A prophetic father of his country, President George Washington delivered his farewell address as he neared the end of his second term on this day in history, September 19, 1796.
He triumphantly celebrated the fledgling young nation and his role in its creation, while soberly warning of the threat posed by regional and sectarian divisions.
“While awaiting the moment which must bring to an end the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep recognition of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors which it has given me “confered. me,” Washington wrote in a speech that first appeared in the American Daily Advertiser, a Philadelphia newspaper.
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Washington was the hero of the American Revolution – and his Abrahamic faith in the cause of independence inspired and held the nation together in the rebellion’s darkest hours.
But party divisions emerged in the United States during his tenure. He warned in 1796 of their potential to destroy the hard-fought unity of the previous 20 years.
“One of the ways a party gains influence in particular constituencies is to distort the views and goals of other constituencies,” Washington said in his speech.
“They tend to make strangers to each other those who should be linked together by brotherly affection.”
“The name of the American…must always exalt the just pride of patriotism.” -George Washington
He added: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of vengeance, natural to dissensions between parties, which at different times and in different countries has perpetrated the most horrible enormities, is in itself a frightening despotism. »
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Washington issued its farewell statement after choosing not to seek a third presidential term.
He proved to be the rare leader in history who willingly gave up what could have amounted to many more years of power.
His decision paved the way for the tradition of presidents serving only two terms.
The two-term tradition was codified by the 22nd Amendment, ratified in 1951, six years after Franklin D. Roosevelt died while serving his fourth term as president.
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Washington was so beloved in his day that he was unanimously elected the nation’s first president by the electoral college in late 1788 and early 1789.
John Adams was elected first vice president.
Both Washington and Adams were easily re-elected in 1792.
But the vice presidential race in this second national election has begun to divide along party lines, paving the way for Washington’s parting warning.
Adams of the Federalist Party defeated Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republican Party in November 1796, two months after Washington’s farewell.
The father of his country invoked the pride of his new nation, unique in the history of humanity, by leaving public life.
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“The name American, which belongs to you in a national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any designation derived from local discrimination,” he declared.
“Washington’s Farewell Address addressed contemporary concerns that the Union was weak and vulnerable to attack from internal and external enemies,” writes the Mount Vernon Library of George Washington.
“But even after the uncertainty of the early national period passed, its message of unity remained powerful.”
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Washington’s words, also said at Mount Vernon, are “still recited annually in the United States Senate, a tradition dating back to the Civil War. The Farewell Address remains an essential founding document on issues of Union, partisanship and isolationism.
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