The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)
Let’s heed Washington’s wise words
What would George say to us today?
By “George,” I mean George Washington, our first president. And we know because he told us in his 1796 final address, which actually had first been written as a letter with some suggestions from Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.
President Washington wrote the letter to make sure people understood he wanted to serve two terms and no more, and to withdraw from office even though some citizens wished he would stay.
Washington began by stressing the importance of the Union that tied Americans together and provided for their freedom and prosperity. He then cautioned against three interrelated issues that might endanger the republic: regionalism (the North versus South), partisanship (self-seeking political parties) and foreign entanglements (other nations seeking to dominate or influence us).
It’s more likely than not that today most politicians address current issues, but it also is true that some issues seem to transcend the times and reappear.
Here is what Washington said in his times in his own words but seem to speak to us today.
“The unity of government which constitutes you as 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 tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize….”
“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations … 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….
“It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened…
“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.
“In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish — that they will control the usual current of the passions or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations.
“But if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good, that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism — this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare by which they have been dictated.”
George Washington’s farewell address reminds us that some issues seem to transcend the times and reappear.