Washington’s Farewell Address

The Avalon Project at Yale Law School

Washington’s Farewell Address 1796

Friends and 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 beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured that this
resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations
appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and
that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might
imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no
deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a
full conviction that the step is compatible with both.
The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your
suffrages have twice called me have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to
the opinion of duty and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I
constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in my power,
consistently with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to
that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my
inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the
preparation of an address to declare it to you; but 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.
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 towards the organization and
administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible
judgment 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.
In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of
my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep
acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country
for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast
confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have
thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful
and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have
resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to
your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under
circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable
to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune
often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success
has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was
the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they
were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to
my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue
to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly
affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of
your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every
department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the
happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be
made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this
blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause,
the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to 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 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.
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 immovable attachment to it; accustoming
yourselves to think and speak of it as of 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
appellation 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 counsels, 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 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 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, 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 governments, which their own rival ships alone would be sufficient to
produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues
would stimulate and embitter. 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 to you the preservation of the other.
These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and
virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of
patriotic desire. 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. We are authorized to hope that a proper
organization of the whole with the auxiliary agency of governments for the
respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. 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 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 heartburnings which spring
from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those
who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our
Western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen,
in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the
Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event,
throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the
suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government
and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the
Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that
with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them everything they
could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their
prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these
advantages on the Union by which they were procured ? Will they not
henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever
them from their brethren and connect them with aliens?
To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is
indispensable. No alliance, 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 our 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.
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 the 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 triumphs 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.
Towards 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 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.
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.
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.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless
ought not to be entirely out of sight), 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 finds a facilitated access to the government itself through
the channels of party passions. 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 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 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 entrusted 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. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it,
which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth
of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political
power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and
constituting 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.
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 vigorous exertion in time of peace
to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not
ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought
to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but
it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the
performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in
mind that towards the payment 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 the 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 dictate.
Observe good faith and justice towards 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 7 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 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 feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which
indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a 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. 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.
As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are
particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How
many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to
practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe
the public councils 7 Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great
and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
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 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 it, 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 of 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.
In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate
friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I
could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent
our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of
nations. 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.
How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the
principles which have been delineated, the public records and other
evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the
assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be
guided by them.
In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the
twenty-second of April, I793, is the index of my plan. Sanctioned by your
approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of
Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me,
uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.
After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I
was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case,
had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral
position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to
maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.
The considerations which respect the right to hold this con duct, it is not
necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe that, according to my
understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the
belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.
The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more,
from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in
cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and
amity towards other nations.
The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred
to your own reflections and experience. With me a predominant motive has
been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet
recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of
strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the
command of its own fortunes.
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 towards 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.

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