Washington's Farewell Address, 1796
Friends and Fellow Citizens: The period for a new election of a
citizen, to administer the executive government of the United
States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived,
when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who
is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me
proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct
expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you
of the resolution I have formed to decline being considered
among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.
. . .
I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well
as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination
incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety; and am
persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services,
that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will
not disapprove my determination to retire.
The impressions, with which I first undertook the arduous trust,
were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this
trust, I will only say, that I have, with good intentions,
contributed toward the organization and administration of the
Government, the best exertions of which a very fallible judgement
was capable. Not unconscious, in the outset, of the inferiority
of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still
more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to
diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of
years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement
is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that
if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services,
they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that
while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political
scene, patriotism does not forbid it.
. . .
Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a 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, of no inconsiderable observation,
and which appear to me all important to the permanency of your
felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more
freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings
of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive
as his counsel.
. . .
Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your
hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or
confirm the attachment.
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 immoveable
attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of
it as the palladium of your political safety and prosperity;
watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety;
discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that
it can in any event be abandoned, 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.
For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest.
Citizens by birth or choice, of a common country, that country
has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of
'American', which belongs to you, in your national capacity,
must always exalt the just pride of patriotism, more than any
appelation derived from local discriminations. With slight
shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners,
habits and political principles. You have in a common cause
fought and triumphed together. The independence and liberty
you possess are the work of joint councils, and joint efforts;
of common dangers, sufferings and successes.
But these considerations, however powerfully they address
themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those
which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every
portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for
carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.
The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South,
protected by the equal laws of a common Government, finds in
the production of the latter, great additional resources of
maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of
manufacturing industry. The South in the same intercourse,
benefitting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture
grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own
channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular
navigation envigorated; and while it contributes, in different
ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national
navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime
strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in
a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the
progressive improvement of interior communications, by land
and water, will more and more find a valuable vent for the
commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at
home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to
its growth and comfort, and what is perhaps of still greater
consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of
indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight,
influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic
side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of
interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West
can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its
own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural
connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.
While then every part of our country thus feels an immediate and
particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail
to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength,
greater resource, proportionably greater security from external
danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign
nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive
from union an exemption from those broils and wars between
themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries,
not tied together by the same government; which their own
rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which
opposite foreign alliances, attachments and intrigues would
stimulate and imbitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the
necessity of those overgrown military establishments which,
under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty and
which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican
liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be
considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love
of the one ought to endear you to the preservation of the other.
. . .
Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large
a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation
in such a case were criminal. It is well worth a fair and full
experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union
affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not
have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be
reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter
may endeavor to weaken its bands.
In contemplating the causes which may disturb our union, it
occurs as a matter of serious concern, that any ground should
have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical
discriminations: Northern and Southern; Atlantic and Western;
whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there
is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the
expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular
districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other
districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the
jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these
misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other
those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.
. . .
To the efficacy and permanency of your union, a Government for
the whole is indispensable. No alliances however strict between
the parts can be an adequate substitute. They must inevitably
experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances
in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth,
you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a
Constitution of Government, better calculated than your former
for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your
common concerns. This Government, the offspring of your 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.
. . .
Toward the preservation of your government and the permanency of
your present happy state, it is requisite not only that you
steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged
authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of
innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts.
One method of assault may be to effect in the forms of the
Constitution alterations which will impair the energy of the
system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown.
In all the changes to which you may be invited remember that time
and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of
governments as of other human institutions; that experience is
the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the
existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes
upon the crdit of mere hypothesis and opinion exposes to
perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and
opinion; and remember especially that for the efficient
management of your common interests in a country so extensive
as ours a government of as much vigor as is consistent with
the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty
itself will find in such a government, with powers properly
distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed,
little else than a name where the government is too feeble
to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each
member of the society within the limits prescribed by the
laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil
enjoyment of the rights of person and property.
I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the
State, with particular reference to the founding of them on
geographical discriminations. 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.
. . .
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble
the public administration. It agitates the community with
illfounded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity
of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and
insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and
corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government
itself through the channels of party passion. Thus the policy
and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and
will of another.
There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful
checks upon the administration of government, and serve to keep
alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is
probably true; and in governments of a monarchial cast
patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon
the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in
governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged.
From their natural tendency it is certain there will always be
enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose; and there
being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force
of public opinion to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be
quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting
into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a
free country should inspire caution in those intrusted with
its administration to confine themselves within their
respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise
of the powers of one department to encroach upon another.
The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers
of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever
the form of government, a real despotism.
. . .
If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification
of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it
be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution
designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though
this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the
customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The
precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any
partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political
prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.
In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who
should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness
- these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The
mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect
and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their
connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply
be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation,
for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the
oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of
justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that
morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be
conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of
peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to
expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion
of religious principle.
It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary
spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more
or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a
sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to
shake the foundation of the fabric? Promote, then, as an object
of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of
knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives
force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion
should be enlightened.
As a very important source of strength and security, cherish
public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as
sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by
cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely
disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent
much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise
the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of
expense, but by exertions in time of peace to discharge the
debts which unavoidable wars have occasioned, not ungenerously
throwing upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves
ought to bear.
. . .
Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate
peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this
conduct. And can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin
it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant
period a great nation to give to mankind the magnanimous and too
novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and
benevolence. Who can doubt that in the course of time and things
the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary
advantage which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can
it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity
of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is
recommended by every sentiment which enobles human nature.
Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?
In the execution of such a plan nothing is more essential than
that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular
nations and passionate attachments for others should be
excluded, and that in place of them just and amicable feelings
toward all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges
toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is
in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to
its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray
from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against
another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury,
to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and
intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur.
So, likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another
produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation,
facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in
cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into
one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a
participation in the quarrles and wars of the latter without
adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to
concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to
others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the
concessions by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have
been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a
disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal
privileges are withheld; and it gives to ambitious,
corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the
favorite nation) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests
of their own country without odium, sometimes even with
popularity, gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense
of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion,
or a laudable zeal for public good the base or foolish
compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
. . .
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you
to believe me, fellow citizens) the jealousy of a free people
ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove
that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of
republican government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must
be impartial, else it becomes the instrument of the very influence
to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive
partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of
another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one
side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence
on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the
favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its
tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people
to surrender their interests.
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations
is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as
little political connection as possible. So far as we have
already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect
good faith. Here let us stop.
Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a
very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent
controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to
our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to
implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary
vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations
and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
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 we may take
such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any
time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when beligerent
nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon
us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we
may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice,
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, humor, or caprice?
It is 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; for let me not be understood as capable of
patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim
no less applicable to public than to private affairs that honesty
is always the best policy. I repeat, therefore, let those
engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But in my opinion
it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.
Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments
on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to
temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations are recommended
by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial
policy should hold an equal and impartial hand, neither seeking
nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the
natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle
means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing
with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course,
to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the
Government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse,
the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will
permit, but temporary and liable to be from time to time
abandoned or varied as experience and circumstances shall
dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one
nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it
must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may
accept under that character; that by such acceptance it may
place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for
nominal favors, and yet being reproached with ingratitude for
not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect
or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an
illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought
. . .
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 toward 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
Prepared by Gerald Murphy (The Cleveland Free-Net - aa300)
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