George Washington, our nation's first President, was born on February 22, 1732. As General Washington, he led the Colonial Army to victory over the British in the Revolutionary War, making the Declaration of Independence a reality. He played a pivotal role in the forging of the United States Constitution in the Continental Congress. He was called upon by a grateful nation to serve as its first leader. Near the close of his second term in office, having determined to finally retire from public life to his beloved home at Mount Vernon, one final task weighed upon his mind -- he wished to impart his final counsel to his fellow citizens in the form of a Valedictory Address -- a discourse that he hoped might be read and remembered for generations to come. Within it he would set forth the fundamental maxims of American Liberty.
Washington's Farewell Address was carefully prepared with the assistance of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Although titled as an "address," it was never given orally. President Washington delivered it to his Cabinet, and four days later, on September 19, 1796, it was published in Philadelphia. Years later, in 1825, when Thomas Jefferson was formulating the required reading list for the University of Virginia, he identified Washington's Farewell Address as one of "the best guides to the distinctive principles" upon which the United States Constitution is based. It has thus long been revered as one of our nation's Founding Documents. Abraham Lincoln echoed this sentiment when issuing this Proclamation on February 19, 1862:
"It is recommended to the people of the United States that they assemble in their customary places of meeting for public solemnities on the twenty-second day of February instant, and celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Father of His Country by causing to be read to them his immortal Farewell address."
We hear much about "rights" in our time, but less of civic duty and personal responsibility. I believe that George Washington's Farewell Address sets forth the true principles of liberty and constitutes the "handbook of an American citizen's responsibilities." It teaches the importance of union to our republic, loyalty to the Constitution, respect among people and nations, the value of honesty and of public virtue. It confirms that morality and religion are indispensable to our happiness, and constitute the twin pillars of America's political prosperity.
What a boon to it would be to our nation if in all of our schools students were required to read and study his address! May we as citizens always read and ponder Washington's Farewell Address; and may we teach our children to learn from his example and to rember and honor America's "Founding Father."
By: J. David Gowdy
To read his address, go to: Washington's Farewell Address