Hey everyone! As you might recall, I have decided to start reading important documents in American History. I have read most of these, or at least part of these documents at some point in my life, most likely as part of my Advance Placement US History classes in high school but I wanted to go over them again.
I’m rereading important US documents in part because I want to continue to study history, a subject I deeply loved in school. I also want to reacquaint myself with what the United States has gone through to get to where we are today. And a personal goal for myself is to figure out what I truly believe in, to find a way that I feel we could best move forward and then work to help us take that path.
At the risk of repeating myself, I know that the USA deserves a better President than the despicable idiot that was elected, but here we are.
Today I want to celebrate President’s Day with a review on the nation’s first president, President George Washington’s Farewell Address. If you don’t already know I’m a huge fan of Hamilton: An American Musical and a portion of the address was used in the production, which is a big part of why I wanted to read this piece in particular.
President Washington first had a draft written by James Madison, a Founding Father of the country, after his first term. He did chose to run again and at the end of his second term he asked Alexander Hamilton to revise the draft. His final address included a reflection of his time in office, his hopes for the country’s future, and advice and support to the American government and people.
President Washington opens by announcing that a new president must be chosen, as a term limit hadn’t been established and he was choosing not to run for a third term. At the same time he reassures the young nation he is not leaving for lack of support to the new American government, but rather because he has faith in it’s strength and ability to prosper beyond him.
He goes on to say that he contributed towards the formation of the country to the best of his ability and put forth enough effort for him to deserve a quite retirement. He continues to say that he will honor the opportunity to be a citizen of the United States in his private life, with the pride of knowing he helped form the young country.
The President makes it clear that he wishes to retire, not only for his own personal benefit, but also to help the American people transition from one President to another. Having ended a relationship with a monarchy, a figure who rules until their death and passes on the position to their offspring, the presidency was established to allow the people a choice in who their leader and most recognizable representative would be. President Washington delicately but firmly guided the people towards a peaceful transition of power to his yet-to-be-named successor. As no term limits were set at this point in time, his address served as his notice to the people that elections would be needed to find a new President.
Pride and unity are reoccurring themes in his address. A particularly moving line states the “name of American… must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discrimination.” President Washington goes on to state that the country’s successes are everyone’s successes, and everyone must strive for it together. In his mind, a united country can endure and survive any hostility and threat, and can rise beyond all expectations of triumph. When he speaks of international treaties abroad he goes on to note that all alliances “must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced.”
At the time the US had also acquired a large amount of land from France through the Louisiana Treaty, and many people were skeptical that such a large area of land could be controlled effectively. So Washington urged the people to support their government as they adjusted and not to divide themselves by geographical regions, labor industries, and so on.
This continues into his warning against political parties, another threat to the unity that President Washington wishes for the American people. To split the country into factions is to weaken the resolve to compromise and work together towards a brighter future.He also warns that parties may become too hindering to the government should they prevent the law from being upheld or prevent the branches of government from acting to their full potential to help the American people.
The first president also reassures the people that the Constitution can withstand the test of time while still changing with it through the ability to amend the document without having to create a new one. He reminds them of the checks and balances system put into place at the formation of the country is worthy of their trust and throws his support to the national public credit.
It is clear that the President wishes the country to be fully independent and self-reliant, neutral to the fights of other countries with allegiance to it’s own best interests first. He states the “great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.” At the same time as the President recognizes the importance of free trade to prosperity, he also urges that neutrality is the best course of action for the nation. Being so far away from the other major powers of the time, he thought the United States would do best to take advantage of the geographical distance and stay out of foreign issues. Now established as a country able to win wars, President Washington hoped to avoid alliances that might call upon the United States into a war which the country had no reason to become involved other than working to support a favored nation.
At the end of his 32 page handwritten speech, President Washington kindly asks the people to look at him with compassion and forgive any errors he may have committed during his service to the country, promising that any such actions were unintentional. He reiterates his desire to join the people as a fellow private citizen, after having dedicated 45 years to his country.
I wanted to include a portion here that I’d previously written for my December Wrap Up when I read this address and first got the idea for these types of posts.
I laughed at reading the line “In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgement of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me.” Which was a lovely way of saying “I’m totally retired, I know you love me, leave me alone.”
This document was as inspiring and uplifting as it was when I read it in December, and I’m sure as it would have been had I given it the attention it deserved when I previously read it. So many of President Washington’s points still sound familiar today, whether we agree with them or not the are somehow all still relevant. US involvement in events outside of our borders, friction between political parties, the divisions among the American people, and so on.
It seems silly but almost unavoidable that we’d be faced with the same problems today that our first President did in 1796. Yet here we are with the same arguments and discussions. The document certainly shows it’s age when it presents it’s argument in a modern day context; no longer could we use an excuse of geographical distance to stay out of foreign affairs, nor can we afford to try as the world gets smaller and smaller with each passing day.
The answers to the best way forward can’t be found in just one document, it would seem ignorant to try to claim otherwise, but I think it’s a good start.
And that’s my review of President Washington’s Farewell Address! If you’re interested, the first of my historical documents, now titled “Reviewing History”, series that I’ve started was not actually that historical, I presented my thoughts on President Obama’s Farewell Address as he left office after 8 great years. My goal is to read at least one document each month and review it as part of my series, at least through 2017. There’s so many documents that I may chose to extend so we shall see. Leave me any suggestions if you’d wish.
For referenced I used a book I picked up at an antique store, Documents of American History, Second Edition edited by Henry Steele Commager, and the transcript I found online at www.ourdocuments.gov.
Let me know what your thoughts are on this document, I’d love to know!
Thanks for reading!