On this day in 1790, President George Washington delivers the first State of the Union address to the assembled Congress in New York City.
Washington began by congratulating you on the present favourable prospects of our public affairs, most notable of which was North Carolina’s recent decision to join the federal republic. North Carolina had rejected the Constitution in July 1788 because it lacked a bill of rights. Under the terms of the Constitution, the new government acceded to power after only 11 of the 13 states accepted the document. By the time North Carolina ratified in November 1789, the first Congress had met, written the Bill of Rights and dispatched them for review by the states. When Washington spoke in January, it seemed likely the people of the United States would stand behind Washington’s government and enjoy the concord, peace, and plenty he saw as symbols of the nation’s good fortune.
Washington’s address gave a brief, but excellent, outline of his administration’s policies as designed by Alexander Hamilton. The former commander in chief of the Continental Army argued in favor of securing the common defence [sic], as he believed preparedness for war to be one of the most effectual means of preserving peace. Washington’s guarded language allowed him to hint at his support for the controversial idea of creating a standing army without making an overt request.
The most basic functions of day-to-day governing had yet to be organized, and Washington charged Congress with creating a competent fund designated for defraying the expenses incident to the conduct of our foreign affairs, a uniform rule of naturalization, and Uniformity in the Currency, Weights and Measures of the United States.
After covering the clearly federal issues of national defense and foreign affairs, Washington urged federal influence over domestic issues as well. The strongly Hamilton-influenced administration desired money for and some measure of control over Agriculture, Commerce and Manufactures as well as Science and Literature. These national goals required a Federal Post-Office and Post-Roads and a means of public education, which the president justified as a means to secure the Constitution, by educating future public servants in the republican principles of representative government.
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