George Washington’s Farewell Address
This book is one in a series by the Teaching & Learning Company which examines famous documents in United States history. As George Washington was ending his two administrations as President, the U.S. was about to test the strength of its Constitution in yet another way. Was this new form of democratic government strong enough to provide a peaceful transfer of power from one President to another? Yes, it was, but its success was in no small measure due to Washington’s character. He had given up his command of the army after the Revolutionary War when he could have made himself a military dictator. He had refused to become king of the United States, and he gave up his power as the first President in order to see the Constitution and his fledgling nation succeed. Washington’s strength of character provided the precedent for each President to give up power at the end of his administration and so far our country has maintained a strong democracy by following his example.
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Washington’s experience as a leader had given him a broad perspective on the problems the United States might confront after he resigned. He saw the rise of the two political parties and warned against such political division. Although Washington had tried to remain impartial, his cabinet and his two administrations were filled with wrangling between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, which he continually had to mediate. He saw the rise of sectionalist antagonisms between the North and the South, evidence of which is even embedded in the Constitution. He warned against this division, but not heeding his warning led to the Civil War, one of the most tragic eras in U.S. history. He had already experienced problems brought about by the U.S. alliance with France. The French alliance had been of great help during the Revolutionary War; but Washington was plagued by complications from that alliance during his terms as President, so he warned against becoming involved in such long-term commitments. Washington’s vision was clear, and had the United States been able to heed his warnings, many painful chapters in its history might have been avoided.
George Washington’s Farewell Address & Paraphrase
1) Friends and Fellow-Citizens: The period for a new election of a citizen, to administer the executive government of the United States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived, when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person, who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made…
1 – Paraphrase) Friends and Fellow-Citizens: Soon it will be time to elect a President, and it is already time to nominate presidential candidates. Therefore, it is a good time to tell you that I am not running for President again.
2) I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety; and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.
2 – Paraphrase) Things are going well in foreign affairs and inside the United States, so you don’t need my services any more. Some of you may still want me to be President, but since things are going well, I think you won’t mind my retiring.
3) 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 toward the organization and administration of the Government, the best exertions of which a very fallible judgement 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.
3 – Paraphrase) I explained my thoughts to you when I first became President. I have done my best to do a good job in organizing and running the government. I thought, when I first became President, that I wasn’t very well qualified for the job. Since then, my opinions of myself and other people’s opinions of me have kept me humble. Every day I get older and that warns me that retirement is necessary as well as something that I want to do. If there were any special events which made my services valuable, they are over now. I am no longer needed by the nation, so wisdom and my own wishes tell me it is time to retire.
4) Solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments; which are the result of much reflection, of no considerable observation, and which appear to me all important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel…
4 – Paraphrase) My concern for your welfare will end only when I die. Because I am concerned for the people of the United States, I want to tell you some things which will help you keep your happiness. I feel free to offer this advice to you because I am not running for President and therefore cannot have any reason to lie to you.
5) Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.
5 – Paraphrase) You all love liberty, so there is nothing I need to say to increase that love.
6) 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 tranquility 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 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 to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble those sacred ties which now link together the various parts.
6 – Paraphrase) You also love having only one government over your nation. That love is good. Having one government is the main reason for your independence, your peace at home and with foreign countries, your safety, your wealth and the liberty that you love. However, it is easy to see that people from many different places and with many reasons will try to talk you into dividing the country and having more than one government. Your enemies, both inside the U.S. and in foreign countries, will try to attack the strength you have in one government. It is very important that you understand how necessary one government is to the happiness of the U.S. and its citizens. You should have a hearty, continuous and unchanging love of your government. You should think and talk about that government as the very center of your safety and wealth. Always try to keep the government together. Don’t believe any idea that says you can break up the government or break away from any part of the country.