Prof. Jesse Chupp
July 23, 2012
The Farewell Address is a speech given by George Washington in 1796 to the people of the United States. This speech was delivered close to the end of Washington’s second term in the Presidential office. The Farewell Address will, ultimately, be a key element of Washington’s legacy as it was one of the most memorable speeches in American history. In this speech, Washington hope was to lay the foundation for the United States political future. He expressed his wisdom and knowledge in running a country, despite his wild inexperience. Washington’s speech was both humbling and inspirational. The Farewell Address expressed three main points in an attempt to give advice to future leaders to follow in his footstep. First, he wanted to express his desire to NOT seek re-election for a third term. Second, was addressing his opinions on foreign policy. Third was advising the nation to avoid creating parties within the country. Throughout the speech, Washington offers his reasons behind these notions that will ultimately lead to a successful political landscape for our nation. Near the close of his second term, Washington decides to not take office for a third term. He states “I should now apprise 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.”** He realizes that this nation will have to choose a new leader, and does not believe they will have any difficulty in that. In his own humility, he realizes and divulges his own inexperience and hopes that future leaders will draw on his experiences in office to make wise decisions for the country moving forward. “Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications.”** Washington realized even at the end of his first term that he did not want to be elected again, but due to the instability of the new nation, he decided to stay for one more term. Upon his departure from office, he came to the realization that he no longer felt he was the person for the job. He felt the heavy burden of the Presidency and political life was beginning to take its toll on him. He felt the nation was ready for a new leader to continue to forge the path he had started. Washington had forever left his stamp on this new nation and was ready to move on. He was very thankful, grateful, an appreciative to the people who had given him the opportunity to be in this position. He was also thankful for the support he had received as he attempted to make sound decisions for the country. He urged the people of the United States to honor and defend their rights given in the Constitution. In doing so, the country would prosper as a sturdy and stable government. This will attract the interest of other countries and United States would eventually become a benchmark for other countries to strive for. Although grateful for the leadership opportunities and support, he urged, in his speech, for the country to build on the foundation he laid in regard to foreign policy. Washington believed there was only one true course of action the nation could take with regard to foreign policy. Washington asked people to “observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.” He felt that if America, for example, showed favoritism toward any one certain country, other countries could perceive that as an ally and feel threatened, thus enhancing the chances for wars and disputes without just cause. He notes that this could trigger jealousy in other nations that are not favored. Washington urged that any existing alliances should be honored, but it was wise to steer away from any permanent alliances with any particular foreign nation. Washington has seen, due to his own experiences as a military leader, the true horrors of war, mainly the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. Later, as President, he even further understood the difficulties of getting tangled up in foreign affairs, hence the French Revolution. Because of this, he pushed for the country to stay neutral. These words of advice were very carefully adhered to. This notion was even tied into the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 warning other nations not to interfere with American territory. Washington’s general political philosophy had been followed, for the most part, for the next 140 years unless America was being pushed or provoked into voluntarily entering into a war. In the Farewell Address, Washington spoke to the people about avoiding foreign affairs as it would lend to the country’s vulnerability. In Washington’s Farewell Address, he also states his strong opinions on the formation of political parties. He believes that forming separate parties would be detrimental and would ultimately lead to a separation in the nation in the long run. Washington states “one of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts.”** Washington was trying to forewarn the people of the United States that if political parties are formed, it will do no good and only lead to a permanent separation within our nation. His thoughts were that if a government is going to lead the people successfully, it should stay as a whole to keep the best interests of the people in mind. If political parties are formed, the separation in ideals and mentality will ultimately break down the trust and unity of the people of the United States. In closing, Washington’s memorable Farewell Address was a major milestone in American history. As our nation’s first President, George Washington felt it was imperative to impart his knowledge and wisdom derived from his own experience on the future leaders of this country. It was obvious he was grateful and humbled, to be given the opportunity to serve as President. He had given 8 years as a leader of this country and felt it was time to retire. He felt it only deeming and respectful to address the people of the United States formally to inform them of his decision to step down as President. George Washington’s Farewell Address was a guide, framework, and path for future leaders to establish and run a successful political government moving forward. He had hopes that future leaders would head to his advice Page 2
regarding foreign affairs and political parties. Washington was a great military leader which led to the iconic impact he had on the nation during his Presidency. Although the nation has since moved away from the political philosophy Washington founded, his innovative changes profoundly affected the American identity, society, and culture in the last half of the twentieth century.
**McClellan, James. Liberty, Order and Justice: An introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government. Third Edition. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2000. “Farewell Address”, Pgs 533-548. Page 3