More on President Washington’s 1790 perspective.

Most 2014 Colloquium participants have returned home, but in that context it’s perhaps worth looking at four aspects of Washington’s first Annual Message to Congress, January 8, 1790 additional to his emphasis on science, innovation, and education discussed in the previous post.

A look at the economy, and an appeal to high-mindedness.             Here’s what Washington had to say: I embrace, with great satisfaction, the opportunity which now presents itself of congratulating you on the present favorable prospects of our public affairs. The recent accession of the important State of North Carolina to the constitution of the United States (of which official information has been received), the rising credit and respectability of our country; the general and increasing good will towards the government of the Union; and the concord, peace, and plenty, with which we are blessed, are circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity.

In resuming your consultations for the general good, you cannot but derive encouragement from the reflection, that the measures of the last session have been as satisfactory to your constituents, as the novelty and difficulty of the work allowed you to hope. Still further to realize their expectations, and to secure the blessings which a gracious Providence has placed within our reach, will, in the course of the present important session, call for the cool and deliberate exertion of your patriotism, firmness, and wisdom.

The discussion seems remarkably civil, non-partisan, and high-level to today’s ears.

Immigration. Again, Washington: Various considerations also render it expedient that the terms on which foreigners may be admitted to the rights of citizens, should be speedily ascertained by a uniform rule of naturalization.

Immigration and the path to citizenship clearly captured the attention of the first president and a young, land-rich country concerned about protecting its place in the world just as it does today. Today’s positives look a bit different; immigration slows the aging of the U.S. demographic (a problem plaguing China, Japan, and much of Europe), and brings some of the world’s brightest minds to our shores. But the challenge about just how to proceed remains.

Defense spending. Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that the issue of defense spending is something relatively new – say, post World War II. From Washington: Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war, is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end, a uniform and well digested plan is requisite: and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent on others for essential, particularly for military supplies.

The proper establishment of the troops which may be deemed indispensable, will be entitled to mature consideration. In the arrangements which may be made respecting it, it will be of importance to conciliate the comfortable support of the officers and soldiers, with a due regard to economy.

Recall that this appeal for military funding is made to hearers to whom the stationing of British troops on American soil was particularly odious – and fresh. The idea of a standing army was anathema to many.

Native Americans/indigenous peoples. The defense piece is followed by the part of Washington’s speech that is perhaps most troubling to modern ears: There was reason to hope that the pacific measures adopted with regard to certain hostile tribes of Indians, would have relieved the inhabitants of our southern and western frontiers from their depredations; but you will perceive, from the information contained in the papers which I shall direct to be laid before you, (comprehending a communication from the Commonwealth of Virginia) that we ought to be prepared to afford protection to those parts of the Union, and, if necessary, to punish aggressors.

Different from our understanding of today. And wholly different from discussions at this year’s Colloquium. We were fortunate to have Paulette Blanchard participate. A Shawnee, Ms. Blanchard provided a unique and important perspective on many issues taken up over the ten days; she even led an impromptu segment on indigenous views of climate change, built around a video she has developed. For most of us, her contributions will remain one of our most enduring Colloquium memories.

Ms. Blanchard is only the third native-American Colloquium participant in our fourteen years. More would be welcome, not only for the contributions to the Colloquium dialog, but also because they would signify an increasing number of this important community entering the Earth sciences and related disciplines.

As for slavery, another great national shame, the challenge that would nearly tear the country apart over the early decades, and even ever since? Washington gave it no mention.


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One Response to More on President Washington’s 1790 perspective.

  1. Re non-partisanship. Although Washington was probably more Federalist than Democrat, he greatly desired that the Republic would avoid partisanship. But with two egos with such divergent views as Hamilton and Jefferson in the Cabinet, partisanship was almost inevitable. Jefferson comes off as somewhat unsavory in this – couldn’t have his way so he took his marbles and went home (but egged Madison and others on to make scurrilous attacks on H). Some of the partisan salvos from back then are perhaps even nastier than the worst of our negative campaign messages of today! Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose …

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