Washington’s Farewell Address

1851-1877

February 22, 1862
Washington’s Farewell Address

No Senate tradition has been more steadfastly maintained than the annual reading of President George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address.  In this letter to “Friends and Citizens,” Washington warned that the forces of geographical sectionalism, political factionalism, and interference by foreign powers in the nation’s domestic affairs threatened the stability of the Republic.  He urged Americans to subordinate sectional jealousies to common national interests.

The Senate tradition began on February 22, 1862, as a morale-boosting gesture during the darkest days of the Civil War.  Citizens of Philadelphia had petitioned Congress to commemorate the forthcoming 130th anniversary of Washington’s birth by reading the Address at a joint meeting of both houses.

Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson introduced the petition in the Senate.  ”In view of the perilous condition of the country,” he said, “I think the time has arrived when we should recur back to the days, the times, and the doings of Washington and the patriots of the Revolution, who founded the government under which we live.”

Two by two, members of the Senate proceeded to the House Chamber for a joint session.  As they moved through Statuary Hall, they passed a display of recently captured Confederate battle flags.   President Abraham Lincoln, whose son Willie had died two days earlier, did not attend.  But members of his cabinet, the Supreme Court, and high-ranking military officers in full uniform packed the chamber to hear Secretary of the Senate John W. Forney read the Address.

Early in 1888—the centennial year of the Constitution’s ratification—the Senate recalled the ceremony of 1862 and had its presiding officer read the Address on February 22.  Within a few years, the Senate made the practice an annual event.

Every year since 1896, the Senate has observed Washington’s Birthday by selecting one of its members, alternating parties, to read the 7,641-word statement in legislative session.  Delivery generally takes about 45 minutes.  In 1985, Florida Senator Paula Hawkins tore through the text in a record-setting 39 minutes, while in 1962, West Virginia Senator Jennings Randolph, savoring each word, consumed 68 minutes.

At the conclusion of each reading, the appointed senator inscribes his or her name and brief remarks in a black, leather-bound book maintained by the Secretary of the Senate. Early entries in the notebook were typically brief explanations of the practice, accompanied by signature and date. Often, several entries appeared on a single page. In more recent years, entries have grown more elaborate and have included personal stories or comments on contemporary politics and policy. In 1956, Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey wrote that every American should study this memorable message. “It gives one a renewed sense of pride in our republic,” he wrote. “It arouses the wholesome and creative emotions of patriotism and love of country.” The book’s first entry bears the signature of Ohio Republican Joseph Foraker and is dated February 22, 1900. Links to selected entries are included below.

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Senators who have delivered Washington’s Farewell Address:

John J. Ingalls, February 22, 1888

Charles Manderson, February 22, 1893

John Martin, February 22, 1894

William Frye, February 22, 1896

John Daniel, February 22, 1897

Henry Cabot Lodge, February 22, 1898

Edward Wolcott, February 22, 1899

Joseph B. Foraker, February 22, 1900

Augustus O. Bacon, February 22, 1901

Julius C. Burrows, February 22, 1902

Fred T. Dubois, February 23, 1903

Weldon B. Heyburn, February 22, 1904

George C. Perkins, February 22, 1905

James B. McCreary, February 22, 1906

Elmer J. Burkett , February 22, 1907

Porter J. McCumber , February 22, 1908

Anselm J. McLaurin, February 22, 1909

Chauncey M. Depew , February 22, 1910

Lafayette Young , February 22, 1911

John W. Kern, February 22, 1912

Frank B. Brandegee, February 22, 1913

Claude A. Swanson, February 23, 1914

Elihu Root, February 22, 1915

Charles F. Johnson, February 22, 1916

John D. Works, February 22, 1917

Peter G. Gerry, February 22, 1918

Joseph S. Frelinghuysen, February 22, 1919

Atlee Pomerene, February 23, 1920

James W. Wadsworth, Jr., February 22, 1921

Miles Poindexter, February 22, 1922

Carter Glass, February 22, 1923

Frank B. Willis, February 22, 1924

Henry F. Ashurst, February 23, 1925

Hiram Bingham, February 22, 1926

Walter F. George, February 22, 1927

Henrik Shipstead, February 22, 1928

James Reed, February 22, 1929

Arthur H. Vandenberg, February 22, 1930

Sam G. Bratton, February 22, 1931

Thomas J. Walsh, February 23, 1932

Otis F. Glenn, February 22, 1933

Joseph C. O’Mahoney, February 22, 1934

Warren R. Austin, February 22, 1935

Nathan L. Bachman, February 22, 1936

Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., February 22, 1937

Allen J. Ellender, February 22, 1938

Robert Taft, February 22, 1939

Edward R. Burke, February 22, 1940

Wallace H. White, Jr., February 22, 1941

Theodore F. Green, February 23, 1942

Eugene D. Millikin, February 22, 1943

Elbert D. Thomas, February 22, 1944

H. Alexander Smith, February 22, 1945

Dennis Chavez, February 22, 1946

W. Chapman Revercomb, February 21, 1947

Brien McMahon, February 22, 1948

Margaret Chase Smith, February 22, 1949

Herbert R. O’Conor, February 22, 1950

Ralph E. Flanders, February 22, 1951

John O. Pastore, February 22, 1952

John Sherman Cooper, February 23, 1953

Lester C. Hunt, February 22, 1954

Prescott Bush, February 22, 1955

Hubert H. Humphrey, February 22, 1956

Barry Goldwater, February 22, 1957

Frank Church, February 21, 1958

Gordon Allott, February 23, 1959

Frank E. Moss, February 22, 1960

John M. Butler, February 22, 1961

Jennings Randolph, February 22, 1962

Winston L. Prouty, February 22, 1963

Edmund S. Muskie, February 21, 1964

James B. Pearson, February 22, 1965

Lee Metcalf, February 22, 1966

Norris Cotton, February 22, 1967

Daniel B. Brewster, February 22, 1968

Paul J. Fannin, February 21, 1969

Quentin N. Burdick, February 23, 1970

J. Glenn Beall, Jr., February 22, 1971

Lloyd Bentsen, February 21, 1972

Charles McC. Mathias, Jr., February 19, 1973

Harold Hughes, February 18, 1974

Jake Garn, February 17, 1975

Vance Hartke, February 16, 1976

S. I. Hayakawa, February 21, 1977

Walter Huddleston, February 20, 1978

John W. Warner, February 19, 1979

Donald Stewart, February 18, 1980

Nancy Kassebaum, February 16, 1981

Daniel K. Inouye, February 22, 1982

Paul S. Trible, Jr., February 21, 1983

Frank R. Lautenberg, February 20, 1984

Paula Hawkins, February 18, 1985

Jay Rockefeller, February 17, 1986

John McCain, February 16, 1987

Terry Sanford, February 15, 1988

John W. Warner, February 22, 1989

Charles S. Robb, February 22, 1990

Conrad Burns, February 22, 1991

Harris Wofford, February 19, 1992

Dirk Kempthorne, February 24, 1993

Carol Moseley-Braun, February 22, 1994

Craig Thomas, February 20, 1995

Daniel Akaka, February 26, 1996

Bill Frist, February 24, 1997

Mary Landrieu, February 23, 1998

George Voinovich, February 22, 1999

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, February 22, 2000

George Allen, February 26, 2001

Jon Corzine, February 25, 2002

Saxby Chambliss, February 24, 2003

John Breaux, February 23, 2004

Richard Burr, February 18, 2005

Ken Salazar, February 17, 2006

Bob Corker, February 26, 2007

Mark L. Pryor, February 25, 2008

Mike Johanns, February 23, 2009

Roland W. Burris, February 22, 2010

Johnny Isakson, February 28, 2011

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Reference Items:

U.S. Congress. Senate. Washington’s Farewell Address. 105th Congress, 2d sess., 1998. S. Doc.105-22.

 

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