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George Washington’s Farewell Address
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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....

At the end of his second term, Washington sent an open letter emphasizing the importance of unity and warning Americans against entanglements with foreign powers. Though he had initially solicited James Madison’s assistance in crafting his remarks, Alexander Hamilton’s second draft is the basis of the final address. Delivered to Congress in writing, Washington’s Farewell Address warns against the dangers of sectionalism, and criticizes “the insidious wiles of foreign influence,” referring to the pro-French sentiments of Jefferson and the Republicans. Washington’s policy during the wars between Great Britain and France in the early 1790s had been one of strict neutrality, and in the closing paragraphs of his Address he argues for continued American isolationism. America heeded his advice against joining a permanent alliance for more than a century and a half.

[GEORGE WASHINGTON]. Newspaper, American Mercury, September 26, 1796. Hartford, CT: Elisha Babcock. 4 pp., 11 ¼ x 17 ⅝ in. Washington’s September 17th Farewell Address is printed in full on pages two to three, signed in type. Partially separated, with loss to interior margin well clear of text. Rubber stamp arrow at the beginning and end of the address. With additional important Washington content.

Inventory #24837       Price: $5,500

Excerpts:

The period for a new election of a Citizen, to administer the Executive Government of the United States being not far distant…it appears to me proper… that I shall now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered.... I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.... Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But 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....

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 and 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…and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance…when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not hazard the giving us provocation, when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humour, or caprice?

’Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it....

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… 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 favourite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labours, and dangers.

Historical Background

Washington rejected pleas by members of the Federalist Party to seek a third term. In this Farewell Address, drafted by Hamilton, and delivered by the President in writing on September 17, 1796, Washington gives parting advice on domestic and international matters of state. He warns against the dangers of sectionalism, and criticizes “the insidious wiles of foreign influence,” no doubt referring to the pro-French sentiments of Jefferson and the Republicans. Washington’s policy during the wars between Great Britain and France in the early 1790s had been one of strict neutrality, and in the closing paragraphs of his address he argues for continued American isolationism. The United States heeded Washington’s advice against joining a permanent alliance for more than a century and a half, and his remarks still serve as an inspiration for those seeking a return to a more isolationist foreign policy.

Full Transcript of Washington’s Farewell Address.

Full Transcript of Alexander Hamilton’s Draft of Washington’s Address.

Additional Content

This newspaper also reprints three of George Washington’s Revolutionary War letters to Congress, from Morristown, N.J., January 22 to February 5, 1777 (p1/c1-p2/c).

“The treasury has been for some time empty, and the army has laboured under the greatest inconvenience for want of money…. If we are not supplied with that necessary article, all matters must be at a stand….”  (GW to Congress, January 22, 1777)

His Jan. 26th report responds to Congresses letter about New York: “From the particular situation of their State in regard to their being totally deprived of commerce, they certainly must stand in need of the assistance of the other States to province them with cloathing and every thing necessary for the equipment of their forces….” (GW to Congress, January 26, 1777)

“I am amazed to hear complaints of the hospital on the east side of the Hudson’s river. Doctor Morgan, with most of his mates, has been constantly there since I left it with the main body of the army. It is in vain however to look back upon past misfortunes, I will not pretend to point out the causes; but I know matters have been strangely conducted in the medical line. I hope your new appointment, when it is made, will make the necessary reform in the hospital, and that I shall not, the next campaign, have my ears, and eyes too, shocked with the complaints and looks of poor creatures perishing for want of proper care, either in the regimental or hospital surgeons.” (GW to Congress, January 26, 1777)

“An oath is the only substitute that can adopted to supply the defect in principle…. Many conscientious people who were well wishers to the cause, had they been bound to the States by an oath, would have suffered any punishment rather than have taken the oath of allegiance to the King, and are now lost to our interest for want of this necessary tie…. The more united the inhabitants appear, the greater difficulty general Howe will have in reconciling them to regal government, and consequently the less hope of conquering them….” (GW to Congress, Feb 5, 1777)

A September 19th report from Boston conveys news from Barbados that Spain had declared war on England (p3/c3).

Yale College’s September 14th commencement exercises are reported, with the names of all graduates, and orations given at the ceremony. Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864), a chemist who later became the first to distill petroleum in the United States, gave a poetical oration on “the comparative effects of the different states of society and climate upon the various nations of the world.” Gold Selleck Silliman spoke on the “nature and progress of the Mahometan imposture.” Other speakers gave a dialog on “the comparative advantages of wedlock and celibacy.” (p3/c3).

American Mercury (1784-1833) was published weekly in Hartford, Connecticut, by Joel Barlow (1754-1812) and Elisha Babcock (1753-1821). Barlow retired in 1785, and Babcock continued alone until his son Charles Babcock joined in partnership in 1813. Jeffersonian in outlook, The Mercury became Connecticut’s leading Democratic paper. With a reputation for being outspoken, it was for many years the state’s leading reform newspaper.


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