George Washington’s Farewell Address
Washington’s Farewell Address 1796 Major Points:
Washington’s main point to this address comes in the first two paragraphs, when he notes he will not seek reelection and why he has made that choice. He asserts he cares about the country and the government, but he really hopes to retire and lead a quiet life, and he feels he is past the age of great usefulness, (the “weight of years” he refers to), and the country would be better served by another, younger leader. He also thanks the country and the people for the many honors they have given him, and that he will remember them the rest of his life.
He also is adamant that the Constitution should be “sacredly maintained” and that the government should always be “stamped with wisdom and virtue.” He also hopes the success of the nation will inspire other nations to attempt their own democratic governments. He also has several observations about the country and the people, and especially their “love of liberty,” that he begins to share as the speech continues.
He stresses the importance of national unity in the face of opposition and criticism, and that the country must always remain unified to remain strong. He urges people to remember their pride in their patriotism, and the common cause that came together in the birth of a new nation. He urges people to remember their commonalities, rather than their differences, as well. He also maintains the difference between the North and South is industry in the North and agriculture in the South, something that will prove prophetic in the results of the Civil War. He also notes improvements in communication and production, and acknowledges as the country grows it must remain united and avoid infighting and backbiting. He also stresses the country must remain free from foreign alliances and dependence. He also believes that the agencies of the federal government will learn to organize and divide themselves effectively, and that the government is still learning what it needs to grow and thrive, but it will manage to attain these goals and govern effectively, and the country must maintain one sole government, rather than dividing it. He consistently mentions how important it is to throw off geographical boundaries and beliefs, and unite in a common goal of freedom and liberty.
He also notes that the Constitution is meant to be amended, but it must be treated with respect, rather than used as an instrument of power or greed. He warns against “alterations which will impair the energy of the system,” and urges the people to give time to the government to work out kinks and discover problems, and that liberty will always be alive in this type of government. He also warns against “parties in the State,” and calls them the worst enemy of democratic governments, because they represent the “domination of one faction over another,” because it can create a variety of ills that can overthrow the government. He also urges a distinct division between departments, to ensure one does not gain power over another, overseen by a system of checks and balances to ensure division. He also strongly believes religion and morality are important aspects of society and government, and that education is equally important. He also rails against public debt and notes wars can be extremely costly, so promoting peace is cost effective and good sense.
He urges good relationships with all nations, without giving favoritism or animosity to any one nation, and to guard against foreign influence in the government. He urges moderation in all foreign relations, especially in Europe, except in “extraordinary emergencies.” He notes he took a neutral position in the 1793 French Revolution, and feels it was the best course for the country. He also hopes his actions will be remembered with kindness, and that he loves the country, and wants to enjoy his retirement secure in the knowledge the government is free and filled with “good laws.”
Washington, George. “Farewell Address: 1796.” The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. 1996.