Masterpiece Monday: Washington’s Farewell Address

1795 - 1823

Image via Wikipedia

Happy Presidents Day fellow Americans! In such a complicated country with a volatile economy and often ineffective government, sometimes it’s nice to get back to basics. It’s easy to feel frustrated with our bickering two-party system that makes false promises every election season, but it’s also important to not lose hope in the United States that we ought to be.

In 1796, George Washington refused a third term with an open letter that was published in almost all newspapers in the country. I feel his Farewell Address was fitting for Masterpiece Monday, because it’s technically literature since it was written and also because I see no better way to celebrate Presidents Day (aka Washington’s birthday) than discussing the words of the “Father of his country.”

Here’s the most insightful excerpts of his Farewell Address, in my opinion:

“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 appellation 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 counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”

Although our current debates of immigration have made this statement more complex, it’s interesting to see that Washington considers both natives and newcomers true Americans. Although Americans are much more different due to our ever diversifying mixing pot, we should be reminded that it’s good to come together and celebrate our unity. Nationalism can be dangerous, but a little patriotism never hurt!

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”

Washington was a strong opponent of political parties. The chaos that ensues from these fundamentalist factions is at times as bad as a cruel dictatorship. I’d like to think our first president would give disapproving glares and a strict talking-to to all our greedy politicians–maybe even a swift backhand would be nice!

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 connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

Here we can debate Washington’s isolationist foreign policy. Trade is inevitable, but how much should we deal with other countries politically? At what point does intervening in international affairs become imperialist? I don’t think self-containment is practical, but perhaps we should reevaluate our priorities with the rest of the world and only take on as much as we can handle.

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.

Ah man, I was with you, Washington, until this point. Although we can argue Washington’s level of religiosity, I believe that morality can indeed be maintained without religion–and should be. As many electoral candidates are advocating biblical agendas, such as defunding Planned Parenthood and banning gay marriage, we must reassert our constitutional obligation to the separation between church and state. I won’t get too political since if you’ve been following me, you already know my stance on the matter, but let’s just agree to disagree, Mr. President.

So how do you honor Presidents Day? Dusting off old history textbooks, registering to vote, or simply enjoying your day off? As for me, I worked a full shift today (which is why this post is so late, sorry!), but my class was canceled for tomorrow. A belated holiday’s better than none, right?

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