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George Washington's Farewell Address
George Washington's Farewell Address was an address by George Washington to the people of the United States at the end of his second term as President of the United States. It appeared in many American newspapers on September 17, 1796. Technically speaking, it was not an address, but an open letter to the public published in the form of a speech. Washington's fellow Americans gave it the title of "Farewell Address" to recognize it as the President's valedictory to public service for the new Republic.
In 1792, Washington was prepared to retire after one term as the President of the United States. To that end, Washington, with James Madison, wrote a farewell address to the public of the United States of America. Faced with the unanimous objections of his Cabinet, Washington agreed to stand for another term. In 1796, Washington refused a third term, again over the objections of his cabinet. Dusting off his previous address, Washington and Alexander Hamilton rewrote the text to better fit the problems that were emerging into the new political landscape.
There are two themes from the speech which are particularly important. The first describes what Washington sees as rising sectionalism and political factioning in the country. He urges Americans to unite for the good of the whole country. Two political factions that developed into political parties in the early 1790s were the Federalists, and the Democratic-Republicans. The Federalists backed Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's plan for a central bank and other strong central economic plan based on manufacturing while the Democratic-Republicans opposed the strong government inherent in the Hamiltonian plan, and favored farmers as opposed to manufacturers. Washington foresaw that this intense political polarization would be the largest issue in the new government, as these two sides attempted to further craft and guide the nation.
The second theme consists of harsh words warning to avoid entanglements with foreign powers, particularly in Europe. Both of the aformentioned political factions were steady in their policies of staying out of the French and British animosity that was coming to a head, but the Federalists favored stronger ties to English and the Democratic-Republicans favored stronger ties to the French. A large part of this section of the address was derived, at least in part, from Washington's fear that party factionalism would drag the United States into this fray.
The Address quickly became a basic political document for the new nation. It was printed in children's primers, engraved on watches, woven into tapestries and read annually before Congress until the mid-1800s. With the widespread noteriety and usage, the speech became a benchmark of sorts, a philosophy on which to judge the two party political structure and certain foreign affairs. Specifically, the Address was so frequently cited whenever a treaty of national alliance was proposed that it wasn't until 1949 that the United States would again enter into such an agreement.
- Source material for this article and complete text for Washington's farewell address: U.S. State Department
- Burton I. Kaufman, ed., Washington's Farewell Address: The View from the 20th Century (1969)
- Paul A. Varg, Foreign Policies of the Founding Fathers (1963)
- Alexander De Conde, Entangling Alliances (1958).
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