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Home > Document Library > Immigration and the Moral Conditions of Citizenship > First Annual Message to Congress


First Annual Message to Congress

George Washington
January 8, 1790


[Two qualities are necessary for citizenship, obedience to the laws, and vigilance against threats to liberty. — TGW]

 

[This excerpt from the first "State of the Union" address explains briefly one of the main purposes of education in a free government, namely, to teach the citizens the moral habits of freedom.]

…By the article establishing the Executive Department it is made the duty of the President "to recommend to your consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

…[T]here is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is, in every country, the surest basis of public happiness. In one in which the measures of government receive their impression so immediately from the sense of the community as in ours, it is proportionably essential. To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways: by convincing those who are entrusted with the public administration, that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people; and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burthens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience, and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness—cherishing the first, avoiding the last; and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws.

Whether this desirable object will be best promoted by affording aids to seminaries of learning already established; by the institution of a national university; or by any other expedients, will be well worthy of a place in the deliberations of the Legislature….

[From First Annual Message to Congress (1790), in George Washington, A Collection, ed. W.B. Allen (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1989), 469.]





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