Editor's Note: This is a continuation of a series of Commentaries, the most recent one of which was section 1 of Part Six: links to the previous five Parts of this series can be found under an Editor's Note atop the page accessed via the link herein.
As the various and sundry times for the States to choose their respective Electors re: the 1796 Presidential Election approached as Summer turned to Fall, President George Washington- clearly already deciding against serving yet another four-year term in his High Office- had a problem: for, as noted in Part Five of this particular series of my Commentaries, there was no precedent yet as to how a sitting American Chief Executive should voluntarily leave office by not seeking re-election.
Indeed, his was an altogether unique situation, as George Washington was the first man ever to (at least in Western History) have been elected Head of State of an independent Nation-State, recognized as such within the Law of Nations (what we today would refer to as 'International Law'), where his so serving in his High Office was for a specific term of years!
Yes, there had been- and, indeed, still were- other elected Heads of State: most notably, the Holy Roman Emperor was still being chosen by those princes of German states considered to be 'Electors' (although, by 1796, the Holy Roman Empire was, admittedly, what Voltaire had- earlier in that same century- already said it was: that is, that it was "neither holy, nor Roman nor an empire", well into the preceding [17th] Century, the Holy Roman Empire had still been, in many ways, the very 'linchpin' of the Western World's reach, influence and even control over Central Europe [indeed, recent historians of the West in general and Europe in particular have been finding that dealing with the West's approach to Central Europe during the Modern Era is as important to understanding European/Western History as the more usual approach to such understanding engendered by primarily, where not even merely, studying the growth of European overseas empires via colonization and- where necessary- conquest]). Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Poland- partitioned out of independent existence but a year before 1796- had had an elected King since the late 16th Century (one also chosen by certain nobles cum 'Electors')...
and, without doubt, the most well-known version of such an "elective Monarchy" was- and yet remains- the election of the Pope by the Roman Catholic 'College of Cardinals'.
But Popes and elected Kings and Emperors alike tended to always serve until they either died or were, perhaps, otherwise deposed against their own will-- as we who lived through the recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the subsequent election of Pope Francis have surely learned, the last Pope to resign prior to this year of 2013 was Gregory XII who had done so so back in 1415 in an attempt to heal a serious breach within the Church itself: in any event, in no case herein was there an election of a Head of State (which even the Pope- as the ruler of the then-Papal States, no less than he today is the ruler of the Vatican City-State- himself was, and still is) made with the immediate promise of yet another election to be held, no matter what, at or around "such and such" a date in the nearer future...
only the still-relatively new office of President of the United States presented a sitting Head of State with just such a circumstance back in the 1790s!
Washington also faced a further, and most difficult, question in this particular regard-- as I, again in Part Five of this series, noted:
when- and, more to the point, how- to say, in essence, what a later President, Calvin Coolidge, so tersely declared [in 1928] with the simple phrase "I do not choose to run"... Washington [after all] still lived in an era the political motto of which was "the Office seeks the man, and not the man the Office"...
how best, then, to avoid the Office, perhaps, still seeking the man who already holds it?
The tack President Washington ultimately chose was that of what has become known, to History, as Washington's FAREWELL ADDRESS: one actually addressed to "Friends and Fellow Citizens"... but, in truth, it was not all that new a tack!...
for 1796 was not Washington's first time mulling over whether or not to seek another four-year term in the Presidency, for he had had to do the same four years earlier, as the 1792 Presidential Election had approached.
Washington had accepted a second term as President with no little reluctance and, in fact, had seriously mulled over the possibility of serving but one four-year term. However, he was still quite popular politically in 1792 (the more controversial issues engendered by both his handling of the Whisky Rebellion [recounted in Part Three of this series] and the negotiation of Jay's Treaty [a subject of this series' Part Four] were still in the future, of course) and, regardless of his own personal feelings on the matter, there were very few Americans- whether "cosmopolitan" or "localist"- who truly felt that the United States of America could very well do without having him continue to serve in the Nation's Highest Office.
Nevertheless, as the 1792 Election approached, Washington had Congressman James Madison of his own State of Virginia (not yet the leader of the 'loyal Opposition' in the U.S. House of Representatives, as Madison would soon become) compose at least the outline of a valedictory address in which Washington could both say "goodbye" to the American People and lay out a few principles that he hoped might be his lasting legacy should he, in fact, decline to run for re-election.
As things turned out, Madison's ghost-writing proved altogether unnecessary and Washington was, of course, re-elected President of the United States with the unanimous votes of the Presidential Electors chosen in 1792. Four years later, however, it was time for Washington to pull out that which Madison had once outlined.
To help him with the precise wording of what would become his 'Farewell Address', Washington turned- yet once more- to Alexander Hamilton, the man who had once been a trusted aide to then-General Washington during most of the War for American Independence, a key "player" in the Annapolis Conference of 1786 (of which Washington himself was an enthusiastic supporter) that- in turn- led to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia itself (of which Washington was presiding officer and to which Hamilton was a delegate from New York), President Washington's first Secretary of the Treasury (although Hamilton's not-so-discreet attempt to then turn this office into an American version of Britain's 'Chancellor of the Exchequer' [and, by extension, an American "Prime Minister"] had been most strongly rebuffed by Washington, it led to no personal animosity between the two men and certainly did not give Washington cause to, thereafter, seriously distrust Hamilton [much to the dismay of Washington's first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson]) and Washington's "right hand man" on the American end of John Jay's negotiating that treaty which came to bear Jay's own name.
Hamilton would now take Madison's four-year-old outline and fill it out with Washington's own views about the contemporaneous political scene (views which, themselves, had already moved well beyond those which Madison had already outlined [given that- while Washington's first term as President had been no "picnic", what with everything he did pretty much well setting much precedent for future Presidents- his second term had certainly been most tumultuous!]: most certainly, this President Washington now both knew and saw things at least somewhat differently than the President Washington of but four years before). Indeed, historians have long well discerned Hamilton's hand throughout much, if not most, of this 'Farewell Address'...
but the principles and policies Hamilton so put into written form on behalf of President Washington were, without any doubt whatsoever, Washington's own!
At the same time, however, one still has to read these very words- to this day- in the spirit of that which I wrote in the first section of Part Six of this series (of which this installment you are now reading is its second section), where I recounted how- during George Washington's service as Commanding General of the Continental Army during the American Revolution- there was at least one complaint that "the people of America have been guilty of Idolatry by making [Washington] their god".
I then went on to opine that [w]e, today, must- as we contemplate the actions and words (again, so long as we are also willing to properly apply the concept of Historical Sense) of George Washington the man- well avoid that same "Idolatry" of which the above-quoted long-ago colonial American once complained.
Put another way: we who read these words have to ever remember, in the instant case, that Washington intended his 'Farewell Address' for public consumption and that, while it certainly reflects his own ideas and beliefs as regarded the issues of his day, it was no private rumination on same! As a result, it was- and remains- far more pragmatic than at all idealistic in its overall tone (something that is so often [or so it seems] lost on those who have quoted from it for various and sundry political- as well as other- purposes).
With the foregoing caveat most firmly in mind, let us now consider the more significant portions of Washington's 'Farewell Address' on their own merits.
It starts off with George Washington, in effect, publicly announcing that- with [t]he period for a new election of a citizen to administer the Executive Government of the United States being not far distant- he will decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made. He admits to having almost done so four years earlier but that mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence impelled me to abandon the idea.
Now, however and four years later, 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.
Indeed, as recounted in earlier portions of this series of my Commentaries, President Washington had successfully quelled the Whisky Rebellion and his Administration had successfully negotiated- and, more importantly, gotten ratified by the United States Senate- not only Jay's Treaty (despite the political fallout this treaty had caused in the U.S. House of Representatives but a few months before his 'Farewell Address' was published) but also an important treaty with Spain confirming shared boundaries of the United States of America away from the Atlantic Seaboard (the middle of the Mississippi itself [in 1795, when the treaty was initialed, Spain- not France- controlled that vast territory west of that river known as 'Louisiana'] and a line which is still seen on maps today as the entire northern border of Florida as well as the straight line portions of the southern borders of both Alabama and Mississippi).
Yet there is a certain, perhaps even unsettling, self-satisfaction seen in his statement when one considers that issues with still-revolutionary France (issues to be examined in a 'Part Seven' of this series) yet remained to be settled as Washington's Second Administration was so winding down-- not to also mention the harsh campaign, as it were, then well underway between the "cosmopolitan" Federalists and the "localist" 'Jeffersonian' Republicans as each of what were becoming (assuming these were not already) the two Major Parties in early American Politics and were, thus, "jockeying for position" as regarded both elections to Congress (that is: the U.S. House of Representatives, as elections to the Senate were still in the hands of the legislatures of the several States of the Union) and, most obviously, the Presidency itself.
But no matter: President Washington was not going to serve a third four-year term in any event and- despite his pronouncement to the effect that "the state of concerns, external as well as internal" might not have seemed as dire as they had seemed, to him (and others), to be back in 1792- he decided to, nonetheless, 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.
While it is tempting (as many an historian, over the years and decades, has been so tempted) to- particularly given Alexander Hamilton (already a partisan 'Federalist' very much opposed to Thomas Jefferson and his 'Republicans') having had so large a role in the very drafting of this 'Farewell Address'- see its publication as very much a campaign broadside on behalf of Vice-President John Adams as Washington's successor, we simply have to take Washington at his word here. Indeed, one has to assume that Washington- ever trying, to the end of his Presidency, to remain above faction or party as much as might be practicable (and as difficult as this had been proving to be during his Second Administration- had been altogether careful to make sure that no "bias" of "counsel" crept into what he himself clearly realized was to be a rather important part of his own historical legacy.
Washington goes on- in what becomes the bulk of his 'Farewell Address'- to focus, in particular, on three what we today might well call "Bullet Points":
First, he directly addresses the very issue of Party and faction (for he was surely aware of how those supportive of potential successors to himself [most notably those promoting either John Adams or Thomas Jefferson as President of the United States] were already behaving as his 'Farewell Address' was being drafted).
The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you, Washington declared. 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 immovable 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 very 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 appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits and political impulses. You have in 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.
Aside from the interesting use- by an aging former General- of military metaphor here (what with "batteries of internal and external enemies... directed" against "your political fortress"), there is, herein, something of George Washington's 'whistling past the graveyard' (expressing a most fervent hope that Americans remain united through so forcefully expressing their ever having been united). For the retiring President was certainly well aware that many, if not most, American men (in an age when it was, after all, still men [women need not yet apply-- except in New Jersey and, even there, only under restrictive circumstances and only up until 1807] who counted in Politics) still thought of themselves as primarily 'Virginians' or 'New Yorkers'; 'New Hampshiremen', 'Pennsylvanians' and 'Georgians'; and, most recently (at the time Washington's words were first published), 'Tennesseeans'.
Washington attempts to trump such feelings with an appeal to one's own "interest", in which- or so he believes- every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.
Washington's interest in "interest", as it were, was one of longstanding: for he had long despised the very parochialism he himself had encountered on and near the frontier going back to his days as a youthful surveyor, a soldier in the French and Indian War and a young adult land speculator who made many a trip into the wilderness in order to (often unsuccessfully) collect rents from residents on (and, where necessary, chase squatters off of) the many vast tracts of land he himself had purchased in the Ohio Valley and- later, after the Revolutionary War- even western New York State. While he admired the tenacious work ethic (one necessary to their very survival in such hostile surroundings) in those he encountered out in the hinterland, he found that it was all too easy for these to only support a dangerous "localism" that was antithetical to his own "cosmopolitan" leanings, even before the serious breach with the British Empire that ended up creating the very Nation-State he himself now led (Washington well knew, for example, the story of the so-called "Regulators" in western North Carolina [which, at the time, included Tennessee] a few years before the first shots of the American Revolution had even been fired).
He was convinced, however, that- if one could, somehow, well tie the interest(s) of those on the frontier to those living closer to the seacoast- such "localism" would, soon enough, simply disappear (his attack on "pains... taken" and "artifices... employed" [and "often covertly and insidiously"] to so "weaken... minds" against American Union is clearly directed against such "localist" sentiments [and, in turn, made it all too easy for many a Jeffersonian 'Republican' of 1796 to see Washington's admonitions herein as not at all the unbiased counsel he himself professed]). Indeed, he had commanded many a frontiersman in the course of his service as Commanding General of the Continental Army (not to also mention his having come to know of enough frontiersmen- clearly predisposed to "anti-federalism"- nonetheless having supported Ratification of the Federal Constitution) to have discerned more than enough evidence of the truth of his own convictions as regards Common Cause, in the end, overcoming- even defeating- the most base Self-Interest.
He now relies on just such convictions to drive home his point:
The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the same 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 invigorated; 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 and 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 might of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation...
While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined can not fail to find in the united mass of means and effort 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 governments, which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce. but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments and intrigues would stimulate and imbitter... In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.
Yet, Washington goes on to worry- as, indeed, 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 is to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You can not shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings 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... Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and 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.
All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction; to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put in place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community, and, according to the alternate triumph of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans, digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.
However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
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...
To this point, George Washington has- evidently- seen party and faction alike as having been, primarily, the by-product of what we today would call Sectional Differences-- and with good reason! As I have already pointed out (not only within this series of my Commentaries, but elsewhere among my own writings for this website), back in the early 1970's, historian Jackson Turner Main's Political Parties before the Constitution examine the "cosmopolitan" (what Washington called 'Atlantic' or 'the East' above) and "localist" (Washington's 'Western') divide already emerging within the nascent State governments during and immediately following the War for American Independence while Main's fellow- as well as contemporaneous- historian H. James Henderson, in his Party Politics in the Continental Congress, noted similar differences between North and South overwritten on Main's "cosmopolitan"/"localist" political breakdown (one can even also discern, when perusing Main's and Henderson's respective works in combination, the very foreshadowings of that offered by mid-20th Century historian James McGregor Burns in his own The Deadlock of Democracy: Four-Party Politics in America [in which Burns postulated a 'Congressional' "Party" within each of the two Major American Parties- Democratic and Republican- and a 'Presidential' "Party" within same, hence the title of his book] or the more recent depiction of American Politics through- on a diagram- a 'Libertarian' vs. 'Populist' "axis" perpendicular to what would, otherwise, merely be a "straight line" with 'Liberal' towards the left and 'Conservative' towards the right [a system, therefore, of four predominant political ideologies])...
the key here is that, in Washington's own time (including that of his own Presidency), these geographical factors were the primary drivers of factions cum Parties (or even factions within Parties) and would continue to be so-- 'coastal' vs. 'upland' "crossing" 'Slave state' vs. 'Free state'-- during the consolidation of what historians have lately come to see as the "First American Empire" (the spread of the United States of America across the North American continent to the Pacific up through the Mexican Cession of 1848), not to also mention those sectional- and, yes, partisan- tensions which would explode into a bloody Civil War some four score and five years after American Independence itself. While it would be a grave violation of Historical Sense (as I myself defined same in section one of this Part Six in this series) to here suggest Washington himself could well have been specifically warning of just such a calamity, it is clear that- to Washington- 'Partisanship', in the first instance, primarily referred to States in different regions of the Nation acting in combination against other States in other parts of the country (Main's and Henderson's historical researches, more than a half century later, have merely done a very good job in explaining why) to the detriment of the Union generally.
Washington himself admits as much-- for he writes I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. But he next takes his fears regarding the potential (negative) influence of Partisanship a step further:
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.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual, and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty...
There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical 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 a 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 flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
Thus, in the end, even Washington could not completely condemn Partisanship within the political process: after all (as already discussed in my own words previous to this last section of direct quotation from his 'Farewell Address', let alone Washington's own), that particular "genie" was already out of the proverbial "bottle"-- indeed, it was very much in evidence within the political, and concomitant electoral, battles already under way as this 'Farewell Address' was being composed and well ongoing by the time it was made public. All Washington could, in the main, hope for was that the "force of public opinion" would, through its expression in elections, rein in the more "stick in the mud" aspects of Partisan Politics as time went on.
Washington himself goes on:
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 departments into one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism... The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and consituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern, some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. 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.
Herein we can discern at least shadows of what James Madison himself had outlined for President Washington re: his "retirement that was not" four years earlier, for this paragraph well reflects so-called 'Madisonian Egalitarianism' (as contradistinctive from Hamitonian 'Judicial Review' or Jeffersonian 'Legislative Supremacy'), in which each department (what we ourselves now call a "branch") of government retains its own power to determine the constitutionality of its actions in relation to the other two departments/branches doing the same (the ultimate "check and balance" being two departments/branches overruling the one in this regard, as 2 is- of course- greater than 1): it is, indeed, the singular contribution Madison made at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 (and, it can be fairly argued, even carries over to the so-called 'Bill of Rights'- itself based on those premises Madison himself first introduced as a Member of the First Congress- in which the Rights of the People- both as citizens of their respective States [the Constitutions of which also protect "Rights... retained by the People" (to here borrow the language of the 9th Amendment within said 'Bill of Rights')] as well as as individual citizens of the United States as a whole availing themselves of their own "Privileges and Immunities" [U.S. Constitution: Article IV, Section 2, clause 1]- are themselves a "check and balance" against the Government as a whole).
In any event, we now have had "Bullet Point" # 1: Be wary of Party and/or faction- whether regionally based or not.
Washington next turns to his second "Bullet Point":
Of all the disposition 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... 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 popular government... 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.
Here is precisely where most of what I had written in section one of this Part Six in this series most comes to the fore.
Of all the portions of Washington's 'Farewell Address', those most often cited today (more usually by those identified as conservative- especially those deemed "socioculturally conservative") are the comments about Religion in particular and its relation to Morality in general therein. In large part, this is due to the fact that the other two "Bullet Points" in the 'Farewell Address'- that involving Partisanship (already examined above) and Foreign Relations (yet to be considered below)- are pretty much both mooted in an early 21st Century United States of America that has become 'the World's last remaining Superpower' but it is also because of the wide range of issues within the so-called 'sociocultural realm of Politics' still being fought over in today's America-- as I myself noted, not all that long ago now : it has proven most convenient to blame the so-called "long 1960s" (which began with the assassination of American President John F. Kennedy and the 1964 Presidential Election campaign just getting underway at the time and ended with the rise of the so-called 'New Right' in the late 1970s and the subsequent- even concomitant- election of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1980) for all the social relocation, dislocation (and even mislocation!: conservative commentators have been beating up on "the Sixties" for decades now, if only because they- apparently- have nothing much better to do) that America is, pretty much, still dealing with now approaching the middle of the second decade of the 21st Century...
But Washington's own words on the subject are altogether pragmatic- hardly dogmatic!...
for he here offers no program of religion (other than Religion- presumably left to each and every individual's own choice on the matter- being, in and of itself, the underpinning of a collective National Morality) and, further, he opines that public opinion- while formed through considerations of Morality via Religion in order to even be "virtu[ous]"- should, nonetheless, also be enlightened!
This is hardly surprising- not only in light of all that we do not know about Washington's own personal religious convictions, but also in light of the fact that Washington himself was no less a product of what might best (as well as most fairly) be called "post-Enlightenment" America than had been any of the other 'Big Six' Founding Fathers. Washington might well have seen God (whatever Washington himself might, or might not, have seen God as actually being) as the First Cause of Natural Law, yet his belief in the actuality of "Divine Providence" was surely at least somewhat tempered by the very Spirit of the Age which was that both Practical Science and what was then still called Natural Philosophy would come to explain things that were still, in his own time, inexplicable much in the way the same had already happened- and rather often!- during Washington's own lifetime.
In fact, Washington directly ties Morality- through Religion- to Knowledge... it is Knowledge that is to be "diffus[ed]", not Belief!
Moreover, and at least somewhat interestingly, Washington next (and, more to the point, immediately) ties Morality and Knowledge to the following:
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 vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the bur[d]en which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives; but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that toward the payments of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment inseparable from the selection of proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the Government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue which the public exigencies may at any time decide.
Thus, for him, National Morality (however religiously based) is not merely a pattern of personal behaviors considered and examined as a collective; rather, it is the Nation acting as the virtuous (not to also mention, prudent) individual himself would: avoiding debt where practicable, paying off one's debts as soon as possible, budgeting appropriately.
So we now have Washington's "Bullet Point" # 2: Engage in Enlightened Morality and Virtue and, in addition, promote it through Knowledge.
We now come to what is Washington's final "Bullet Point" within his 'Farewell Address", one he directly ties to his immediately preceding "Bullet Point" regarding Enlightened Morality and Virtue: for he next encourages his fellow countrymen to [o]bserve good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct.
To Washington, this third is certainly- to himself- his most important "Bullet Point", for it well (however much in the background) pervades the preceding portions of his 'Farewell Address' throughout. Besides the direct tie to Enlightened Morality and Virtue (again, promoted through Knowledge) just quoted, Washington had already- earlier in his 'Farewell Address'- noted the following (which I deliberately skipped over till now so as to examine these here):
While still considering the dangers he himself saw within Partisanship, Washington wrote that the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded 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 no question that Washington (as did Hamilton, ghost-writing much of this for his Chief) could well discern the Francophilia of the Jeffersonian 'Republicans' and the Anglophilia of the 'Federalists' most supportive of Vice-President John Adams' bid to succeed Washington in the Presidency in 1796. That there is, indeed, no such question is, so obviously, best reflected in what I have just quoted above.
Even earlier in the 'Farewell Address', Washington noted that (in relation to his already-quoted wish that his fellow Americans "resist with care the spirit of innovation upon [constitutional] principles, however specious the pretexts") [o]ne 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 can not 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 credit 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.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Washington here had in mind the long sequence of events that had already, by the Spring into Summer of 1796 (known in the United States as that Summer turned to Fall), led France from Kingdom to its (as things turned out, First) Republic-- but, more to the point, from National Assembly to Legislative Assembly to Convention and on (via the Terror) to the Directory (as recounted in earlier Parts of this particular series of my Commentaries). Surely, the experience of the United States of America during the same time frame had been a better one!
Thus, to Washington, how the United States handled its foreign relations was of paramount importance (as what had transpired during the course of his second term could not much have suggested otherwise [and there will be yet more to say on this score come 'Part Seven' of this series]).
Having so noted that "[r]eligion and morality enjoin..." "[o]bserv[ing] good faith and justice toward all nations" and "cultivat[ing] peace and harmony with all" (as already quoted earlier in this piece), Washington goes on to ask:
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 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 advantages 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 ennobles 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 feeling 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.
Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation prompted by ill will and resentment sometimes impels to war the government contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity and adopts through passion what reason would reject. At other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility, instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations has been the victim.
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 quarrels 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...
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...
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 belligerent 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 these engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But in my opinion it is unnecessary and would be wise 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...
Yet, at the same time, Washington opined:
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.
Thus, we have Washington's "Bullet Point" # 3: Fairest commercial relations with all nations, yes; entangling alliances with, and accompanying favoritism to, same: no!
This being said, it would be Washington's own position (as he himself herein so stated it) as regarded the Foreign Relations of the United States of America that would be most sorely tested once his own successor had been elected and sworn... but that will have to be the subject of this series' 'Part Seven'.