WASHINGTON — Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., will begin today's legislative day in Congress with a tradition dating to Washington state’s first days as a part of the union.
The reading of President George Washington’s Farewell Address , first published in the Philadelphia Daily American Advertiser on Sept. 16, 1796, has been an annual February event in the Senate since 1893, just four years after Washington was admitted to the United States.
However, Washington senators have been largely overlooked for the honor. The most recent — and only — senator from Washington to deliver the address was Republican Miles Poindexter, who gave the speech on Feb. 22, 1922.
Senators inscribe their names and a brief message in a ledger after delivering the address. Poindexter, an assistant prosecuting attorney in Spokane County from 1898 to 1904, kept his remarks brief in the vein of his contemporaries.
“Read by me upon the designation of Vice President Calvin Coolidge, February 22, 1922, in the Senate of the United States,” Poindexter wrote, before signing his name.
Poindexter garnered no good luck from his delivery. Fellow Spokane resident and Democratic opponent Clarence Dill defeated him in elections nine months later, and Poindexter never returned to the Senate.
By contrast, Idaho senators have received the honor on four separate occasions, including Fred Dubois of the Silver Republican Party and Democrat Weldon B. Heyburn in back-to-back appearances in 1903 and 1904.
Republican Sen. Dirk Kempthorne delivered the address most recently among the Inland Northwest delegation, on Feb. 24, 1993.
Kempthorne’s entry to the ledger echoes the generalized praise for the first president’s words that appear in lengthy personal statements made by speakers in recent years. Democrats and Republicans trade turns to deliver the annual address.
“Thank goodness this has become a tradition because as citizens we must never lose our exposure and connection to the principals and wisdom of our Founding Fathers,” Kempthorne wrote.
Democratic Sen. Frank Church, the other Idaho senator who delivered the speech, addressed the Senate in 1958.
Washington’s address, which was never delivered in person, is overtly humble and expresses a fear of “faction” among the states that was common during the early years of the republic. Despite its age, the address contains foresight of political difficulties that prompted its reading to both chambers of Congress during the height of the Civil War.
“The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations,” Washington wrote in 1796.
Ayotte is scheduled to deliver the speech at 11 a.m. Pacific time.
Kip Hill, a graduate student in the University of Missouri's Washington, D.C., reporting program, is a correspondent for The Spokesman-Review.