In Brief: America Is Ignoring Washington’s Farewell Address
From individual liberty to parties to debt, the first president’s advice is still sound.
President George Washington was our nation’s first and best president, in large measure because he voluntarily set aside power and returned to humble life on his farm. Before he left office, he gave what political analyst Ben Zeisloft calls “on of the most important political speeches in American history” — his Farewell Address.
Throughout the speech, Washington affirmed the United States’ commitment to individual liberty — a reward that its citizens had earned with blood.
In particular, Washington told his countrymen to preserve the Constitution and hold it as a standard of republicanism to other nations across the globe.
Today? Far too many Americans consider the First Amendment “outdated,” and that “hate speech” ought to be illegal. A majority of Millennials believe “the cultural norms of today” should dictate what’s in the First Amendment.
Washington stressed the importance of avoiding factions, which he saw as deeply disruptive to national unity and the proper functioning of the federal government.
He also rightly predicted that political parties would divide the nation along geographical lines.
America has been divided into two major parties since before Washington died, though the two parties do seem to be further apart than at most points in our history.
Washington also pressed Americans to ensure that the government would not spend beyond its means. He saw the accumulation of national debt as a grave threat to independence. … Specifically, he told the citizens to hold their elected officials accountable in forwarding responsible budgeting. …
The national debt is now $28.7 trillion — the equivalent of $86,000 per citizen and $228,000 per taxpayer. For every $1 in new economic output, there exists $1.25 in federal obligations.
Nevertheless, most Americans in both parties want the good times to keep rolling with more and more and more spending.
Washington also warned the United States about the dangers of involvement in foreign wars.
That was far easier for a nescient republic far removed from the warring powers of Europe, though that doesn’t mean even a super power like the modern U.S. couldn’t learn from Washington’s wisdom. He was a man, after all, who’d endured plenty of war.
Without a doubt, Washington is rolling over in his grave — especially following the Afghanistan conflict and its disastrous conclusion.
To illustrate each of these overarching themes, Zeisloft quotes Washington at length, but if you’d like to read Washington’s Farewell Address, you can do so on our own Historic Documents section here.
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