George Washington’s Farewell Address is a letter written by the first American President, George Washington, to “The People of the United States of America”. Washington wrote the letter near the end of his second term as President, before his retirement to his home Mount Vernon.
Washington begins his warnings to the American people by trying to convince them that their independence, peace at home and abroad, safety, prosperity, and liberty are all dependent upon the unity between the states. As a result, he warns them that the union of states, created by the Constitution, will come under the most frequent and focused attacks by foreign and domestic enemies of the country.
In regard to foreign alliances, Washington felt it was necessary to support France and to align with them. Washington warns the American people to be suspicious and look down upon anyone who seeks to abandon the Union, to secede a portion of the country from the rest, or seeks to weaken the bonds that hold the constitutional union together.
To promote the strength of the Union, he urges the people to place their identity as Americans above their identities as members of a state, city, or region, and focus their efforts and affection on the country above all other local interests.
Washington further asks the people to look beyond any slight differences between them in religion, manners, habits, and political principles, and place their independence and liberty above all else, wanting everyone to be united.
Washington continues to express his support of the Union by giving some examples of how he believes the country, its regions, and its people are already benefiting from the unity they currently share.
He then looks to the future by sharing his belief that the combined effort, and resources of its people will protect the country from foreign attack, and allow them to avoid wars between neighboring nations that often happen due to rivalries, and competing relations with foreign nations.
He argues that the security provided by the Union will also allow the United States to avoid the creation of an overgrown military establishment, which he sees as one of the greatest threats to liberty, especially the republican liberty that the United States has created.
Washington warns the people that political factions who seek to obstruct the execution of the laws created by the government, or prevent the constitutional branches from enacting the powers provided them by the constitution may claim to be working in the interest of answering popular demands or solving pressing problems, but their true intentions are to take the power from the people and place it in the hands of unjust men.
Washington continues to advance his idea of the dangers of sectionalism and expands his warning to include the dangers of political parties to the government and country as a whole.
His warnings took on added significance with the recent creation of the Democratic-Republican Party by Jefferson, to oppose Hamilton’s Federalist Party, which had been created a year earlier in 1791, which in many ways promoted the interest of certain regions and groups of Americans over others.
While Washington accepts the fact that it is natural for people to organize and operate within groups like political parties, he also argues that every government has recognized political parties as an enemy and has sought to repress them because of their tendency to seek more power than other groups and take revenge on political opponents.
Moreover, Washington makes the case that “the alternate domination” of one party over another and coinciding efforts to exact revenge upon their opponents have led to horrible atrocities, and “is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.”
From Washington’s perspective and judgment, the tendency of political parties toward permanent despotism is because they eventually and “gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.”
Washington goes on and acknowledges the fact that parties are sometimes beneficial in promoting liberty in monarchies…
…but argues that political parties must be restrained in a popularly elected government because of their tendency to distract the government from their duties, create unfounded jealousies among groups and regions, raise false alarms amongst the people, promote riots and insurrection, and provide foreign nations and interests access to the government where they can impose their will upon the country.
Isn’t it a shame we haven’t honored the wishes of our founding father…