4. George Washington - January 8, 1790
Though the Constitution vaguely calls for the president "from time to time" to give Congress "information of the State of the Union," Washington set the precedent of delivering a formal address. While Thomas Jefferson ended the practice of delivering a speech before Congress (Woodrow Wilson resurrected it in 1913), presidents have delivered a message to Congress -- in writing or in person -- every year since Washington's first address.
Delivered at Federal Hall in New York City, Washington's speech offers a snapshot of a nascent country still without a foreign policy bureaucracy, immigration policy and a uniform system of "currency, weights, and measures." He used the speech to highlight the importance of a professional army to ensure national security. "To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace," he said.
He also encouraged the "promotion of science and literature," arguing that "knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness." He contends that it's vital to have a citizenry that knows and values "their own rights" and is able to "to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness - cherishing the first, avoiding the last - and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws."