Updated: Oct 1
George Washington put in twenty years of public service to the newly formed United States before walking out of the capital and returning to Mount Vernon. In that time he led our country through a successful revolt against the British, endured the precarious years of being united under our Articles of Confederation, and went on to serve two terms as the first president.
His preference was to only have served one term, but two newly formed American parties were so at odds with each other, that the heads of both parties believed he might be the only man who could lead the country forward for another four years.
When some asked him to run a third term, he gracefully declined, leaving those he had served to lead the republic without him.
But he left those he had served with some final words, It was both counsel and warning, in a letter printed in the American Daily Advertiser newspaper on September 19, 1796.
That’s 81,928 days before the sun rose today.
In this farewell address, George Washington warned of much of what we are experiencing now in his and our United States.
To his friends and fellow citizens he said:
--Our Constitution is a sacred obligation to all of us.
--The fundamental principal of democratic government requires a duty from every individual to obey the established government
“The Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government."
He believed party politics held danger for the republic and explicitly warned of the threat it may some day pose, calling them the “baneful effects” of the spirit of party:
This spirit of party in inseparable from human nature and exists in different forms in all governments
It is the worst enemy of some forms of governments
Alternating domination of one faction over another can cause a spirit of revenge, which is a natural effect of dissension, which in his time, and before, had already caused “frightful despotism.”
Factionalization leads to a more ingrained despotism, which leads to disorder and misery, which ultimately lead to the citizenry choosing an absolute ruler because they only want “security and repose.”
This factional ruler “turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”
It is in the best interests of the American public to discourage and restrain the spirit of party:
"Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
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.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it."
He went on to say:
He and his peers went to great lengths and busted their ass to develop an effective Constitution that could provide “true liberty” for the people. Citizens should have confidence in it.
It is the “sacred obligation” of the citizens to abide by the Constitution until changed by an “authentic act of the WHOLE people”
The right of the people of the government to rule themselves presupposes their obligation to obey the agreed upon laws of the United States. Obstacles and designs contrary to this principle, whether transparent or hidden may have a fatal impact on the republic.
These destructive endeavors may put “in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community”:
"This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government.
But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all.
The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.
All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency.
They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests."
In closing our first president acknowledged to his fellow patriots that:
He had made mistakes, but not intentionally and asked them for forgiveness
Said he was looking forward to retirement, and living in a free country with good laws
Reminded Americans, that together they had created this country, and that he was looking forward to retirement and living within its framework as a common citizen.:
“Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.
Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.”
The question today remains for us, as it did in Washington’s day--will we put party and factions above the collective will and the common good, as some leaders in the capital already seem to have chosen? Will we consign our union to history? Will we let our better angels fly away, and darkness consume enlightenment?
I’m with George--let reason, liberty, good sense, and good hearts reign in America. If there’s anything great about America, I believe that would be it.