When calm returns after the election, I’m going to some posts about a wonderful acquisition of mine. A few months ago I found a complete edition of Messages and Papers of the Presidents in an antique shop. This was an official compilation (ordered by Congress) of all of the official documents issued by Presidents from George Washington forward. (The edition I bought stops with Warren Harding). The papers themselves are, of course, interesting, but equally interesting are the essays that were written by leading scholars at the time about the presidents. They are time capsules worth discussing.
One thing I’ve learned so far (I’m only up to James Madison) is that under Washington and Adams the House of Representatives and the Senate each issued a formal reply to the President’s State of the Union Address (then called the Annual Message). This practice ended when Jefferson took office, but the replies are rather telling in their own right. More on that later.