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Carl’s Conservative Corner

George Washington’s Farewell to the Nation and Carl’s commentary Episode 1

by | Jun 21, 2023

Source: The Independent Chronicle, September 26, 1796

George Washington
United States – September 17, 1796

To the People of the United States

FRIENDS AND FELLOW-CITIZENS:

1 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 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 apprize 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.

2 I beg you at the same time to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

3 The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty, and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped, that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives, which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement, from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence impelled me to abandon the idea.

4 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.

5 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 towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment 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.

6 In looking forward to the moment, which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude, which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. 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; than, 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.

 

Carl’s Comments on Paragraphs 1-6

Here GW explains that his decision to leave after two terms as president was very difficult, that this farewell communication was based on no motive of future gain (in contrast to today, He didn’t write a book or give paid speeches), but only for the future success of the nation.  He thanks everyone for their support.   GW writes, “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.”

While this writing style is a bit foreign to us today,  the message conveyed is that the constitution should be viewed by all (citizens and government employees alike) as sacred, therefore  great care should be applied to ensure it is maintained, AND that  the governmental entities that it establishes, should exhibit exemplary behavior, undertaken by wise people, with high virtues.  GW considered government service as a great honor (not a job), and as such deserved the best of one’s efforts.  As a side note GW refused a salary, and paid personally for all the executive branch costs, until finally agreeing at Congress’s insistence to accept limited funds for housing and supplies so as to not overly burden future presidents. He retired, nearly out of cash, and returned to a farm that was in great need of care.  A review of current news headlines indicates GW understood how easily the government being directed by people could easily go astray from its roots. It is loudly touted by many (even those in high leadership positions) that the Constitution is outdated and obsolete.  Today’s views hardly reflect the huge effort and sacrifice that was expended in achieving unity and liberty or the high regard given to the Constitution by those who help establish it.

The scandalous behaviors exhibited by many elected officials would be an extreme disappointment to President Washington.

Frequently we hear that the Founding Fathers were atheistic in their beliefs.  Yet in this passage GW states that as long as he lives, he will be praying to Heaven that National Union will be preserved.  This is hardly the public statement made by a person with atheistic beliefs.

 

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