Historical Highlights

President Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 Annual Message

May 20, 1919
President Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 Annual Message Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
The 1919 Annual Message was the first sent by telegraph, but the technology had been in use by the House for many years already.
On this date, the House Clerk read President Woodrow Wilson’s Annual Message (later known as the State of the Union) to the House. The address marked the first Annual Message sent via telegraph; Wilson wired his nearly 3,800-word speech from Paris where he was negotiating the peace treaty that ended World War I. Setting precedent was nothing new for Wilson when it came to addressing Congress. On December 2, 1913, he became the first President since 1800 to deliver his Annual Message in person before a Joint Session, rather than delivering it in writing. In his 1919 message, Wilson focused on the pressing domestic issues for which he had called the 66th Congress (1919–1921) into the special session. An influx of soldiers returning from combat had created tension between industry and the bloated workforce, instigating the first of a series of debilitating strikes throughout 1919. Federal control over domestic railroads—first put in place at the threat of strike in 1917—was set to expire in September with little agreement having been brokered between industry leaders and railroad workers. “We cannot go any further in our present direction. We have already gone too far,” Wilson wrote. “We cannot live our right life as a nation or achieve our proper success as an industrial community if capital and labour [sic] are to continue to be antagonistic instead of being partners.” Wilson anticipated that he would address the outcome of the peace conference and the resulting Treaty of Versailles before a Joint Session of Congress upon his return, but he never got that chance. The Senate’s outright rejection of the treaty, as well as Wilson’s declining health prevented him from speaking before Congress on international issues prior to leaving office in 1921.

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