When his second term as the first President of the United States ended on March 4th, 1797, George Washington had just turned 65 years old. Born in 1732 in Virginia, he would die two and a half years after leaving office. He was 6’2”, and led the US to victory in the War for Independence.
And now he’s probably pretty disappointed in what the hell has happened to us as a country.
Sure, we have electric cars and satellites in space that can watch you everywhere you go and a thing called “rolled ice cream”. We have organic tomatoes and beef that they grow in labs and Churro-flavored breakfast cereal. We have Ted Lasso. But we have almost none of the cool stuff George Washington wanted for us when he left office.
George’s Wishes for a Good America
In 1796, Washington published a Farewell Address to be run in newspapers explaining his reasoning for not running for a third (or more) term for president. He was basically being offered the opportunity to reign for life and opted not to. He was tired, he wanted to retire. In the Farewell Address, he implored our fledgling nation to treat itself well. We have a done a mixed job at best. Here are some of the key takeaways from the address.
Respect, defend, and love the Government. He reiterated this one a bunch of times. To Washington, there was no separating having a strong Union government and having Liberty. Having a bunch of smaller governments was only going to muddy the waters and create tension between the disparate parts of the nation. We need a Union Government. It was every citizen’s duty to jealousy guard the Government and be immensely distrustful of anyone trash-talking it.
First, defend it!
“Towards the preservation of your Government… it is requisite… that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority…”
And keep it strong!
“… a Government of as much vigour as is consistent with the perfect security of Liberty is indispensable.”
Don’t play favorites with other countries. There’s a fairly long section about how we need to keep other nations at arm’s length. We shouldn’t favor any Nation over the other, and we shouldn’t hate any Nation over the other. Our entire relationship posture with foreign powers should be slight distrust and free-market trade to protect our merchants.
“Observe good faith and justice toward all Nations.”
Okay, well, that’s hit or miss.
“The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave.”
What’s that Ted Lasso line about letting your emotions control you? That’s what he’s saying picking favorites will do to us — cloud our judgement. Okay!
Avoid political parties like the plague. This is the one that prompted me to write this piece. We have become so distractingly partisan that we can’t get anything done. One seat in the Senate can decide the path of the Nation. It’s an abysmal state. Our relationships with our own kin are drawn along party lines. I have unfriended people who I share blood with on Facebook over their political views.
Early in the piece he talks about how Parties can spring up along geographical boundaries in the country. Like the West, the South, etc.
“Let me now warn you… in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party…”
He’s about to go off. George is heated.
“…in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.”
This is about passions that spring up out of Party affiliation.
Boiled down to its heart, his argument against Parties is that they each in their own way strive towards despotism. People will seek in their own Party some ruler who can defend the party against all, and can press their Party on everyone else, and in that ruler create a despot.
I mean, we’re about 90% of the way there. Look at how close we have come to the polar opposite of George Washington’s American Ideal. A man who eagerly and energetically gave up the most powerful position in the New World to return to civilian life has ultimately been succeeded by a an alarming series of self-serving party demagogues.
But, hey, at least we put a robot on Mars.