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A U.S. Senate Tradition:

Washington's Farewell Address

One of the Senate’s most enduring traditions is the annual reading of President George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address by a current member of the U. S. Senate. This tradition began on February 22, 1862, as a morale-boosting gesture during the darkest days of the Civil War. The reading of the address became an annual event in 1893.

Since 1900, the reading of the address has been followed by the senator inscribing his or her name along with brief remarks in a leather-bound book maintained by the secretary of the Senate. Early entries in the notebook were typically brief explanations of the practice, accompanied by signature or date. In more recent years, entries have grown more elaborate and have included personal stories or comments on contemporary politics and policy. This year, the address was read by Senator Mark L. Pryor on February 25, 2008.

For more information on Senate traditions, visit the Virtual Reference Desk’s Traditions page.