George Washington’s Farewell Address

Posted on January 9, 2013. Filed under: Washington's Farewell |

Most of us know who George Washington was. The hero of the Revolution and the Father of our Country.

Did you know that he felt that he wasn’t qualified to be President? He only wanted to serve a single term, but was convinced to run for a second term by Alexander Hamilton, his Treasury Secretary.

5 The impressions, with which I first undertook the arduous trust, were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say, that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious, in the outset, of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied, that, if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

His address, which was not a speech, but a letter that he had written 4 years earlier (when he had intended to step down in 1792. It was finally published in newspapers in 1796). It was a letter to the American People, and was a series of warnings. He warned that there would be factions that would try to weaken the resolve and the minds of the people:

9 The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquillity at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee, that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

In my lifetime, I have seen this country become more and more divided, more sectionalized. It seems that we are no longer Americans, but we have become parts of some group:

  • Republicans
  • Democrats
  • Conservatives
  • Liberals
  • Progressives
  • Moderates
  • Southerners
  • Rednecks
  • East Coast Liberals
  • West Coast Liberals
  • Gun nuts
  • Gun control nuts
  • African American
  • Mexican American
  • Asian American
  • Indian American
  • Native American
  • Latino American (for those who aren’t Mexican)
  • Irish American
  • Italian American
  • Franco American (Those who make Spaghetti-O’s)
  • Chevy
  • Dodge
  • Ford
  • Toyota
  • Tree huggers
  • Vegans
  • Vegetarians
  • Carnivores
  • Welfare recipients

We have become sectionalized by labels. We have become a nation of labels. Seriously, have you ever heard of an African Chinese?

The Great American Melting Pot has become like oil and water. The two don’t mix very well.

He also warned of political parties, which are helping to sectionalize us. The parties were started by Alexander Hamilton (Federalist Party) and Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican Party). It was the formation of these parties that helped compel Washington into a second term.

20 I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

21 This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

22 The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

23 Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

24 It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

25 There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

This was written over 200 years ago, and here we are, seeing this happening today, in our time. Is it perpetrated by the Republicans? The Democrats?

No.

It is perpetrated by the Media.

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