The Foundations Of Our Nation

WASHINGTON'S FAREWELL ADDRESS, 1796:


Friends and Fellow Citizens: The period for a new election of a 
citizen, to administer the executive government of the United 
States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived, 
when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who 
is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me 
proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct 
expression of the public voice, that 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.

. . . 

I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well 
as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination 
incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety; and am 
persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, 
that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will 
not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions, with which I first undertook the arduous trust, 
were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this 
trust, I will only say, that I have, with good intentions, 
contributed toward the organization and administration of the 
Government, the best exertions of which a very fallible judgement 
was capable. Not unconscious, in the outset, of the inferiority 
of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still 
more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to 
diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of 
years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement 
is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that 
if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, 
they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that 
while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political 
scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

. . .

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your 
welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension 
of danger, natural to that solicitude urge me on an occasion 
like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to 
recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments; which are 
the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, 
and which appear to me all important to the permanency of your 
felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more 
freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings 
of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive 
as his counsel.

. . .

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your 
hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or 
confirm the attachment.

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; as this is the point in 
your political fortress against which the batteries of internal 
and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though 
often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite 
moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of 
your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; 
that you should cherish a cordial, habitual and immoveable 
attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of 
it as the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; 
watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; 
discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that 
it can in any event be abandoned, and indignantly frowning 
upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion 
of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties 
which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. 
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 
appelation derived from local discriminations. With slight 
shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, 
habits and political principles. You have in a common cause 
fought and triumphed together. The independence and liberty 
you possess are the work of joint councils, and joint efforts; 
of common dangers, sufferings and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address 
themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those 
which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every 
portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for 
carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, 
protected by the equal laws of a common Government, finds in 
the production of the latter, great additional resources of 
maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of 
manufacturing industry. The South in the same intercourse, 
benefitting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture 
grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own 
channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular 
navigation envigorated; and while it contributes, in different 
ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national 
navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime 
strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in 
a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the 
progressive improvement of interior communications, by land 
and water, will more and more find a valuable vent for the 
commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at 
home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to 
its growth and comfort, and what is perhaps of still greater 
consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of 
indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, 
influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic 
side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of 
interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West 
can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its 
own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural 
connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

While then every part of our country thus feels an immediate and 
particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail 
to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, 
greater resource, proportionably greater security from external 
danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign 
nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive 
from union an exemption from those broils and wars between 
themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries, 
not tied together by the same government; which their own 
rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which 
opposite foreign alliances, attachments and intrigues would 
stimulate and imbitter. Hence, likewise, they will 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 sense it is that your union ought to be 
considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love 
of the one ought to endear you to the preservation of the other.

. . . 

Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large 
a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation 
in such a case were criminal. It is well worth a fair and full 
experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union 
affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not 
have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be 
reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter 
may endeavor to weaken its bands.

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our union, it 
occurs as a 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.

. . . 

To the efficacy and permanency of your union, a Government for 
the whole is indispensable. No alliances however strict between 
the parts can be an adequate substitute. They must inevitably 
experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances 
in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, 
you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a 
Constitution of Government, better calculated than your former 
for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your 
common concerns. This Government, the offspring of your own choice 
uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and 
mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the 
distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and 
containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has 
a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for 
its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its 
measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of 
true liberty. 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 till 
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.

. . .

Toward the preservation of your government and the permanency of 
your present happy state, it is requisite not only that you 
steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged 
authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of 
innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. 
One method of assault may be to effect in the forms of the 
Constitution alterations which will impair the energy of the 
system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. 
In all the changes to which you may be invited remember that time 
and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of 
governments as of other human institutions; that experience is 
the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the 
existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes 
upon the crdit of mere hypothesis and opinion exposes to 
perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and 
opinion; and remember especially that for the efficient 
management of your common interests in a country so extensive 
as ours a government of as much vigor as is consistent with 
the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty 
itself will find in such a government, with powers properly 
distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, 
little else than a name where the government is too feeble 
to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each 
member of the society within the limits prescribed by the 
laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil 
enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the 
State, with particular reference to the founding of them on 
geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more 
comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner 
against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, 
having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. 
It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or 
less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the 
popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly 
their worst enemy.

. . .

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble 
the public administration. It agitates the community with 
illfounded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity 
of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and 
insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and 
corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government 
itself through the channels of party passion. Thus the policy 
and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and 
will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful 
checks upon the administration of government, and serve to keep 
alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is 
probably true; and in governments of a monarchial cast 
patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon 
the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in 
governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. 
From their natural tendency it is certain there will always be 
enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose; and there 
being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force 
of public opinion to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be 
quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting 
into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a 
free country should inspire caution in those intrusted with 
its administration to confine themselves within their 
respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise 
of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. 
The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers 
of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever 
the form of government, a real despotism.

. . .

If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification 
of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it 
be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution 
designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though 
this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the 
customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The 
precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any 
partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political 
prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. 
In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who 
should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness 
- these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The 
mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect 
and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their 
connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply 
be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, 
for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the 
oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of 
justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that 
morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be 
conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of 
peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to 
expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion 
of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary 
spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more 
or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a 
sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to 
shake the foundation of the fabric? Promote, then, as an object 
of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of 
knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives 
force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion 
should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish 
public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as 
sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by 
cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely 
disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent 
much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise 
the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of 
expense, but by exertions in time of peace to discharge the 
debts which unavoidable wars have occasioned, not ungenerously 
throwing upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves 
ought to bear.

. . .

Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate 
peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this 
conduct. And can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin 
it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant 
period a great nation to give to mankind the magnanimous and too 
novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and 
benevolence. Who can doubt that in the course of time and things 
the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary 
advantage which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can 
it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity 
of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is 
recommended by every sentiment which enobles human nature. 
Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan nothing is more essential than 
that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular 
nations and passionate attachments for others should be 
excluded, and that in place of them just and amicable feelings 
toward all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges 
toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is 
in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to 
its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray 
from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against 
another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, 
to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and 
intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur.

So, likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another 
produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, 
facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in 
cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into 
one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a 
participation in the quarrles and wars of the latter without 
adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to 
concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to 
others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the 
concessions by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have 
been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a 
disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal 
privileges are withheld; and it gives to ambitious, 
corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the 
favorite nation) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests 
of their own country without odium, sometimes even with 
popularity, gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense 
of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, 
or a laudable zeal for public good the base or foolish 
compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

. . .

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you 
to believe me, fellow citizens) the jealousy of a free people 
ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove 
that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of 
republican government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must 
be impartial, else it becomes the instrument of the very influence 
to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive 
partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of 
another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one 
side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence 
on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the 
favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its 
tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people 
to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations 
is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as 
little political connection as possible. So far as we have 
already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect 
good faith. Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a 
very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent 
controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to 
our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to 
implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary 
vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations 
and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to 
pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an 
efficient government, the period is not far off when we may 
defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take 
such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any 
time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when beligerent 
nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon 
us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we 
may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, 
shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit 
our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our 
destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and 
prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, 
interest, humor, or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with 
any portion of the foreign world, so far, I mean, as we are now 
at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of 
patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim 
no less applicable to public than to private affairs that honesty 
is always the best policy. I repeat, therefore, let those 
engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But in my opinion 
it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments 
on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to 
temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations are recommended 
by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial 
policy should hold an equal and impartial hand, neither seeking 
nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the 
natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle 
means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing 
with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, 
to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the 
Government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse, 
the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will 
permit, but temporary and liable to be from time to time 
abandoned or varied as experience and circumstances shall 
dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one 
nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it 
must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may 
accept under that character; that by such acceptance it may 
place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for 
nominal favors, and yet being reproached with ingratitude for 
not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect 
or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an 
illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought 
to discard.

. . .

Though in reviewing the incidents of my Administration I am 
unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too 
sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have 
committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently 
beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which 
they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my 
country will never cease to view them with indulgence, and 
that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service 
with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will 
be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the 
mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and 
actuated by that fervent love toward it which is so natural 
to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his 
progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing 
expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize 
without alloy the sweet enjoyment of partaking in the midst 
of my fellow-citizens the benign influence of good laws under 
a free government - the ever-favorite object of my heart, and 
the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors 
and dangers.

Geo. Washington.







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