Historical Highlights

The Reading of George Washington’s Farewell Address on the House Floor

February 19, 1979
The Reading of George Washington’s Farewell Address on the House Floor Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Representative William Boner of Tennessee served nearly a decade in the House before resigning to serve as mayor of Nashville, Tennessee.
On this date, William Hill Boner of Tennessee read George Washington’s Farewell Address on the House Floor—an annual tradition for nearly 50 years—for the last time. The practice began during a Joint Session of Congress on February 22, 1862, when Secretary of the Senate John W. Forney, who previously served as Clerk of the House, read the speech in the House Chamber. The Senate revived the ceremonial reading in 1888, but the House took up the mantle the following year. As part of the commemorations of Washington’s birthday, Members read the speech with intermittent regularity until 1933, when the practice became an annual fixture. Tradition called for many of the readers to be junior Members. Some of the notable participants included Alice Robertson of Oklahoma, the first woman elected to Congress from that state; Patsy Mink of Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman in Congress; and Howard W. Smith of Virginia, a segregationist significant in blocking civil rights legislation as chairman of the Rules Committee during the 1950s and 1960s. Some Members questioned the annual ceremony, especially when participation began to fall off. In 1972, Teno Roncalio of Wyoming criticized fellow Members for their lack of participation, bemoaning the low attendance at that year’s ceremony: “Indeed, there were not more than 10 of us here at the beginning of the speech, a few less at its conclusion.” After the House discontinued the practice in 1979, Members observed a wreath-laying ceremony, held on the grounds of the Washington Monument until 2003.

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