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Sen. Coons Reads Washington’s Farewell Address

Coons is the first Delaware senator to uphold the tradition. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

On President George Washington’s birthday, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., delivered the traditional Washington’s Farewell Address floor speech on Monday.  

“It is an incredible honor to be the first senator from Delaware to read George Washington’s Farewell Address,” Coons told HOH.  

“More than two centuries since Washington wrote these words, his address may be more relevant than ever,” he said.  

Washington’s Farewell Address was published in 1796 and penned near the end of his second term as president. The address was originally written in 1792, with the help of James Madison, as the first president was prepared to retired after one term in office.  

“It reminds us that we must always be on guard against partisanship and factionalism, and that we should always strive to live up to the ideals on which our government and our nation are based,” Coons said.  

According to the Senate website , “no Senate tradition has been more steadfastly maintained” than this annual reading.  The tradition began on Feb. 22, 1862 to boost morale during the Civil War.  

Then-Sen, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee petitioned the Senate: “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.”  

Secretary of the Senate John W. Forney read the first address. President Abraham Lincoln did not attend because his son, Willie, died two days earlier, according to the Senate. But, his cabinet, the Senate and the Supreme Court were president.  

The Senate took a break from reading the address until 1888, the centennial year of the Constitution’s ratification. Then, every year since 1896, a senator has read the address on Washington’s birthday.  

The senator who reads it is traditionally from alternating parties. Last year, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., read the address on the floor.  

Coons said Monday, “I am grateful every day to the people of Delaware for entrusting me with the privilege of serving them in this chamber, and I hope that reading President Washington’s words today will serve as a small reminder to all of my colleagues — Democrats and Republicans — of the responsibility we have to serve our states and our country."  

The address is 7,641 words long, and delivery takes an average of 45 minutes every year.  A black, leather-bound book, maintained by the secretary of Senate, is signed by each senator who reads the address.

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