Washington’s Eighth Annual Address to Congress

Washington delivered his eighth State of the Union address on 7 December 1796.

Fellow Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

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.

The acts of the last session which required special arrangements have been as far as circumstances would admit carried into operation.

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.

The meeting of the deputies from the Creek Nation at Colerain, in the State of Georgia, which had for a principal object the purchase of a parcel of their land by that State, broke up without its being accomplished, the nation having previous to their departure instructed them against making any sale. The occasion, however, has been improved to confirm by a new treaty with the Creeks their preexisting engagements with the United States, and to obtain their consent to the establishment of trading houses and military posts within their boundary, by means of which their friendship and the general peace may be more effectually secured.

The period during the late session at which the appropriation was passed for carrying into effect the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation between the United States and His Brittanic Majesty necessarily procrastinated the reception of the posts stipulated to be delivered beyond the date assigned for that event. As soon, however, as the Governor-General of Canada could be addressed with propriety on the subject, arrangements were cordially and promptly concluded for their evacuation, and the United States took possession of the principal of them, comprehending Oswego, Niagara, Detroit, Michilimackinac, and Fort Miami, where such repairs and additions have been ordered to be made as appeared indispensable.

The commissioners appointed on the part of the United States and of Great Britain to determine which is the river St. Croix mentioned in the treaty of peace of 1783, agreed in the choice of Egbert Benson, esq., of New York, for the 3rd commissioner. The whole met at St. Andrew’s, in Passamaquoddy Bay, in the beginning of October, and directed surveys to be made of the rivers in dispute; but deeming it impracticable to have these surveys completed before the next year, they adjourned to meet at Boston in August, 1797, for the final decision of the question.

Other commissioners appointed on the part of the United States, agreeably to the 7th article of the treaty with Great Britain, relative to captures and condemnation of vessels and other property, met the commissioners of His Britannic Majesty in London in August last, when John Trumbull, esq., was chosen by lot for the 5th commissioner. In October following the board were to proceed to business. As yet there has been no communication of commissioners on the part of Great Britain to unite with those who have been appointed on the part of the United States for carrying into effect the 6th article of the treaty.

The treaty with Spain required that the commissioners for running the boundary line between the territory of the United States and His Catholic Majesty’s provinces of East and West Florida should meet at the Natchez before the expiration of 6 months after the exchange of the ratifications, which was effected at Aranjuez on the 25th day of April [1796]; and the troops of His Catholic Majesty occupying any posts within the limits of the United States were within the same time period to be withdrawn. The commissioner of the United States therefore commenced his journey for the Natchez in September, and troops were ordered to occupy the posts from which the Spanish garrisons should be withdrawn. Information has been recently received of the appointment of a commissioner on the part of His Catholic Majesty for running the boundary line, but none of any appointment for the adjustment of the claims of our citizens whose vessels were captured by the armed vessels of Spain.

In pursuance of the act of Congress passed in the last session for the protection and relief of American sea-men, agents were appointed, one to reside in Great Britain and the other in the West Indies. The effects of the agency in the West Indies are not yet fully ascertained, but those which have been communicated afford grounds to believe the measure will be beneficial. The agent destined to reside in Great Britain declining to accept the appointment, the business has consequently devolved on the minister of the United States in London, and will command his attention until a new agent shall be appointed.

After many delays and disappointments arising out of the European war, the final arrangements for fulfilling the engagements made to the Dey and Regency of Algiers will in all present appearance be crowned with success, but under great, though inevitable, disadvantages in the pecuniary transactions occasioned by that war, which will render further provision necessary. The actual liberation of all our citizens who were prisoners in Algiers, while it gratifies every feeling of heart, is itself an earnest of a satisfactory termination of the whole negotiation. Measures are in operation for effecting treaties with the Regencies of Tunis and Tripoli.

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. From the best information I have been able to obtain it would seem as if our trade to the Mediterranean without a protecting force will always be insecure and our citizens exposed to the calamities from which numbers of them have but just been relieved.

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. It is an encouragement, likewise, that their particular situation will give weight and influence to a moderate naval force in their hands. Will it not, then, be advisable to begin without delay to provide and lay up the materials for the building and equipping of ships of war, and to proceed in the work by degrees, in proportion as our resources shall render it practicable without inconvenience, so that a future war of Europe may not find our commerce in the same unprotected state in which it was found by the present?

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. As a general rule, manufactures on public account are inexpedient; but where the state of things in a country leaves little hope that certain branches of manufacture will for a great length of time obtain, when these are of a nature essential to the furnishing and equipping of the public force in time of war, are not establishments for procuring them on public account to the extent of the ordinary demand for the public service recommended by strong considerations of national policy as an exception to the general rule?

Ought our country to remain in such cases dependent on foreign supply, precarious because liable to be interrupted? If the necessary article should in this mode cost more in time of peace, will not the security and independence thence arising form an ample compensation?

Establishments of this sort, commensurate only with the calls of the public service in time of peace, will in time of war easily be extended in proportion to the exigencies of the Government, and may even perhaps be made to yield a surplus for the supply of our citizens at large, so as to mitigate the privations from the interruption of their trade. If adopted, the plan ought to exclude all those branches which are already, or likely soon to be, established in the country, in order that they may be no danger of interference with pursuits of individual industry.

It will not be doubted that with reference either to individual or national welfare agriculture is of primary importance. In proportion as nations advance in population and other circumstances of maturity this truth becomes more apparent, and renders the cultivation of the soil more and more an object of public patronage. Institutions for promoting it grow up, supported by the public purse; and to what object can it be dedicated with greater propriety?

Among the means which have been employed to this end none have been attended with greater success than the establishment of boards (composed of proper characters) charged with collecting and diffusing information, and enabled by premiums and small pecuniary aids to encourage and assist a spirit of discovery and improvement. This species of establishment contributes doubly to the increase of improvement by stimulating to enterprise and experiment, and by drawing to a common center the results everywhere of individual skill and observation, and spreading them thence over the whole nation. Experience accordingly has shewn that they are very cheap instruments of immense national benefits.

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.

The assembly to which I address myself is too enlightened not to be fully sensible how much a flourishing state of the arts and sciences contributes to national prosperity and reputation.

True it is that our country, much to its honor, contains many seminaries of learning highly repeatable and useful; but the funds upon which they rest are too narrow to command the ablest professors in the different departments of liberal knowledge for the institution contemplated, though they would be excellent auxiliaries.

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. The 1st would impair the energy of its character, and both would hazard its safety or expose it to greater evils when war could not be avoided; besides that, war might often not depend upon its own choice. In proportion as the observance of pacific maxims might exempt a nation from the necessity of practicing the rules of the military art ought to be its care in preserving and transmitting, by proper establishments, the knowledge of that art.

Whatever argument may be drawn from particular examples superficially viewed, a thorough examination of the subject will evince that the art of war is at once comprehensive and complicated, that it demands much previous study, and that the possession of it in its most improved and perfect state is always of great moment to the security of a nation. This, therefore, ought to be a serious care of every government, and for this purpose an academy where a regular course of instruction is given is an obvious expedient which different nations have successfully employed.

The compensation to the officers of the United States in various instances, and in none more than in respect to the most important stations, appear to call for legislative revision. The consequences of a defective provision are of serious import to the Government. If private wealth is to supply the defect of public retribution, it will greatly contract the sphere within which the selection of character for office is to be made, and will proportionally diminish the probability of a choice of men able as well as upright. Besides that, it should be repugnant to the vital principles of our Government virtually to exclude from public trusts talents and virtue unless accompanied by wealth.

While in our external relations some serious inconveniences and embarrassments have been overcome and others lessened, it is with much pain and deep regret I mention that circumstances of a very unwelcome nature have lately occurred. Our trade has suffered and is suffering extensive injuries in the West Indies from the cruisers and agents of the French Republic, and communications have been received from its minister here which indicate the danger of a further disturbance of our commerce by its authority, and which are in other respects far from agreeable.

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. This wish remains unabated, and I shall persevere in the endeavor to fulfill it to the utmost extent of what shall be consistent with a just and indispensable regard to the rights and honor of our country; nor will I easily cease to cherish the expectation that a spirit of justice, candor, and friendship on the part of the Republic will eventually insure success.

In pursuing this course, however, I can not forget what is due to the character of our Government and nation, or to a full and entire confidence in the good sense, patriotism, self-respect, and fortitude of my country-men.

I reserve for a special message a more particular communication on this interesting subject.

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

I have directed an estimate of the appropriations necessary for the service of the ensuing year to be submitted from the proper Department, with a view of the public receipts and expenditures to the latest period to which an account can be prepared.

It is with satisfaction I am able to inform you that the revenues of the United States continue in a state of progressive improvement.

A reenforcement of the existing provisions for discharging our public debt was mentioned in my address at the opening of the last session. Some preliminary steps were taken toward it, the maturing of which will no doubt engage your zealous attention during the present. I will only add that it will afford me a heart-felt satisfaction to concur in such further measures as will ascertain to our country the prospect of a speedy extinguishment of the debt. Posterity may have cause to regret if from any motive intervals of tranquillity are left unimproved for accelerating this valuable end.

Gentlemen of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

My solicitude to see the militia of the United States placed on an efficient establishment has been so often and so ardently expressed that I shall but barely recall the subject to your view on the present occasion, at the same time that I shall submit to your inquiry whether our harbors are yet sufficiently secured.

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.

Note: The signed document from which this transcription is taken is in the National Archives, RG 46, Fourth Congress, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages. Other contemporary copies include a draft and a letter-book copy in the Washington Papers in the Library of Congress, a copy in the National Archives, RG 233, First Congress, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Journals, and an extract in the Special Collections Department at the University of Virginia. Washington’s Eighth State of the Union Address will appear in a future volume of the Presidential Series of the Papers of George Washington.

Washington’s Seventh Annual Message to Congress

Washington delivered his seventh State of the Union address on 8 December 1795.

Fellow Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

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.

In the adjustment of the terms the satisfaction of the Indians was deemed worthy no less of the policy than of the liberality of the United States as the necessary basis of durable tranquillity. the object, it is believed, has been fully attained. The articles agreed upon will immediately be laid before the Senate for their consideration.

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. But we have to lament that the fair prospect in this quarter has been once more clouded by wanton murders, which some citizens of Georgia are represented to have recently perpetrated on hunting parties of the Creeks, which have again subjected that frontier to disquietude and danger, which will be productive of further expense, and may occasion more effusion of blood. Measures are pursuing to prevent or mitigate the usual consequences of such outrages, and with the hope of their succeeding at least to avert general hostility.

A letter from the Emperor of Morocco announces to me his recognition of our treaty made with his father, the late Emperor, and consequently the continuance of peace with that power. With peculiar satisfaction I add that information has been received from an agent deputed on our part to Algiers importing that the terms of the treaty with the Day and Regency of that country had been adjusted in such a manner as to authorize the expectation of a speedy peace and the resolution of our unfortunate fellow citizens from a grievous captivity.

The latest advices from our envoy at the Court of Madrid give, moreover, the pleasing information that he had assurances of a speedy and satisfactory conclusion of his negotiation. While the event depending upon unadjusted particulars can not be regarded as ascertained, it is agreeable to cherish the expectation of an issue which, securing amicably very essential interests of the United States, will at the same time lay the foundation of lasting harmony with a power whose friendship we have uniformly and sincerely desired to cultivate.

Though not before officially disclosed to the House of Representatives, you, gentlemen, are all apprised that a treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation has been negotiated with Great Britain, and that the Senate have advised and consented to its ratification upon a condition which excepts part of one article. Agreeably thereto, and to the best judgment I was able to form of the public interest after full and mature deliberation, I have added my sanction. The result on the part of His Britannic Majesty is unknown. When received, the subject will without delay be placed before Congress.

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, in which the evils of foreign war have been aggravated by domestic convulsion and insurrection; in which many of the arts most useful to society have been exposed to discouragement and decay; in which scarcity of subsistence has imbittered other sufferings; while even the anticipations of a return of the blessings of peace and repose are alloyed by the sense of heavy and accumulating burthens, which press upon all the departments of industry and threaten to clog the future springs of government, 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.

Our agriculture, commerce, and manufactures prosper beyond former example, the molestations of our trade (to prevent a continuance of which, however, very pointed remonstrances have been made) being overbalanced by the aggregate benefits which it derives from a neutral position. Our population advances with a celerity which, exceeding the most sanguine calculations, proportionally augments our strength and resources, and guarantees our future security.

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?

Placed in a situation every way so auspicious, motives of commanding force impel us, with sincere acknowledgment to Heaven and pure love to our country, to unite our efforts to preserve, prolong, and improve our immense advantages. To cooperate with you in this desirable work is a fervent and favorite wish of my heart.

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.

Gentlemen: 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. It is called for by the events which have changed, and may be expected still further to change, the relative situation of our frontiers. In this review you will doubtless allow due weight to the considerations that the questions between us and certain foreign powers are not yet finally adjusted, that the war in Europe is not yet terminated, and that our Western posts, when recovered, will demand provision for garrisoning and securing them. A statement of our present military force will be laid before you by the Department of War.

With the review of our Army establishment is naturally connected that of the militia. It will merit inquiry what imperfections in the existing plan further experience may have unfolded. The subject is of so much moment in my estimation as to excite a constant solicitude that the consideration of it may be renewed until the greatest attainable perfection shall be accomplished. Time is wearing away some advantages for forwarding the object, while none better deserves the persevering attention of the public councils.

While we indulge the satisfaction which the actual condition of our Western borders so well authorizes, it is necessary that we should not lose sight of an important truth which continually receives new confirmations, namely, that the provisions heretofore made with a view to the protection of the Indians from the violences of the lawless part of our frontier inhabitants are insufficient. It is demonstrated that these violences can now be perpetrated with impunity, and it can need no argument to prove that unless the murdering of Indians can be restrained by bringing the murderers to condign punishment, all the exertions of the Government to prevent destructive retaliations by the Indians will prove fruitless and all our present agreeable prospects illusory. The frequent destruction of innocent women and children, who are chiefly the victims of retaliation, must continue to shock humanity, and an enormous expense to drain the Treasury of the Union.

To enforce upon the Indians the observance of justice it is indispensable that there shall be competent means of rendering justice to them. If these means can be devised by the wisdom of Congress, and especially if there can be added an adequate provision for supplying the necessities of the Indians on reasonable terms (a measure the mention of which I the more readily repeat, as in all the conferences with them they urge it with solicitude), I should not hesitate to entertain a strong hope of rendering our tranquillity permanent. I add with pleasure that the probability even of their civilization is not diminished by the experiments which have been thus far made under the auspices of Government. The accomplishment of this work, if practicable, will reflect undecaying luster on our national character and administer the most grateful consolations that virtuous minds can know.

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

The state of our revenue, with the sums which have been borrowed and reimbursed pursuant to different acts of Congress, will be submitted from the proper Department, together with an estimate of the appropriations necessary to be made for the service of the ensuing year.

Whether measures may not be advisable to reinforce the provision of the redemption of the public debt will naturally engage your examination. Congress have demonstrated their sense to be, and it were superfluous to repeat mine, that whatsoever will tend to accelerate the honorable extinction of our public debt accords as much with the true interest of our country as with the general sense of our constituents.

Gentlemen of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

The statements which will be laid before you relative to the Mint will shew the situation of that institution and the necessity of some further legislative provisions for carrying the business of it more completely into effect, and for checking abuses which appear to be arising in particular quarters.

The progress in providing materials for the frigates and in building them, the state of the fortifications of our harbors, the measures which have been pursued for obtaining proper sites for arsenals and for replenishing our magazines with military stores, and the steps which have been taken toward the execution of the law for opening a trade with the Indians will likewise be presented for the information of Congress.

Temperate discussion of the important subjects which may arise in the course of the session and mutual forbearance where there is a difference of opinion are too obvious and necessary for the peace, happiness, and welfare of our country to need any recommendation of mine.

Note: The autograph signed document from which this transcription is taken is in the National Archives, RG 46, Fourth Congress, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages. Other contemporary copies include a letter-book copy in the Washington Papers in the Library of Congress, and a copy in the National Archives, RG 233, First Congress, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Journals. Washington’s Seventh State of the Union Address will appear in a future volume of the Presidential Series of the Papers of George Washington.

Washington’s Sixth Annual Message to Congress

Washington delivered his sixth State of the Union address on 19 November 1794.

Fellow Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

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. It is due, however, to the character of our Government and to its stability, which can not be shaken by the enemies of order, freely to unfold the course of this event.

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 a majority of the States scarcely an objection was heard to this mode of taxation. In some, indeed, alarms were at first conceived, until they were banished by reason and patriotism. 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.

It is well known that Congress did not hesitate to examine the complaints which were presented, and to relieve them as far as justice dictated or general convenience would permit. But the impression which this moderation made on the discontented did not correspond with what it deserved. The arts of delusion were no longer confined to the efforts of designing individuals. The very forbearance to press prosecutions was misinterpreted into a fear of urging the execution of the laws, and associations of men began to denounce threats against the officers employed. From a belief that by a more formal concert their operation might be defeated, certain self-created societies assumed the tone of condemnation. Hence, while the greater part of Pennsylvania itself were conforming themselves to the acts of excise, a few counties were resolved to frustrate them. It is now perceived that every expectation from the tenderness which had been hitherto pursued was unavailing, and that further delay could only create an opinion of impotency or irresolution in the Government. Legal process was therefore delivered to the marshal against the rioters and delinquent distillers.

No sooner was he understood to be engaged in this duty than the vengeance of armed men was aimed at his person and the person and property of the inspector of the revenue. They fired upon the marshal, arrested him, and detained him for some time as a prisoner. He was obliged, by the jeopardy of his life, to renounce the service of other process on the west side of the Allegheny Mountain, and a deputation was afterwards sent to him to demand a surrender of that which he had served. A numerous body repeatedly attacked the house of the inspector, seized his papers of office, and finally destroyed by fire his buildings and whatsoever they contained. Both of these officers, from a just regard to their safety, fled to the seat of Government, it being avowed that the motives to such outrages were to compel the resignation of the inspector, to withstand by force of arms the authority of the United States, and thereby to extort a repeal of the laws of excise and an alteration in the conduct of Government.

Upon testimony of these facts 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 weighted 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.

I postponed, therefore, the summoning of the militia immediately into the field, but I required them to be held in readiness, that if my anxious endeavors to reclaim the deluded and to convince the malignant of their danger should be fruitless, military force might be prepared to act before the season should be too far advanced.

My proclamation of the 7th of August last [1794] was accordingly issued, and accompanied by the appointment of commissioners, who were charged to repair to the scene of insurrection. They were authorized to confer with any bodies of men or individuals. They were instructed to be candid and explicit in stating the sensations which had been excited in the Executive, and his earnest wish to avoid a resort to coercion; to represent, however, that, without submission, coercion must be the resort; but to invite them, at the same time, to return to the demeanor of faithful citizens, by such accommodations as lay within the sphere of Executive power. Pardon, too, was tendered to them by the Government of the United States and that of Pennsylvania, upon no other condition than a satisfactory assurance of obedience to the laws.

Although the report of the commissioners marks their firmness and abilities, and must unite all virtuous men, by shewing that the means of conciliation have been exhausted, all of those who had committed or abetted the tumults did not subscribe the mild form which was proposed as the atonement, and the indications of a peaceable temper were neither sufficiently general nor conclusive to recommend or warrant the further suspension of the march of the militia.

Thus the painful alternative could not be discarded. I ordered the militia to march, after once more admonishing the insurgents in my proclamation of the 25th of September last [1794].

It was a task too difficult to ascertain with precision the lowest degree of force competent to the quelling of the insurrection. From a respect, indeed, to economy and the ease of my fellow citizens belonging to the militia, it would have gratified me to accomplish such an estimate. My very reluctance to ascribe too much importance to the opposition, had its extent been accurately seen, would have been a decided inducement to the smallest efficient numbers. In this uncertainty, therefore, I put into motion 15K men, as being an army which, according to all human calculation, would be prompt and adequate in every view, and might, perhaps, by rendering resistance desperate, prevent the effusion of blood. Quotas had been assigned to the States of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, the governor of Pennsylvania having declared on this occasion an opinion which justified a requisition to the other States.

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. Had there been room for a persuasion that the laws were secure from obstruction; that the civil magistrate was able to bring to justice such of the most culpable as have not embraced the proffered terms of amnesty, and may be deemed fit objects of example; that the friends to peace and good government were not in need of that aid and countenance which they ought always to receive, and, I trust, ever will receive, against the vicious and turbulent, I should have caught with avidity the opportunity of restoring the militia to their families and homes. But succeeding intelligence has tended to manifest the necessity of what has been done, it being now confessed by those who were not inclined to exaggerate the ill conduct of the insurgents that their malevolence was not pointed merely to a particular law, but that a spirit inimical to all order has actuated many of the offenders. 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.

Still, however, as it is probable that in a commotion like the present, whatsoever may be the pretense, the purposes of mischief and revenge may not be laid aside, the stationing of a small force for a certain period in the four western counties of Pennsylvania will be indispensable, whether we contemplate the situation of those who are connected with the execution of the laws or of others who may have exposed themselves by an honorable attachment to them. Thirty days from the commencement of this session being the legal limitation of the employment of the militia, Congress can not be too early occupied with this subject.

Among the discussions which may arise from this aspect of our affairs, and from the documents which will be submitted to Congress, it will not escape their observation that not only the inspector of the revenue, but other officers of the United States in Pennsylvania have, from their fidelity in the discharge of their functions, sustained material injuries to their property. The obligation and policy of indemnifying them are strong and obvious. It may also merit attention whether policy will not enlarge this provision to the retribution of other citizens who, though not under the ties of office, may have suffered damage by their generous exertions for upholding the Constitution and the laws. The amount, even if all the injured were included, would not be great, and on future emergencies the Government would be amply repaid by the influence of an example that he who incurs a loss in its defense shall find a recompense in its liberality.

While there is cause to lament that occurrences of this nature should have disgraced the name or interrupted the tranquillity of any part of our community, or should have diverted to a new application any portion of the public resources, there are not wanting real and substantial consolations for the misfortune. It has demonstrated that our prosperity rests on solid foundations, by furnishing an additional that my fellow citizens understand the true principles of government and liberty; that they feel their inseparable union; that notwithstanding all the devices which have been used to sway them from their interest and duty, they are not as ready to maintain the authority of the laws against licentious invasions as they were to defend their rights against usurpation. It has been a spectacle displaying to the highest advantage of republican government to behold the most and the least wealthy of our citizens standing in the same ranks as private soldiers, preeminently distinguished by being the army of the Constitution–undeterred by a march of 300 miles over rugged mountains, by approach of an inclement season, or by any other discouragement. Nor ought I to omit to acknowledge the efficacious and patriotic cooperation which I have experienced from the chief magistrates of the States to which my requisitions have been addressed.

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.

In the arrangement to which the possibility of a similar contingency will naturally draw your attention it ought not to be forgotten that the militia laws have exhibited such striking defects as could not have been supplied by the zeal of our citizens. Besides the extraordinary expense and waste, which are not the least of the defects, every appeal to those laws is attended with a doubt on its success.

The devising and establishing of a well regulated militia would be a genuine source of legislative honor and a perfect title to public gratitude. I therefore entertain a hope that the present session will not pass without carrying to its full energy the power of organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and thus providing, in the language of the Constitution, for calling them forth to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.

As auxiliary to the state of our defense, to which Congress can never too frequently recur, they will not omit to inquire whether the fortifications which have been already licensed by law be commensurate with our exigencies.

The intelligence from the army under the command of General Wayne is a happy presage to our military operations against the hostile Indians north of the Ohio. From the advices which have been forwarded, the advance which he has made must have damped the ardor of the savages and weakened their obstinacy in waging war against the United States. And yet, even at this late hour, when our power to punish them can not be questioned, we shall not be unwilling to cement a lasting peace upon terms of candor, equity, and good neighborhood.

Toward none of the Indian tribes have overtures of friendship been spared. The Creeks in particular are covered from encroachment by the imposition of the General Government and that of Georgia. From a desire also to remove the discontents of the Six nations, a settlement mediated at Presque Isle, on Lake Erie, has been suspended, and an agent is now endeavoring to rectify any misconception into which they may have fallen. But I can not refrain from again pressing upon your deliberations the plan which I recommended at the last session for the improvement of harmony with all the Indians within our limits by the fixing and conducting of trading houses upon the principles then expressed.

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

The time which has elapsed since the commencement of our fiscal measures has developed our pecuniary resources so as to open the way for a definite plan for the redemption of the public debt. It is believed that the result is such as to encourage Congress to consummate this work without delay. Nothing can more promote the permanent welfare of the nation and nothing would be more grateful to our constituents. Indeed, 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.

An estimate of the necessary appropriations, including the expenditures into which we have been driven by the insurrection, will be submitted to Congress.

Gentlemen of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

The Mint of the United States has entered upon the coinage of the precious metals, and considerable sums of defective coins and bullion have been lodged with the Director by individuals. There is a pleasing prospect that the institution will at no remote day realize the expectation which was originally formed of its utility.

In subsequent communications certain circumstances of our intercourse with foreign nations will be transmitted to Congress. However, it may not be unseasonable to announce that 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.

Note: The autograph signed document from which this transcription is taken is in the National Archives, RG 46, Third Congress, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages. Other contemporary copies include a letter-book copy in the Washington Papers in the Library of Congress, and a copy in the National Archives, RG 233, First Congress, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Journals. The address was printed in the National Gazette (New York) on 19 November 1794. Washington’s Sixth State of the Union Address will appear in a future volume of the Presidential Series of the Papers of George Washington.

Washington’s Fifth Annual Message to Congress and Congressional Responses

Washington delivered his fifth State of the Union address on 3 Dec. 1793. Original manuscript images of Washington’s address at Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6 | Page 7 | Page 8 | Page 9 | Page 10

The Senate responded to Washington’s address on 9 December: Senate’s reply.

Original manuscript images of the Senate’s reply at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2

The House of Representatives replied on 7 December: House’s reply.

Original manuscript images of the House’s reply at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4

Washington replied to the Senate and House with the following notes: Washington’s reply to the Senate and Washington’s reply to the House.

Original manuscript images of Washington’s replies to the Senate and to the House at the Library of Congress: Reply to the Senate, page 1 | Reply to the Senate, page 2 | Reply to the House

Washington’s Fourth Annual Message to Congress and Congressional Responses

Washington delivered his fourth State of the Union address on 6 Nov. 1792. Original manuscript images of Washington’s address at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6 | Page 7 | Page 8 | Page 9

The Senate responded to Washington’s address on 8 November: Senate’s reply.

Original manuscript images of the Senate’s reply at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2

The House of Representatives replied on 10 November: House’s reply.

Original manuscript images of the House’s reply at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

Washington replied to the Senate and House with the following notes: Washington’s reply to the Senate and Washington’s reply to the House.

Original manuscript images of Washington’s replies to the Senate and to the House at the Library of Congress: Reply to the Senate | Reply to the House

Washington’s Second Annual Message to Congress and Congressional Responses

Washington delivered his second State of the Union address in the Senate chambers on 8 Dec. 1790. A joint committee of Congress consisting of senators Robert Morris and John Langdon and congressmen Elias Boudinot, John Laurance, and William Loughton Smith waited on Washington on 7 Dec. 1790 to inform him that a quorum had been reached and that Congress was ready to proceed with business. The committee reported that “The President was pleased to say, that he would attend, to make a communication to both Houses of Congress, to-morrow at twelve o’clock, in the senate-chamber” (Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, Linda G. De Pauw et al., eds. [Baltimore, 1972–], vol. 3, p. 619).

The two houses assembled the next morning at 11 A.M., and Washington arrived at the appointed time. William Maclay reported that the event “was attended with all the Bustle and hurry usual on such Occasions[.] the President was dressed in black, and read his speech well enough, or at least tolerably[.] after he was gone and the senate only remained our President [John Adams], seemed to take great pains to read it better, if he had such a View he succeeded. but the difference between them amounted to this[:] One might be considered as at home. and the other in a strange company. the speech was committed” (Diary of William Maclay, Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds [Baltimore, 1988], p. 340.

Original manuscript images of Washington’s speech at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6 | Page 7

After Washington retired the Senate ordered the speech printed and appointed a committee to draft a suitable reply, and the House resolved to present Washington with a reply on 9 Dec. 1790.

The Senate responded to Washington’s address on 13 December: Senate’s reply.

Original manuscript images of the Senate’s reply at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

The House of Representatives’s reply, dated 11 Dec., was presented to the President on 13 December: House’s reply.

Original manuscript images of the House’s reply at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5

Washington replied to the Senate and House with the following notes: Washington’s reply to the Senate and Washington’s reply to the House.

Original manuscript images of Washington’s replies to the Senate and to the House at the Library of Congress: Reply to the Senate | Reply to the House, page 1 | Reply to the House, page 2

Washington’s First Annual Message to Congress and Congressional Responses

Washington delivered his first State of the Union address in the Senate chambers on 8 January 1790. The Virginia Herald and Fredericksburg Advertiser, 21 Jan. 1790, noted that Washington “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” (Diary of William Maclay, Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds. [Baltimore, 1988], pp. 179-80).

Washington’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.

Original manuscript images of Washington’s speech at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6 | Page 7

After President Washington delivered his First Annual Message, the Senate appointed a committee, consisting of Rufus King, Ralph Izard, and William Paterson, to prepare a reply. The committee reported on Monday, 11 January, and the following address was adopted in response to Washington’s speech: Senate’s reply to Washington’s First Annual Message.

Original manuscript images of the Senate’s reply at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4

On 9 Jan. the House of Representatives appointed a committee of William Loughton Smith, George Clymer, and John Laurance to prepare an answer to Washington’s address, and on 12 January a committee of the whole approved the following reply: House of Representatives’s reply to Washington’s First Annual Message.

Original manuscript images of the House’s reply at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4

Washington replied to the Senate on 11 Jan. with the following note: Washington’s reply to the Senate.

Washington replied to the House on 14 Jan. with the following note: Washington’s reply to the House.

Original manuscript images of Washington’s replies to the Senate and to the House at the Library of Congress: Reply to the Senate | Reply to the House

George Washington’s Resignation Address to the Continental Congress

On Saturday 20 December 1783 Washington wrote to the Continental Congress, notifying it of his arrival in Annapolis, Maryland, with the intention of “asking leave to resign the commission he has the honor of holding in their service, and desiring to know their pleasure in what manner it will be most proper to offer his resignation; whether in writing or at an audience” (Washington’s letter of 20 Dec. 1783 is at the National Archives, Washington, D.C.). Upon reading the letter, Congress resolved that Washington “be admitted to a public audience, on Tuesday next, at twelve o’clock.” On the following Tuesday, 23 December 1783, Washington, “according to order . . . was admitted to a public audience, and being seated, the President, after a pause, informed him, that the United States in Congress assembled, were prepared to receive his communications” (Worthington C. Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, vol. 25:837-38). Washington then arose and delivered the following address.

resignation1 resignation2

Images of Washington’s Resignation Address to the Continental Congress, 23 December 1783
(courtesy of the Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, M.D.). Click on images for larger view.

George Washington’s Proclamation of Discharge for the Troops from Pennsylvania to New Jersey

By His Excellency &c A Proclamation

Nov. 4. 1783

Whereas the United States in Congress assembled were pleased on the 29 day of October last to pass the following resolve

“That the Comr in Chief &c—” [1]

In compliance therefore with the foregoing resolve I do hereby give this public notice that from and after the fifteenth day of this instant November All Troops within the above description shall be considered as discharged from the service of the United States—And All Officers commanding Corps or Detachmts of any such Troops are hereby directed to grant them proper discharges accordingly. Given &c.


1. At the motion of Delegate Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, the Continental Congress on 29 October 1783, resolved “That the Commander in Chief be, and he is hereby directed to discharge all the troops in the service of the United States, who are now in Pensylvania or to the southward thereof, except the garrison of Fort Pitt.” The resolution is in the National Archives, Washington, D.C., Papers of the Continental Congress, item 36; see also Worthington C. Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, vol. 25:752-53.

Original manuscript images of Washington’s proclamation at the Library of Congress: Page 1 | Page 2

Washington’s First Inaugural Address

By early 1789 GW reluctantly accepted the inevitability of his election as president, and as early as January he began consideration of the remarks to Congress that would serve as his first inaugural address. Evidently he requested David Humphreys, at this time in residence at Mount Vernon, to draft for him remarks that could be delivered to Congress in the event of his election to the presidency. Sometime before early January, Humphreys apparently produced a lengthy document for GW’s use. On 2 Jan. GW wrote to James Madison that he wanted to send him by a safe conveyance “a private & confidential letter” for his consideration, and on 14 Jan. Madison suggested that GW send the letter through Fontaine Maury, the postmaster at Fredericksburg. Madison’s notations on the 2 Jan. letter indicate that the proposed “confidential” letter dealt with GW’s inaugural address; apparently GW forwarded the draft to Madison in another letter that on GW’s retained copy was dated simply “January.” This letter is now missing but it is described in later correspondence between Madison and Jared Sparks, the nineteenth-century editor of GW’s writings.

In the late 1820s when Sparks was collecting manuscripts for his edition, he came across the January letter among GW’s papers at Mount Vernon. Already in touch with Madison concerning Madison’s correspondence with GW, Sparks wrote to him on 22 May 1827: “The letter dated Jany 1789, related to the Message to the first congress, and there is preserved with it the copy of a message, or as he calls it, a speech, in his own hand, which I presume is the same that was sent to you for your revision, according to the request in his letter. The person to whom he alludes as the author of it, and whom he designates as a ‘gentleman under this roof,’ I suppose to be Colonel Humphreys. The Speech, as copied by Washington, extends to seventy three pages, in which is included a short space for a prayer, that was to be introduced after the first paragraph. It is certainly an extraordinary production for a message to Congress, and it is happy, that Washington took counsel of his own understanding, and of his other friends, before he made use of this document. No part of it seems to have been formally introduced in the real message.”[1]

Madison replied on 30 May that he concurred “without hesitation, in your remarks on the speech of 73 pages, and in the expediency of not including it among the papers selected for the press. Nothing but an extreme delicacy towards the author of the Draft, who no doubt, was Col: Humphreys, can account for the respect shown to so strange a production.”[2] Several months later Sparks again brought up the January letter in discussing with Madison letters copied into GW’s letter books: “The letter to you of Jany, 1789, is the first draft, not recorded in the books, and is in some respects curious. It is in the highest degree confidential, and is not such a letter as I should think of printing, yet it gives me a clue to some important facts, that will be useful to me.”[3] Madison noted at the bottom of GW’s letter to him of 2 Jan. that “the letter being peculiarly confidential was returned or rather left with its enclosure, at Mt Vernon on my way to N. York. The return tho not asked nor probably expected, was suggested by a motive of delicacy.” Nor, as Madison noted, was any copy of his comments on the enclosure retained.[4]

Sparks, who was permitted by Judge Bushrod Washington to move much of GW’s correspondence from Mount Vernon to his offices in Boston, began work on his edition of GW’s writings in 1829. He was, of course, correct in his assertion that little or nothing of the draft was finally used in GW’s inaugural address to Congress, and he concluded there was little merit in retaining the draft among the papers. Besieged by autograph seekers, Sparks cut the address in snippets of varying size and distributed them to those seeking a fragment of GW’s writing. The surviving fragments are frequently accompanied by a notation by Sparks that they are genuine examples of GW’s writing. It remains uncertain whether the document sent to Madison with GW’s January letter was Humphreys’s original draft, which has not been found, or the version in GW’s writing, which exists only in fragmentary form. It is equally uncertain how closely the version copied by GW corresponds to the Humphreys draft and to what extent GW may have altered or amended it in his copy. Those fragments of the address that have been recovered are printed below in as logical an order as possible, although some are too fragmentary to place and clearly much of the original document has not been recovered. [Click here to access the Undelivered First Inaugural Address: Fragments.] GW enlisted Madison’s aid in drafting other messages to Congress in early May, and he may well have asked his assistance in formulating a new address. Alternatively, he may have requested a new draft from David Humphreys and in either case made his own alterations. Only GW’s draft of the address in the version actually delivered to both houses of Congress on 30 April seems to have survived.

By the last days of April Congress was well on its way to making the final arrangements for administering the oath of office to the new president. On 25 April the Senate committee appointed to consider “the time, place, and manner in which, and of the person by whom the oath prescribed by the Constitution shall be administered to the President of the United States” reported that GW had indicated that he would agree with any arrangements by Congress for the ceremonies. After consultation among the committee members, both houses agreed that the oath should be administered by Robert R. Livingston, chancellor of the state of New York, in the gallery outside the Senate chamber and that “after the oath shall have been administered to the President, he, attended by the Vice President and the members of the Senate and House of Representatives, proceed to St. Paul’s Chapel, to hear Divine Service, to be performed by the Chaplain of Congress already appointed.”[5]

Crowds began to gather in front of the presidential mansion early on the morning of 30 April, the day designated for the inaugural, and, according to Tobias Lear’s diary entry for the day, GW’s “morning was employed in making such arrangements as were necessary for the ceremonies of the day. At nine o’clock all the churches in the city were opened, and prayers offered up to the Great Ruler of the universe for the preservation of the President.[6] At twelve the troops of the city paraded before our door, and, soon after, the committees of Congress and heads of departments came in their carriages to wait upon the President to the Federal Hall. At half past twelve the procession moved forward, the troops marching in front with all the ensigns of military parade. Next came the committees and heads of departments in their carriages. Next the President in the state coach, and Colonel Humphreys and myself in the President’s own carriage. The foreign ministers and a long train of citizens brought up the rear.[7]

“About two hundred yards before we reached the hall, we descended from our carriages, and passed through the troops, who were drawn up on each side, into the Hall and Senate-chamber, where we found the Vice-President, the Senate, and House of Representatives assembled. They received the President in the most respectful manner, and the Vice-President conducted him to a spacious and elevated seat at the head of the room.[8] A solemn silence prevailed. The Vice-President soon arose and informed the President, that all things were prepared to administer the oath whenever he should see fit to proceed to the balcony and receive it. He immediately descended from his seat, and advanced through the middle door of the Hall to the balcony. The others passed through the doors on each side. The oath was administered in public by Chancellor Livingston; and, the moment the chancellor proclaimed him President of the United States, the air was rent by repeated shouts and huzzas,‘God bless our Washington! Long live our beloved President!'”[9] One observer noted that in the center of the balcony was placed “a table with a rich covering of red velvet; and upon this was a crimson velvet cushion, on which lay a large and elegant Bible.” GW’s appearance on the balcony “was announced by universal shouts of joy and welcome. He was dressed in a suit of black velvet, and his appearance was most dignified and solemn. Advancing to the front of the balcony, he laid his hand on his heart, and bowed several times, and then retreated to an arm-chair near the table.”[10] The oath was taken around one o’clock in the afternoon.[11] The company then returned to the Senate chamber where GW delivered his inaugural address. “It was a very touching scene,” Fisher Ames wrote, “and quite of the solemn kind. His aspect grave, almost to sadness; his modesty, actually shaking; his voice deep, a little tremulous, and so low as to call for close attention.”[12]

Opinions as to the effectiveness of GW’s address varied from Ames, who “sat entranced,” to William Maclay’s less charitable account: “This great man was agitated and embarrassed more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed musket. He trembled, and several times could scarce make out to read, though it must be supposed he had often read it before. . . . When he came to the words all the world, he made a flourish with his right hand, which left rather an ungainly impression. I sincerely, for my part, wished all set ceremony in the hands of the dancing-masters, and that this first of men had read off his address in the plainest manner . . . for I felt hurt that he was not first in everything.”[13] Following the address the president and the members of the House and Senate walked about seven hundred yards to St. Paul’s Chapel to attend services conducted by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Provoost, bishop of the Episcopal church of New York and rector of Trinity Church. Prayers were offered and a Te Deum sung, and after the services GW retired to the presidential mansion. He apparently dined quietly at home; then as Lear noted in his diary, “the President, Colonel Humphreys, and myself went in the beginning of the evening in the carriages to Chancellor Livingston’s and General Knox’s, where we had a full view of the fire-works.”[14]

The celebration in the evening was, as Col. John May put it in his journal, “more supurb than the day if possable the fire works display’d, at Bowelling Green magnificent beyond Discription.”[15] Many residences and places of business were illuminated. Don Diego de Gardoqui had, he reported to the Spanish minister of state, decorated the front of his house “with two magnificent transparent gardens, adorned with statues, natural size, imitating marble. . . . There were also various flower-pots, different arches with foliage and columns of imitation marble, and on the sky of these gardens were placed thirteen stars, representing the United States of Americatwo of which stars showed opaque, to designate the two States which had not adopted the Constitution.”[16] After viewing the fireworks, GW and his party returned to the presidential residence about ten o’clock in the evening, traveling on foot because the crowds thronging the streets were too great to permit the passage of carriages.[17]


1. DLC: James Madison Papers. [back]

2. MH: Jared Sparks Papers. [back]

3. Sparks to Madison, 25 Aug. 1827, DLC: Madison Papers. [back]

4. See GW to Madison, 2 Jan. 1789, n.1, and 16 Feb. 1789. The “Jany” letter is listed by Madison in his 30 May letter under “Dates of letters from Genl W. to J. M. on the files of the former, and not of the latter.” [back]

5. De Pauw, Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, 1:26, 27, 3:32-33, 34, 39. [back]

6. Bells in the city’s churches were rung for half an hour (Gazette of the United States [New York], 2 May 1789). [back]

7. The formal procession included a troop of horse as well as the “assistants” appointed for the occasionSamuel Blachley Webb, William S. Smith, Nicholas Fish, David Franks, Leonard Bleecker, and John R. Livingston. Members of the committees from the House of Representatives and the Senate followed, with Egbert Benson, Fisher Ames, and Daniel Carroll representing the House and Richard Henry Lee, Ralph Izard, and Tristram Dalton the Senate. Then came the department heads: John Jay, acting secretary of state, Henry Knox, secretary of war, and Samuel Osgood, Arthur Lee, and Walter Livingston, commissioners of the Board of Treasury. A considerable crowd followed the procession in carriages and on foot. Col. Morgan Lewis acted as grand marshal (Bowen, Inauguration, 42; Daily Advertiser [New York], 1 May 1789). According to Col. John May, the military escort consisted of “a troop of horse, one company of artillery, two companies of grenadiers, one company of light infantry, and the battalion men. Their appearance was quite pretty” (John May to Abigail May, 1 May 1789, in Edes, Journal and Letters of Col. John May, 1:122-25). [back]

8. According to William Maclay the president “advanced between the Senate and Representatives, bowing to each. He was placed in the chair by the Vice-President; the Senate with their president on the right, the Speaker and the Representatives on his left” (Maclay, Journal, 8). [back]

9. Sparks, Writings, 10:463. [back]

10. Quincy, Memoir of Life of Eliza S. M. Quincy, 50-52. Most observers agree that GW’s suit was of brown homespun, produced at the Hartford Manufactory, rather than of black velvet. Maclay stated that the president was “dressed in deep brown, with metal buttons, with an eagle on them, white stockings, a bag, and sword” (Journal, 9). According to Don Diego de Gardoqui’s account of the ceremonies, while GW was on the balcony there was a salute of thirteen guns, probably from the Battery; the Galviston, a Spanish warship in the harbor, followed with fifteen guns; “and in imitation other merchant-vessels which were in the harbor followed” (Bowen, Inauguration, 46). The Bible used by GW in the ceremony is now (1986) in the possession of St. John’s Masonic Lodge, New York City. [back]

11. Historical Magazine, 3 (1859), 184. [back]

12. Ames to George Richard Minot, 3 May 1789, in Ames, Works of Fisher Ames, 1:34-36. [back]

13. Maclay, Journal, 9. One Philadelphia gentleman described the address as an “elegant speech” (Historical Magazine, 3 [1859], 184). The Spanish representative, Don Diego de Gardoqui, found it “an eloquent and appropriate address,” while the comte de Moustier noted that the “remembrances of that great man’s past services, his actual elevation, his modesty, all contributed to diffuse added interest to his speech” (Bowen, Inauguration, 46-47). According to Moustier’s report on the inaugural ceremonies to his government, GW halted before the French minister’s residence on his way to Chancellor Livingston’s in order to admire the effect of Moustier’s house, “which was illuminated and decorated with several transparencies relative to the victories and virtues of General Washington. He seemed pleased with the one representing eleven bees emerging from their hives, headed by their queen, with this epigraph from Virgil:

‘Ille operum custos; illum admirantur et omnes
‘Circumstant fremitu denso.’

“These verses are applicable to him in every sense: he has been the founder of the republic, and only he can preserve it under the new form that it has been given” (Moustier to Montmorin, 5 June 1789, Arc. Nat., Aff. Etr., Corr. Pol., Etats-Unis, vol. 34, translation in Bowen, Inauguration, 47-49). Col. John May, suitably impressed with the decoration of the French minister’s house, noted further that the “likeness of our Hero, illuminated, was presented in the window of a house, at a little distance. The best likeness I have yet seen of him, so much like him that one could hardly distinguish it from lifeexcepting for the situation, over a beer-house, a place he never frequents” (Edes, Journal and Letters of Col. John May, 1:124). For a further description of the decorations, see the Gazette of the United States (New York), 2 May 1789. [back]

14. Sparks, Writings, 10:464. [back]

15. Smith, Western Journals of John May, 88. [back]

16. Bowen, Inauguration, 47. [back]

17. Sparks, Writings, 10:464. In the fragments of the discarded inaugural address, printed below, page numbers without brackets appear on the fragment; those page numbers enclosed in brackets are conjectural. [back]