On January 8, 1790, George Washington delivered the first regular annual message before a joint session of Congress. He did so in the Senate chamber of Federal Hall in New York City, the provisional U.S. capitol at that time.

From Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate:

Washington was acutely aware that as the nation’s first president, he was setting precedents by defining the role of an elected national leader for citizens and legislators who were wary of executive power. As the single most visible figure in the new government, Washington had to define what it meant to be a president rather than a king, while infusing the office of the presidency with dignity, symbolism, and ceremony that would be appropriate in a republic.

The entire nation scrutinized Washington’s every action, from his choice of clothing to his interactions with Congress. He was well aware of the importance of his actions. “I have no conception of a more delicate task, than that, which is imposed by the Constitution on the Executive,” he wrote, adding, “So necessary is it, at this crisis, to conciliate the good will of the People: and so impossible is it, in my judgment, to build the edifice of public happiness, but upon their affections.”

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Michael Boldin