Washington's Farewell Address

What is so special about the date February 22nd? It is George Washington’s birthday. According to a law passed by Congress several years ago, we now celebrate Washington’s birthday on the Monday nearest his birthday. Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day were all changed to Mondays so that people could have long weekends. The Veterans raised so many objections that their day was moved back to its traditional day of November 11th.
In honor of Washington’s birthday, I want to take you back to 1796 to the city of New York where President George Washington issued his farewell address. This address was not given publicly, but copies were delivered to the newspapers and it was read to The House of Representatives. It gave the reasons for his decision not to accept a third term as President. One of those reasons was his desire “to return to that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn.” He also expressed his belief that the young nation had now been placed on a firm basis and its future as a constitutional republic was assured.
Washington went further in his address. He took the liberty to give some good advice to his countrymen as he left his high office. Here are some of his recommendations:
1. “Unity in government is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence.” He warns against sectionalism—North vs. South—East vs. West. There may be differences of local interests and views, but there should be no geographical discriminations. Unfortunately, this advice was disregarded in the sectional politics leading up to the Civil War.
2. Washington also warned the people against parties and party spirit. The domination of one faction over another leads to “common and continual mischief.” It is the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain this “spirit of party.”
3. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” Washington said that “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Today there are many issues regarding religion in our schools and government, and morality in government is at a low ebb.
4. Now here is a very special piece of advice: “As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit.” Washington believed that we should avoid “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 may have occasioned.”
Did you read in the paper a few days ago that Congress passed a bill lifting the debt ceiling on our present public debt to over 400 billion dollars? We are still carrying World War II debt, and billions more have been borrowed over the past thirty years when we had the greatest prosperity this country and the world has ever known. During this time, very little was paid on the public debt. Maybe some of our government leaders should be reminded of this wise advice of our first President.
5. Here is another really important suggestion passed on to the House of Representatives about the public debt. Washington said, “We should not ungenerously throw upon posterity the burdens which we ourselves ought to bear.” He went on to say that solving the debt problem was the responsibility of the House of Representatives but that the public should be supportive of this premise. “Where there are debts,” he said, “there must be revenue and to have revenue you must have taxes and taxes are more or less inconvenient and unpleasant.”
Washington believed that people should pay their taxes. During his administration, he sent troops into Pennsylvania to put down a tax rebellion by farmers and others who refused to pay Federal excise taxes on their corn whiskey. One of our problems today is the lack of responsibility that comes all the way down from the top. We have seen examples of two recent Presidents taking questionable deductions on their income taxes, and recently seven lawyers and a number of airline pilots here in Miami have been charged with failure to pay income taxes.
6. The final item is the most important and the least respected by our present-day leaders. I quote: “Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. ‘Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances, with any portion of the foreign world.” Then he asked these questions: “Why, quit our own country 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?” Many of us have been asking ourselves these same questions but have broadened them to include Asia, Africa and the islands of the sea. When were we anointed overseers of the world?
There is no doubt that our first President, George Washington, was a man of great prophetic vision. A close study of his historic farewell address will show how far we have wandered away from his aims and purposes for his beloved country.

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