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“Rogue Island”: The last state to ratify the Constitution

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

In 1781, Rhode Island began acquiring nicknames.

American newspapers called it “the perverse sister.” “An evil genius.” The “Quintessence of Villainy.” The name “Rogue Island” stuck all the way to 1787, when the Constitutional Convention began and the small state refused to send delegates. Although this press war started because Rhode Island vetoed an act passed by Congress under the Articles of Confederation, it lasted for nearly 10 years.

George Washington’s letter notifying Congress that Rhode Island had ratified the Constitution, June 1, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

George Washington’s letter notifying Congress that Rhode Island had ratified the Constitution, June 1, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

On May 29, 1790, “the rogue’s” persistent efforts to defy the national government finally failed, and it became the last state to ratify the Constitution, more than a year after it went into effect.

Ironically, Rhode Island played a key role in advancing the Constitution it strongly opposed. In 1786, an electoral revolution took place in Rhode Island that swept the populist Country Party into power. Infuriated by the prospect of a national tax, this faction opposed the expansion of the national government and favored an inflationary monetary policy.

In a single month, the legislature printed 100,000 pounds worth of paper currency. The resulting rampant inflation made Rhode Island—for many Americans—a dark symbol of what ailed the Confederation. Opponents of … [ 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

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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 ]

Carting the Charters

Procession Transferring documents to the National Archives, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Procession transferring documents to the National Archives, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Visitors to downtown Washington, DC, on December 13, 1952, were treated to an interesting sight—armored vehicles escorted by a barrage of military and police personnel. It wasn’t a holiday or the Presidential motorcade or a visiting dignitary.

On that chilly December morning, passersby saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States going for a ride.

“The Charters of Freedom”—the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights—all have varied histories of transport and storage through 1952.

The Declaration of Independence, after it was signed on August 2, 1776, moved with Congress from city to city throughout the Revolutionary War. After the establishment of the new nation under the Constitution, the Declaration found itself in Federal buildings, abandoned gristmills, and private homes before it ended up in the Library of Congress in 1921.

The Constitution had a similar history—after the framers signed it, the Constitution passed into the custody of the Department of State in 1789 and moved as the Federal Government moved. Unlike the Declaration, which was displayed for many years, the Constitution spent much of its history in storage.

The Bill of Rights has an even thinner history between its creation in 1789 and 1938. It, too, traveled with the government as it moved about until the … [ Read all ]