Monday, September 19, 2011

George's Farewell Message

I didn't realize it until I read my Writer's Almanac e-mail this morning, but today is the anniversary of the date in 1796 that President George Washington's farewell address was published in The Daily American Advertiser as an open letter to the people of the United States. It has been many years since I read this masterpiece, but in reading it again I understand what an exceptional and - in the words of biographer James Thomas Flexner - indispensable man Washington was. You can read the full text of the address here, but here are a few excerpts (naturally, accompanied by my comments) that prove how foresighted Mr Washington was, and how much we could use a man of his stature and common sense today:

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. (Think about that before you call yourself an African-American, an Italian-American, or any other hyphenated variation. We're Americans, and we're all in this together.)

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... (Mr Washington was concerned, more than 200 years ago, about the poisonous effects of political and sectional partisanship. Today's Republicans and Democrats would do well to remember it.)

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as 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. (Mr Washington was concerned about the effect of regional factionalism, but also of the "misrepresentations" that unscrupulous politicians use to undermine the unity of the nation. Are you ass clowns on Capitol Hill listening?)

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, until 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. (Are all you dumbass militia nuts out there listening?)

And finally,

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 ... the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. (Think about this as you decide which set of political ass clowns - Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal, you choose to endorse in the upcoming elections.)

I think George Washington would be very disappointed in the current crop of despicable political charlatans we have chosen to run our nation. I hope that we will be able to return to his vision of unity and amity for the good of the nation before it's too late.

But I'm not holding my breath, and neither should you.

Have a good day. Read Mr Washington's Farewell Address and think about it.

More thoughts tomorrow.



Big Sky Heidi said...

George Washington also cautioned his countrymen to avoid foreign entanglements; good advice, considering what was happening in Europe.

Mike said...

I ttook Rome 500 years to fall. We're only half way there. Right?