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Currently on Exhibit: George Washington’s First Annual Message

Continuing our celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the First Congress, the National Archives is displaying George Washington’s first annual address from January 6 to February 4, 2015, in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC.

This version, from the first Journal of the House of Representatives, shows the final page of George Washington’s annual address (what we now call the State of the Union speech). With this message, delivered on January 8, 1790, Washington established the precedent of delivering a formal address to Congress, thus fulfilling the Constitution’s mandate for the President to  “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

In the message, Washington praised the accomplishments of the First Congress and gave a brief overview of his administration’s agenda. He emphasized the need to provide for the common defense; establish uniform systems of currency, weights, and measures; and promote education.

House Journal of the First Congress, Second Session, showing the final page of President George Washington’s first annual message to Congress, January 8, 1790 (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

House Journal of the First Congress, Second Session, showing the final page of President George Washington’s first annual message to Congress, January 8, 1790 (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)


Annual Message on the State of the Union: The President Speaks

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, an Outreach Specialist at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

On January 8, 1790, President George Washington delivered a speech at Federal Hall in New York City. This speech, called his first annual message to Congress (which we now refer to as the State of the Union), was short—in fact, it remains the shortest one ever.

President George Washington’s first Annual Message to Congress, January 8, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate. National Archives)

President George Washington’s first Annual Message to Congress, January 8, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives) Transcript

In it, Washington touched on several subjects to which he recommended that Congress give its attention, including national defense, naturalization, uniform weights and measures, promotion of education, and support of the public credit.

Fully aware of the enormity of the task in front of them, Washington’s last sentence speaks to the heart of their endeavor:

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 co-operation with you, in the pleasing though arduous task of ensuring to our fellow citizens the blessings, which they have a right to expect, from a free, efficient and equal Government.

Washington gave this speech to fulfill the President’s obligation outlined in Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, of the Constitution:

The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient”

The Constitution does not specify how frequently the President should share this information. As he did on so many other issues, Washington set the precedent that this message would be delivered to Congress once a year.

But Washington’s actions in another respect were not precedent setting. Washington appeared before a joint session of Congress to deliver his annual messages in a speech. Second President John Adams followed suit. But the Third President, Thomas Jefferson, set a new tradition when he sent his messages in writing and did not appear before Congress.

That precedent stuck until 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress.

Now Why Didn't I Think of That! by Clifford K. Berryman, 4/8/1913. (National Archives Identifier 6011009)

“Now Why Didn’t I Think of That!” by Clifford K. Berryman, 4/8/1913. (National Archives Identifier 6011009)

 

Before Wilson, the annual messages were mostly a report to Congress of the activities of the Executive branch. But after Wilson, and the increased attention the speech received, it became a launching pad for Presidential initiatives and was used to raise support for the President’s legislative agenda.

During Harry Truman’s Presidency, the speech came to be widely known as the State of the Union address instead of the annual message.

President Andrew Jackson's Annual Message to Congress "On Indian Removal," December 6, 1830. (National Archives Identifier 5682743)

President Andrew Jackson’s Annual Message to Congress “On Indian Removal,” December 6, 1830. (National Archives Identifier 5682743) Transcript

Several annual messages stand out:

In 165 handwritten pages, President Andrew Jackson’s 1830 Annual Message covered multiple topics, but it is remembered for his words relating to Native Americans.

In what became known as the “Indian Removal” message, Jackson discussed the policy of moving Native Americans from the southeast portion of the nation to beyond the Mississippi River to what became Oklahoma. He wrote:

It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.

President Abraham Lincoln was known for words that reverberate through the decades. His December 1, 1862, message became known as the “Fiery Trial” message:

President Abraham Lincoln’s “Fiery Trial” Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

President Abraham Lincoln’s “Fiery Trial” Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives) Transcript

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.

This message was delivered exactly one month before the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

Lincoln ended the message on the subject of slavery:

In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.

 

 

President Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union Address, February 4, 1986. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

President Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union Address, February 4, 1986. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives) Transcript

 

President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 State of the Union address was originally scheduled for January 28, 1986. However, that day the Challenger space shuttle exploded. Reagan postponed his speech for a week in response to the accident. On February 4, Reagan began his message by paying tribute to “the brave seven” Challenger crew members.

Later, he said:

So, yes, this nation remains fully committed to America’s space program. We’re going forward with our shuttle flights. We’re going forward to build our space station.

Since Washington’s time, the Constitution’s command that “from time to time” the President shall share information with Congress has meant, and continues to mean, the delivery of the State of the Union message once a year.

The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.

Go here for more information on historical State of the Union Messages.


Advice and Consent and the Recess Appointment

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, an Outreach Specialist at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

President George Washington’s message to the Senate regarding recess appointments, February 9, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

President George Washington’s message to the Senate regarding recess appointments, February 9, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Two hundred and twenty-five years ago on January 4, 1790, the First Congress returned from a break after a very productive first session.

Shortly afterward, the Senate received notice from President George Washington that he had made appointments in their absence—the first-ever Presidential recess appointments came during the very first congressional recess.

When Congress is in session, the President’s nominees must receive the “advice and consent” of the Senate before they are appointed to public office. But Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution also states:

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

The Founders intended for these recess appointments to ensure that the work of government could continue even when an office holder resigned or died when the Senate was not in session. These appointments allowed the President to temporarily place someone in office until the Senate had the chance to weigh in.

In the early years of the Republic, this happened frequently as Congress was usually in session for less than half the year. On February 9, 1790, President Washington sent a message to the Senate about his recess appointments. In it, he noted the Constitution allowed for temporary appointments.

President George Washington’s message to the Senate regarding recess appointments, February 9, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

President George Washington’s message to the Senate regarding recess appointments, February 9, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

In a chart, he then listed the titles of vacant positions and the names of those to whom he had given temporary appointments. He also included the names of those he nominated to the positions for a full term—the nominees were all the same people who had received the recess appointments.

Washington and subsequent Presidents frequently used recess appointments to keep the government running. Most of these appointments received perfunctory approval by the Senate. One notable exception was an incident during President Andrew Jackson’s administration.

Jackson had a rather tumultuous relationship with the Senate. The Senate had rejected a significant number of Jackson’s nominees from the beginning of his Presidency in 1829. In 1831, following Jackson’s disagreements with Vice President John C. Calhoun and a political scandal, Jackson’s entire cabinet, except one official, resigned.

The first to resign was Jackson’s close confidant—Secretary of State Martin Van Buren. Jackson wanted to keep Van Buren in his administration, so he gave Van Buren a recess appointment to be Minister (ambassador) to Great Britain. Jackson was confident that Van Buren would be confirmed by the Senate, and Van Buren sailed for England.

Senate roll call vote on Martin Van Buren’s nomination for Minister to Great Britain, January 25, 1832. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Senate roll call vote on Martin Van Buren’s nomination  to be Minister to Great Britain, January 25, 1832. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

When the Senate convened and voted in January 1832, Van Buren’s nomination was rejected by a vote of 23 to 24. Vice President Calhoun, who was acting in his constitutional role as President of the Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote against the nomination.

Jackson was incensed to learn his own Vice President had killed the nomination.In response, Jackson dropped Calhoun from his ticket for the 1832 Presidential election and replaced him with Van Buren.

Jackson and Van Buren went on to win that election, and Van Buren was later elected to succeed Jackson to the Presidency. Calhoun saw his national stature and Presidential chances diminish as a consequence of his vote against confirming Van Buren’s recess appointment.

In more modern times, the President’s use of recess appointments has become more controversial, as Congress is now in session most of the year, with short breaks.

The recent ruling in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, a Supreme Court case decided in June 2014, was the first time the Court has ever been called on to rule on the interpretation of the recess appointments clause.

In it, the court ruled that the recess appointments clause authorizes the President to fill any existing vacancy during any recess. But, they also ruled that the Senate is in session whenever it indicates that it is, as long as it retains the capacity to transact its business.

The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.


A look back at 2014

What a year! Here’s some of the highlights of the last 12 months of the National Archives that we shared on our blog. Thanks for reading in 2014–we’ll see you in 2015 with more pieces of history!

The National Archives turned 80

And this is why we needed a National Archives! Photograph of storage conditions of the Office of Indian Affairs records, 1935. (Records of the National Archives, RG 64)

And this is why we needed a National Archives! Photograph of storage conditions of the Office of Indian Affairs records, 1935.
(Records of the National Archives, RG 64)

 

We The Poets

Making Their Mark

  • Our exhibit “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” opened in March and featured original signatures from our nationwide holdings. From developing a signature style to signing groundbreaking policy into law, this exhibit showed the many ways people have “made their mark” on history. Our curator and designer also created an eBook (download for free here). We featured the calling card of John Wilkes Booth and the signature style of the “Ike Jacket.” We blogged about women’s fashion for our “Six Weeks of Signature Style.” The exhibit closes on January 5, 2015–go see it now!
Visitors to "Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures" saw First Lady Michelle Obama's dress on display.

Visitors to “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” saw First Lady Michelle Obama’s signature style in her dress on display.

 

Monuments Men

Veterans

  • If you served in the United States military, your official personnel folder (OPF) is part of the holdings of the National Archives at St. Louis. Our staff shared some of the amazing stories that they find while preserving, processing, and accessing these records. We learned about Betty Chambers, a WASP, and another pilot, Lt. James Vurgaropulos, who was killed in China. Other stories about veterans included the tale of how an archivist started to look for a photo of a gun for a veteran and found an unexpected photo of the requester; the real words that General Eisenhower uttered on D-Day; and the work of Paul Wittmer in making our records more accessible.
Elizabeth Chambers's WASP portrait from her official personnel folders (OPF).

Elizabeth Chambers’s WASP portrait from her official personnel folder (OPF).

 

National Archives on the Road

  • You don’t always need to come to Washington, DC, to see our holdings. We loan documents and objects to other cultural institutions. Our senior registrar, James Zeender, blogged about the documents that went on the road this year: the Delaware ratification of the Bill of Rights will be in England as part ofthe British Library’s Magna Carta exhibition; the Emancipation Proclamation was on exhibit at the Nevada Museum of Art for 36 hourstwo letters from escaped slaves are on loan to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax; one of the original death registers was loaned to the Mauthausen National Memorial for display in the concentration camp’s infirmary building where the registers were originally kept; and the original Louisiana Purchase Treaty of 1803 is on display at the Missouri History Museum.
James Zeender and Terry Boone of the National Archives examine the Treaty between U.S. and Sauk and Fox Indians, signed in 1804 at St. Louis. (Photograph courtesy of the Missouri History Museum)

James Zeender and Terry Boone of the National Archives examine the Treaty between U.S. and Sauk and Fox Indians, signed in 1804 at St. Louis. (Photograph courtesy of the Missouri History Museum)

 

 

 


An airing of grievances: A pension clerk’s appeal

Caption:  An appeal by Pension Office clerk C.L.H. accompanies the complex Whitehead pension file (File number WC #80024, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

An appeal by Pension Office clerk C.L.H. accompanies the complex Whitehead pension file (File number WC #80024, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

In honor of Festivus, this seems like the perfect document for the airing of grievances. This feature was originally published in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives (Summer 2013).

At the National Archives, and almost any other archival institution, one of the principal rules for using original records is to keep the records in the same order in which they are given to you.

We benefit in our research from the care taken by unknown prior custodians of the records. Their work is usually invisible, but in the case of our featured document, a clerk’s voice breaks through from the 19th century.

At the back of the Civil War widow’s pension file based on the service of Pvt. Stephen Whitehead, a Pension Office clerk wrote:

These papers having been sorted with considerable care and for convenience arranged in something like their logical order, are now fastened together in the hope that the next man may escape the annoyance and drudgery that would be entailed were they chucked back in the promiscuous condition in which they were found.

Jany. 16, 1894.                              C.L.H.

 

The clerk’s frustration is understandable in light of the complexity of the Whitehead pension case. In 1860, Whitehead married Charian Lowrey but left her before their daughter, Rachel, was born in 1861. Later that year, Whitehead married a woman named Sarah, and two years later, Charian married another man. After Whitehead died in 1865, Charian applied for and received a widow’s pension. But in 1870, Sarah also received a pension based on Whitehead’s service.

The Pension Office’s investigation of the Whitehead claims continued until 1917, after Sarah’s death and Charian’s remarriage to a third husband. The final judgment: pension denied to Charian because “you contracted more than one marriage after the death of the soldier.”

Penciled notes on several pages in the file—accompanied by question marks and exclamation points—look like they may be in C.L.H.’s hand, but there is no proof. This note was uncovered by the team processing Civil War widows pensions for digitization.

The rare appearance by “C.L.H.” reminds us that the existence of documents for our use today depended on the care and attention of record keepers in the past.