Posted by Joe Wolverton, II
As he prepared to leave office, President George Washington was concerned about the partisan and martial path the young republic he helped found was heading down.
Even the “Father of His Country” was not above criticism and vitriolic attacks in the press. Although the recently retired general whom the Indians believed could not be killed loathed the shots taken at him by “infamous newspapers,” he refused to make any response that would deny his countrymen of “the infinite blessings resulting from a free press.”
This noble attitude contrasts sharply with his contemporary and successor John Adams who signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law in an attempt to criminalize criticism of the president, as well as the vigorous defense currently being mounted by our current president of his authority under the National Defense Authorization Act to indefinitely detain persons he suspects of posing a threat to the security of the homeland.
In this and in myriad other ways, Washington was in fact “the indispensable man” and an example to politicians in his own time and ours.
When the time came for Washington to return to his beloved Mount Vernon and deliver one last message to his “friends and fellow citizens,” he relied on his former collaborator and Virginian James Madison to help him draft his Farewell Address.
September 19, 2012 marked the 216th anniversary of Washington’s Farewell Address. Deservedly so, this speech has become renowned for its prose and principles — including national unity, tolerance of political differences, and neutrality in the endless foreign conflicts.
To ensure that his remarks would strike the appropriate tone, Washington informed Madison that the speech should declare “in plain and modest terms … that we are all children of the same country…. That our interest, however diversified in local and small matters, is the same in all the great and essential concerns of the nation.”
Although he penned a version of the address in his own words, he ultimately approved and delivered the words written by Madison.
After rehearsing his own record of political and military service and expressing his “love of liberty,” Washington urges the states to remain united and to “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 case and in so many others, the United States has failed to follow President Washington’s wise recommendations.