank you for a great article.

  4. The new president ought to read Washington’s first State of the Union address and not his own. This will make this nation go back to its roots as originally intended!

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