Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Greatest Farewell Address Ever!

Well I must say that I am inspired this morning having just recapped the best farewell address ever delivered by an American President.  I logged onto the Library of Congress website last night and read through George Washington's farewell address to the nation in 1796.  Washington never actually gave the address--as there was obviously no mass media or social media at the time--and addressing large crowds was difficult without amplification of the voice.  Instead, it was published in a Philadelphia newspaper--and then spread to papers across the new country over the next few months.

In the address, Washington touched on subjects that still--221-years later--resonate with the country today.  Famously, Washington encouraged Americans to steer clear of political parties.  He saw that as the source of democracy's downfall--as partisanship would either tear the country apart (as it had in Britain a century before--and as it would in the US 70-years later) or that it would grind Government to a halt with gridlock and in-fighting.  Of course, Washington's warning would be completely ignored in the very next election--as John Adams aligned himself with the Federalist Party and Thomas Jefferson ran as a Democratic-Republican.

In his farewell address, Washington also warned against sectionalism--asking Americans not to see themselves as "New Englanders" or "Southerners", but as Americans striving for a common goal.  Again, this suggestion was ignored as two different countries quickly formed--with the industrial North and the agrarian South headed on an almost inevitable course to civil war over the issue of slavery.

Washington also famously encouraged the US to avoid allying itself with world powers.  Washington had fought on behalf of the British versus the French in the colonies before the Revolution--and he knew that Europe only held more strife, suffering and war in its future and he didn't want to see American lives lost for those hopeless causes.  At least we managed to adhere to that tenet--until the 1910's and the 1940's.

It should be noted that Washington had plenty of help in developing this farewell address.  James Madison actually wrote a draft copy in 1792 in case Washington decided not to run for a second term as President.  Alexander Hamilton apparently took time away from singing and dancing to original show tunes long enough to fine-tune the copy four years later.  But the words still embody the beliefs and wisdom of the man who showed us the way to become the greatest nation in the history of mankind--even if some people still think it requires a major overhaul.

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