Remembering Washington’s intentions
“Our Washington is no more,” said John Marshall as he began an address in Congress on Dec. 18, 1799. The great man had unexpectedly died the night of Dec. 14 at Mount Vernon. A period of mourning was declared across the country. The one indispensable citizen, soldier and statesman, loved and trusted by almost all, was no longer available to help and advise the people. Less than three years before, he had voluntarily relinquished the helm of state. He wished only to return to his beloved home in Virginia with his wife to spend the last years of his life.
Prior to leaving office in September, 1796, he had published his “Farewell Address” in newspapers throughout the country. The purpose of this letter was to express what he believed to be the true meaning of the American Revolution and to advise the people on their new government. The document was addressed to “Friends and Fellow Citizens.” He apologized for stepping down and he hoped the people understood. He wrote of what could be called “Washington’s America,” where individual citizens take upon themselves the responsibilities of moral and proper conduct in their private and public affairs and where citizens actively take part in their nations governing.
Gen. Washington emphasized that the nation must remain unified. That the government of their choice, the Republic under the Constitution, has just claim on their support and confidence. He told the people to guard against foreign alliances, to become involved only when our own nation’s interests are strongly involved. He stated that people should be aware of the harm that factions can impose on the Republic. The spirit of political parties can negate the needed and proper actions of the government. And, when the opposition to the government reaches excessive proportions, our nation will come to a standstill and even regress. A free Republic such as ours has normal avenues of protection against misuses of power by the government. He felt the separation of power as dictated by the Constitution assured this aspect.
“Washington’s America” was one of perfection and greatness. He did not expect it to ever be totally achieved. He was not naive; he knew and understood human nature and the good and bad of human conduct. This was his challenge to the American people: to continue to strive for perfection through the ages. He made it clear that our nation would survive only if the people themselves are good and lead productive lives. For the national character of the Republic is established by that of the majority. He also stated that the national character must be based on morality and religion, the pillars of a righteous nation, and that morality cannot exist without religion.
For 230 years our Republic has been successful. With one exception, the Civil War period, our nation has remained unified. This country of free people has produced the highest standard of living known in the world. And today, it is the strongest and most powerful nation on earth. But, history tells us that no nation can last forever. One day the majority of people will lose their will to defend their values and way of life. The glue of individual liberty will no longer keeps the majority unified. One wonders when will this happen. Then, we will be forced to proclaim: “Washington’s America is no more.” Ken Ruzich Pittsburg, Pennsylvania