Washington’s address still instructive

On this date in 1790 President George Washington complied with Article II, Section 3 of the U. S. Constitution when he delivered the first State of the Union address to the assembled members of Congress, who had gathered in New York City. This part of the Constitution requires 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…”

Many of the topics broached by Washington in his first State of the Union are still material and relevant to life in the present. After an opening in which he lauded the accession of North Carolina and “the present favorable prospects of our public affairs,” Washington got to the business of government.

His second passage began by admonishing Congress as to the temperament that would be required for future business, and the expectations of the people, “In resuming your consultations for the general good you can not 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.” Washington continued, “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.”

There is a phrase that every person elected to public office should have tattooed upon them, “…the cool and deliberate exertion of your patriotism, firmness, and wisdom.”

Of these directives, patriotism is arguably the easiest. One assumes any elected official must love the collective they are asked to represent. Firmness and wisdom are somewhat more elusive quarry. Moreover, having the strength of character to “exert” these traits with coolness and deliberateness appears yet harder.

Of course, these are not challenges unique to Congress. We see politicians struggle against this tide at all levels of government.

Our own Pine Bluff City Council often proves this point. Far too often in the past year voices have been raised, passions enflamed and reason abandoned. The weight of evidence has been subordinated to grudge, whim and anger. The people’s business denied so that individual agendas could be proffered.

Some of this will only change through the force of elections as there are a few council members demonstrably unable to break from their obstructive and prideful habits. Fortunately, the year past has also shown signs of hope and progress. Few on the council have clung dogmatically to their predispositions. Compromise and conciliation have been evident.

If we are to move forward as a city, we will need more of this. No one in local government has the luxury of complacency. The task at hand requires active participation, open-mindedness and deep thought. As we have stated many times, we are at a cross-roads. The state of our local “union” is not as sound as it needs to be. Our town requires more than window dressing, platitudes and nods to the old guard. It requires knowledge, vision and stalwart character.

Washington closed his first State of the Union by reminding Congress of their core obligation. Our local leaders would do well to remember them, “The welfare of our country is the great object to which our cares and efforts ought to be directed …the pleasing though arduous task of insuring to our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government.”