But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated. George Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796
I don’t remember specifically the first time I sat at the feet of His Excellency, but it was sometime in 1983. I had received a small, quickly made booklet of great American speeches that was handed out to the faculty and students of a small private school with which I was associated. Turning the pages I read speeches like Patrick Henry’s famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech before the Virginia House of Burgess – just one example, then I flipped the page and was introduced to The General for the first time through his First Inaugural Address. I had never been taught about this man in ways that prepared me for what I was reading. Then came his Farewell Address To the People of the United States. I was astounded, and had to read it a second time. Through the years I can’t tell you how many times I have gone back to those golden pages, and come away awed, astounded, angry and frustrated.
As the idea for this series began to formulate I intended to concentrate on one particular subject. Additionally, I needed to re-read the Address to familiarize myself with Mr. Washington’s words. I printed out a fresh clean copy of the address, and sat down with highlighter and blue pen in hand. After I read past the preliminaries, and proceeded into the second page, my highlighter rarely remained capped for long. The initial single article soon became a growing number, and as that grew once again the anger and frustration began to manifest.
If you have never read this powerful, and now timely document, I would recommend you take the time now to read it by clicking here. For the remainder this article, unless otherwise noted, all quotes will be from The Farewell Address.
Mr. Washington clearly states the motive which compelled him to dictate, and publish the address throughout the united States:
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 to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion. (Emphases added)
General Washington, His Excellency, the soon to be former first president of the united States wrote these words, not because he had something to gain, but purely because he had nothing further to gain. He wrote out of a sense of love. He wrote because of “a solicitude for your welfare.” What does that mean? What would Washington have meant by “solicitude”? Noah Webster provides us the closest known definition in his 1828 American Dictionary, “Carefulness; concern; anxiety; uneasiness of mind occasioned by the fear of evil or the desire of good.”1 He was concerned, anxious, or uneasy in his mind because he perceived dangers in the future and desired to limit their impact, by giving his warnings.
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 immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity… (Emphases added)
Palladium? What is that? “Something that affords effectual defense, protection and safety”2 He perceived there would be “many artifices employed” to weaken, or destroy our form of government, and by extension our Liberty. He saw these attacks would be “often covertly and insidiously” carried out. Washington knew we would have to stay constantly on our guard against these assaults, we would have to consult his words frequently to remind us of his unsolicited, impartial warnings.
…watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned… (Emphasis added)
Don’t even give room for a “suspicion” that our government, our union can “be abandoned”. What do we see today on many different fronts? From the cover of Time magazine, to the halls of Congress we hear and read statements expressing how the Constitution is obsolete, outdated and more. Yet, these same individuals and press/media outlets will scream loudly about their rights guaranteed, or protected by this same Constitution. The Congressman who states, “Constitution? We don’t use that anymore,” will just as quickly spout his/her right to seek reelection because the Constitution doesn’t limit their terms.
Our educational system has failed us, and lulled us to sleep, into a state of apathy. Our teachers have, not necessarily purposely, but definitely taught us in a lazy, or lackadaisical manner, keeping us ignorant, unaware and pacified. Do you know that Washington’s Farewell Address used to be required reading for every student in public school? Then someone in a position of power realized how this single document could awaken, invigorate and enliven the American people and cause them to become aware of the subversions taking place in American politics, and government. As a result, the Address was removed from the required reading list and replaced by more modern tomes having no historic voracity, or threat to the the powers which were weakening our minds from “the conviction of this truth…”
Read it, again, and again. And get ready for Part 3 coming this weekend.
1 American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828, retrieved 7/14/2011 from http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,solicitude