Washington’s Third Annual Message to Congress and Congressional Responses

Washington delivered his third State of the Union address on 25 Oct. 1791. 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

The Senate responded to Washington’s address on 31 October: 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 replied on 28 October: House’s reply.

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

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 Farewell Address

“When Washington early in 1796 determined to retire in March, 1797, he revived the idea of issuing a valedictory address to the American people. He reverted to Madison’s draft of 1792, and wove it into the structure of a new address he was preparing. This new holograph manuscript of Washington is called Washington’s first draft. After it was finished, he had a conversation with Alexander Hamilton in Philadelphia, showed him this first draft and asked him to redress it. This Hamilton agreed to do. The first thing that Hamilton did then, was to make a digest of it, called Abstract of points to form an address, as a syllabus for his own use in making a new draft of the Farewell Address, and leaving Washington’s holograph first draft untouched. In the correspondence that passed between the President and Hamilton during ensuing months, the form that the address was to take was altered. Washington had suggested to Hamilton, that if he were to form it anew, it would of course “assume such a shape” as Hamilton was “disposed to give it,” but always “predicated upon the Sentiments” which Washington had furnished.

It was here that Hamilton began a major draft. It followed his Abstract of Points closely. But as the result of correspondence between them, and the passing of the major draft back and forth, that draft became in process “considerably amended,” and so was endorsed by Hamilton: “Original Draft. Copy considerably amended.” It is therefore always referred to as Hamilton’s major draft.

Now, after Hamilton had sent this major draft to Washington, he told him he was preparing another draft for incorporating, meaning thereby, that if Washington was determined to use his own first draft and wished to redress it by Hamilton’s structure and additions, he could do so by availing himself of the draft for incorporating in which case Hamilton’s major draft would be discarded. But Hamilton thought the major draft the better. Washington agreed with him, though he said it was too long. Washington began the preparation in his own hand of a manuscript for the printer. This is called Washington’s final manuscript.

In its preparation he availed himself of all the drafts that had come into his hands, but principally Madison’s draft and Hamilton’s major draft; and he made changes of his own in the process of revision to the very end before its publication. Throughout the preparation Washington’s ideas or “sentiments,” as he liked to call them, were preserved. Hamilton knew, as Madison had before him, that whatever he might do in reshaping, rewriting, or forming anew a draft, the results should be “predicated upon the Sentiments” which Washington had indicated. This central fact was adhered to. Hamilton was solicitous to be governed by it. He had recognized that Washington would be the final judge, and considered his own part in the undertaking as an affectionate act, without putting upon it the least suspicion of restraint. He was magnanimous to Washington, when he wrote: “Whichever you prefer, if there be any part you wish to transfer from one to another–any part to be changed–or if there be any material idea in your own draft which has happened to be omitted and which you wish introduced–in short if ther be anything further in the matter in which I can be of any [service], I will with great pleasure obey your commands.” And it was precisely this freedom, as has been shown, that Washington pursued in preparing his own final manuscript for publication. In the last analysis, Washington was his own editor; and what he published to the world as a Farewell Address, was in its final form in content what he had chosen to make it by processes of adoption and adaptation. By this procedure every idea became his own without equivocation.”



Washington’s Farewell Address was printed by David C. Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia), on 19 September 1796. Neither the proof sheet that Claypoole made for Washington’s examination nor the copy that Claypoole worked from in making the proof sheet has been found. The New York Public Library owns Washington’s final manuscript of the Farewell Address as well as drafts made by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton and a number of letters relating to the preparation of those drafts. In 1935 the Library published Victor Hugo Paltsits’ Washington’s Farewell Address: In Facsimile, with Transliterations of all the Drafts of Washington, Madison, & Hamilton, Together with their Correspondence and Other Supporting Documents, and the digitized facsimiles of Washington’s final manuscript of the Farewell Address were made from that book with the Library’s permission. Copies of the book may be obtained from the Library’s Publications Department. The brief introduction above is taken from the preface of Paltsits’ edition.

Thanksgiving Proclamation

On 25 September 1789, Elias Boudinot of Burlington, New Jersey, introduced in the United States House of Representatives a resolution “That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.” The House was not unanimous in its determination to give thanks. Aedanus Burke of South Carolina objected that he “did not like this mimicking of European customs, where they made a mere mockery of thanksgivings.” Thomas Tudor Tucker “thought the House had no business to interfere in a matter which did not concern them. Why should the President direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do? They may not be inclined to return thanks for a Constitution until they have experienced that it promotes their safety and happiness. We do not yet know but they may have reason to be dissatisfied with the effects it has already produced; but whether this be so or not, it is a business with which Congress have nothing to do; it is a religious matter, and, as such, is proscribed to us. If a day of thanksgiving must take place, let it be done by the authority of the several States.” [1]

Citing biblical precedents and resolutions of the Continental Congress, the proponents of a Thanksgiving celebration prevailed, and the House appointed a committee consisting of Elias Boudinot, Roger Sherman, and Peter Silvester to approach President Washington. The Senate agreed to the resolution on 26 September and appointed William Samuel Johnson and Ralph Izard to the joint committee. On 28 September the Senate committee reported that they had laid the resolution before the president. [2] Washington issued the proclamation on 3 October, designating a day of prayer and thanksgiving.

Whatever reservations may have been held by some public officials, the day was widely celebrated throughout the nation. The Virginia assembly, for example, resolved on 19 November that the chaplain “to this House, be accordingly requested to perform divine service, and to preach a sermon in the Capitol, before the General Assembly, suitable to the importance and solemnity of the occasion, on the said 26th day of November.” [3] Most newspapers printed the proclamation and announced plans for public functions in honor of the day. Many churches celebrated the occasions by soliciting donations for the poor. Washington’s secretary, Tobias Lear, wrote to John Rodgers, pastor of the two Presbyterian churches in New York City, on 28 November, that “by direction of the President of the United States I have the pleasure to send you twenty five dollars to be applied towards relieving the poor of the Presbyterian Churches. A paragraph in the papers mentioned that a contribution would be made for that purpose on Thanksgiving day; as no opportunity offered of doing it at that time, and not knowing into whose hands the money should be lodged which might be given afterwards–The President of the United States has directed me to send it to you, requesting that you will be so good as to put it into the way of answering the charitable purpose for which it is intended.” [4]

Washington enclosed the Thanksgiving Proclamation in his Circular to the Governors of the States, written at New York on 3 October 1789: “I do myself the honor to enclose to your Excellency a Proclamation for a general Thanksgiving which I must request the favor of you to have published and made known in your State in the way and manner that shall be most agreeable to yourself.” [5]


The above is adapted from the annotation to Washington’s Circular to the Governors of the States, 3 October 1789, printed in volume 4 of The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, et al (University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and London, 1993; Dorothy Twohig, volume editor), pp. 129-30.

1. Joseph Gales, Sr., compiler. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. (Annals of Congress.) 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834-1856, pp. 1:949-50.

2. Linda G. De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America. 8 volumes to date. Baltimore, 1972–, pp. 1:192, 197; 3:232, 238.

3. Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Holden in the City of Richmond . . . on Monday, the Nineteenth Day of October, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-nine. Richmond, 1828, p. 70.

4. National Archives, Record Group 59, Miscellaneous Letters. Washington, D.C.

5. W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, et al, eds. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series. Charlottesville, 1987–, pp. 4:129-32.