Today marks the 225th anniversary of the very first State of the Union address, delivered by George Washington to a join session on of Congress on January 8, 1790, at Federal Hall on Wall Street.
Washington had been sworn in on April 30 of the previous year and Congress had been meeting since early March, so it was a good time for the president to take stock of how much progress had been made. That progress included the passage of the Bill of Rights over the summer, which was not only the underpinning of many American freedoms, but was also the document that persuaded North Carolina to finally ratify the Constitution, which it did on November 21, 1789, bringing the total number of states to twelve. Only Rhode Island was a holdout, and perhaps some of Washington's address--which was circulated in newspapers at the time--was aimed at getting Rhode Island on board.
The address--which covers everything from the need "to be prepared for war" with the "proper establishment of troops," to the "terms on which foreigners may be admitted to the rights of citizens" and the needs for "uniformity in the currency, weights, and measures of the United States"--was likely drafted by Alexander Hamilton, the Treasury Secretary and Washington's de facto Prime Minister. It ends with a plea to Congress for support of the establishment of public credit, a topic near and dear to Hamilton's heart.
Of course, the building that stands today at the intersection of Wall Street and Nassau Street isn't the Federal Hall (below) of Washington's era. The original seat of government was torn down in the early eighteenth century so that the Treasury Department could build a new custom house on the spot. After later serving as the federal subtreasury, the old custom house become the museum it is today, where a few pieces of the original building where Washington spoke are on display.
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