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George Washington’s First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union

“Our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government.”

January 8, 1790 (223 years ago today) [Excerpts]

by George Washington

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives: I embrace with great satisfaction the opportunity which now presents itself of congratulating you on the present favorable prospects of our public affairs. The . . . rising credit and respectability of our country, the general and increasing good will toward the government of the Union, and the concord, peace, and plenty with which we are blessed are circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity. . . .

COOL AND DELIBERATE PATRIOTISM, FIRMNESS AND WISDOM

The present important session call[s] for the cool and deliberate exertion of your patriotism, firmness, and wisdom.

BE PREPARED FOR WAR TO PRESERVE PEACE

Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention that of providing for the common defense will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

ARMED, DISCIPLINED, INDEPENDENTLY SUPPLIED

A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies. . . .

UNIFORM NATURALIZATION

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. . . .

NEW AND USEFUL INVENTIONS EXPEDIENT

I can not forbear intimating to you the expediency of giving effectual encouragement as well to the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home, and of facilitating the intercourse between the distant parts of our country by a due attention to the post-office and post-roads.

SCIENCE AND LITERATURE: KNOWLEDGE IS SUREST BASIS FOR PUBLIC HAPPINESS

Nor am I less persuaded that you will agree with me in opinion that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. In one in which the measures of government receive their impressions so immediately from the sense of the community as in ours it is proportionably essential.

TEACH THE PEOPLE THEMSELVES TO KNOW AND TO VALUE THEIR OWN RIGHTS

To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways – by convincing those who are intrusted with the public administration that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people, and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burthens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness – cherishing the first, avoiding the last – and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws.

OTHER EXPEDIENTS

Whether this desirable object will be best promoted by affording aids to seminaries of learning already established, by the institution of a national university, or by any other expedients will be well worthy of a place in the deliberations of the legislature.

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

PUBLIC CREDIT IS A MATTER OF HIGH IMPORTANCE TO NATIONAL HONOER AND PROSPERITY

I saw with peculiar pleasure at the close of the last session the resolution entered into by you expressive of your opinion that an adequate provision for the support of the public credit is a matter of high importance to the national honor and prosperity. In this sentiment I entirely concur; and to a perfect confidence in your best endeavors to devise such a provision as will be truly with the end I add an equal reliance on the cheerful cooperation of the other branch of the legislature.

It would be superfluous to specify inducements to a measure in which the character and interests of the United States are so obviously so deeply concerned, and which has received so explicit a sanction from your declaration. . . .

Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives:

COOPERATION: A RIGHT TO EXPECT FROM A FREE, EFFICIENT, AND EQUAL GOVERNMENT

The welfare of our country is the great object to which our cares and efforts ought to be directed, and I shall derive great satisfaction from a cooperation with you in the pleasing though arduous task of insuring to our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government.