George Washington warned us – unfortunately we didn’t listen.

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George Washington warned us - unfortunately we didn’t listen.

There is no bet­ter way to honor Pres­i­dent George Wash­ing­ton dur­ing
President’s Day week than read­ing his Farewell Address.
It should be required read­ing in high
schools and col­leges because it con­tains many impor­tant warn­ings to future
gen­er­a­tions. Here are what I con­sider
to be the most impor­tant passages.

As you can see from this quote, Pres­i­dent Wash­ing­ton
believed a strict adher­ence to the Con­sti­tu­tion and elect­ing wise and vir­tu­ous
polit­i­cal ser­vants were essen­tial to the future of this nation. We failed on both points rather dramatically.

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.

His Farewell Address was meant to be a warning.

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.

This next quote makes it clear that Pres­i­dent Wash­ing­ton
would have been com­pletely opposed to the notion of our Con­sti­tu­tion being a
Liv­ing Document.

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.

Pres­i­dent Wash­ing­ton greatly dis­liked polit­i­cal
par­ties. Here he pas­sion­ately warns
against them.

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.

He con­tin­ued his attack on polit­i­cal par­ties in the next
quote.

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

Pres­i­dent Wash­ing­ton would have vehe­mently opposed the pro­gres­sive
cre­ation known as sep­a­ra­tion church and state. This quote makes that apparent.

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.

There is no better way to honor President George Washington during President’s Day week than reading his Farewell Address.  It should be required reading in high schools and colleges because it contains many important warnings to future generations.   Here are what I consider to be the most important passages.

As you can see from this quote, President Washington believed a strict adherence to the Constitution and electing wise and virtuous political servants were essential to the future of this nation.  We failed on both points rather dramatically.

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.

His Farewell Address was meant to be a warning.

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.

This next quote makes it clear that President Washington would have been completely opposed to the notion of our Constitution being a Living Document.

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.

President Washington greatly disliked political parties.  Here he passionately warns against them.  

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.

He continued his attack on political parties in the next quote.

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

President Washington would have vehemently opposed the progressive creation known as separation church and state. This quote makes that apparent.

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.