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Changing the Boundaries: Women at Work in the Government

Today’s post comes from Samantha Payne, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives. in Washington, DC. 

On January 29, 1790, Mary Katherine Goddard sent the Senate a singular request: to be reinstated as postmistress of Baltimore. After running the post office for 14 years, and paying post-riders with her own savings during the American Revolution, she was infuriated to lose her position—especially when the stated reason was that “more traveling might be necessary” for the job “than a woman would undertake.” In her petition, Goddard accused the Postmaster General of dismissing her so he could give the lucrative title to his friend.

Petition from Katherine Goddard, January 29, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Petition from Katherine Goddard, January 29, 1790, page 1. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Goddard’s rise and fall as one of America’s first female public servants began in a printing shop. In 1774, she helped her brother William establish Baltimore’s first weekly newspaper. Within a year, she became the sole proprietor of the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser. Her excellent reputation prompted Benjamin Franklin to appoint her as postmistress of Baltimore, making her the first woman to run a national government office. In 1777, the Continental Congress requested that she publish the first copy of the Declaration of Independence, complete with its signatories.

Goddard was proud of her work in the Post Office. When she lost her job … [ Read all ]

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)

[ Read all ]

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

[ Read all ]

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 … [ Read all ]

Illuminating the National Archives

This photo from August 29, 1954, shows the National Archives Building lit up for the very first time, its beautiful columns and attic story glowing while onlookers gather to witness the occasion.

Photograph of the National Archives Building Lit Up at Night, 08/29/1954. (National Archives Identifier 7873481)

Photograph of the National Archives Building lit up at night, 08/29/1954. (National Archives Identifier 7873481)

Surprisingly, while other Washington, DC, landmarks were illuminated, the National Archives stood dark every night for the first 19 years it was open. Although John Russell Pope, the building’s architect, had made plans for exterior lighting, a lack of funds prevented the Archives from being lit. It was not until 1954 that funds became available to turn on the 280 exterior built-in light bulbs to illuminate the structure.

The first-ever illumination of the National Archives coincided with the American Legion National Convention in Washington, DC, in August of 1954. On the night of August 29, a ceremony was held to celebrate the first illumination of the National Archives, kicking off the convention’s four days of festivities.

Archivist of the United States Wayne C. Grover presided over the ceremony, and National Commander Arthur J. Connell of the American Legion, a patriotic veterans’ organization, gave remarks and flipped the switch to light the structure. General Services Administrator Edmund Mansure commented that illuminating the National Archives for the first time was “a fitting symbol of patriotism” with which to begin the … [ Read all ]