Friday, February 28, 2014

John & Abigail Adams' Peacefield

Two hundred and forty years ago, on February 28, 1774, John Adams purchased his father’s homestead near Braintee (now Quincy), Massachusetts which he and Abigail later named “Peacefield.”  Here is the entry in John’s journal from that day:
 1774. FEBY. 28.

I purchased of my Brother, my fathers Homestead, and House where I was born. The House, Barn and thirty five acres of Land of which the Homestead consists, and Eighteen acres of Pasture in the North Common, cost me 440. This is a fine addition, to what I had there before, of arable, and Meadow. The Buildings and the Water, I wanted, very much.

That beautifull, winding, meandering Brook, which runs thro this farm, always delighted me.

How shall I improve it? Shall I try to introduce fowl Meadow And Herds Grass, into the Meadows? or still better Clover and Herdsgrass?

I must ramble over it, and take a View. The Meadow is a great Object -- I suppose near 10 Acres of [it] -- perhaps more -- and may be made very good, if the Mill below, by overflowing it, dont prevent. Flowing is profitable, if not continued too late in the Spring.

This Farm is well fenced with Stone Wall against the Road, against Vesey, against Betty Adams's Children, vs. Ebenezer Adams, against Moses Adams, and against me.

The North Common Pasture has a numerous Growth of Red Cedars upon it, perhaps 1000, which in 20 years if properly pruned may be worth a Shilling each. It is well walled in all round. The Prunings of those Cedars will make good Browse for my Cattle in Winter, and good fuel when the Cattle have picked off all they will eat. There is a Quantity of good Stone in it too.

“The John Adams and John Quincy Adams Birthplaces are the oldest presidential birthplaces in the United States. In 1735, John Adams was born in the "salt box" house located only 75 feet away from the birthplace of his son John Quincy Adams. In the John Quincy Adams Birthplace, young John and his bride Abigail started their family and the future President launched his career in politics and law. John Adams maintained his law office in the house and it was here that he, Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin wrote the Massachusetts Constitution. This document, still in use today, greatly influenced development of the United States Constitution.

The Old House, built in 1731, became the residence of the Adams family for four generations from 1788 to 1927. It was home to Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams; First Ladies Abigail and Louisa Catherine Adams; Civil War Minister to Great Britain Charles Francis Adams; and literary historians Henry and Brooks Adams. …Adjacent to the house is the Stone Library, built in 1873, it contains more than 14,000 books that belonged to the Adamses. …the Old House grounds which include a historic orchard and an 18th-century style formal garden, [contain] thousands of annual and perennial flowers.” (

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Remembering George Washington as Father of our Nation

By: J. David Gowdy

Americans remembered and honored Washington on his Birthday long before Congress declared it a federal holiday.[1] Each February 22nd, in numerous towns and cities, citizens gathered, bands marched and played and patriotic speeches were given in tribute to our first President.[2]  His adopted hometown of Alexandria, Virginia continues this tradition.[3]

The centennial of Washington’s birth in 1832 prompted festivities nationally and Congress established a Joint Committee to arrange for the occasion.[4] The House of Representatives and the Senate commemorated the 130th Anniversary of Washington's birth in 1862 by reading aloud his Farewell Address (this became a tradition that is still observed to this day).  Also, in that same year of 1862, on February 19th, President Abraham Lincoln issued this Presidential Proclamation to all Americans:

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.[5]

More than a passing thought, how many of us as citizens, and how many of our nation’s students, will take time to read and ponder Washington’s Farewell Address? 

It is not always easy for us to remember our own immediate ancestors, let alone a man who lived and died over 200 years ago. Yet, there is a power in remaining connected to our past …to our fathers. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “A people which no longer remembers has lost its history and its soul.”  Let us ask, can a nation forget their father?  Can we divorce the Father of our Nation, or his memory, from the harsh social and economic realities we face in this country as children whose hearts have ostensibly turned from him, ignored his counsel, and even abandoned his legacy?  In the halls of Congress, in our schools, and in our homes … have we forgotten George Washington?

Today, many historians continue to debate whether he was a Christian or a deist  – but no one who earnestly studies his life can doubt that he was a truly virtuous and religious man, by any standard. As Thomas Jefferson said of him, Washington “was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man.”[6] 

The story of young Washington chopping down the Cherry tree was discredited decades ago, and yet if there ever was an honest statesman and President – he is that man. In spite of that, many self-anointed “experts” have continued to “chop down” Washington himself, while some prominent leaders and politicians embrace equivocations and shades of dishonesty as an “art of governance.”

His portrait used to hang in the halls of our schools,  and his “Immortal” Farewell Address was once required reading for American Civics in high schools and universities.[7]  Now the most students seem to learn of him is that he owned slaves and had “wooden teeth” (his dentures were actually made of ivory).

Finally, some of our generation have dismissed Washington as “racist” – blindly ignoring his life and sacrifices devoted to human liberty, and the foundation of the principles of the Declaration of Independence that he and others laid for us upon which to labor to complete the difficult work of racial equality that they first undertook. Unfortunately, we have come to expect that all great changes must be achieved in a single lifetime, or in the equivalent of a movie trilogy…

Two hundred twenty five years ago this April 30th, 1789, George Washington sworn in as the first President of the United States. Washington took his Constitutional oath of office with his right hand resting on the Bible, which had been opened to Genesis, chapter 49.  His head bowed in a reverential manner, he added in a clear and distinct voice, "I swear, so help me God!"*(see comment) then bowing over the Bible, he reverently kissed it, whereupon Mr. Livingston exclaimed in a ringing voice, "Long live George Wash­ington, President of the United States!" To preserve the memory of that event, a page was inserted in that Bible with the date and an inscription that included this poetic verse:

            Fame stretched her wings and with her trumpet blew.
            Great Washington is near. What praise is due?
            What title shall he have? She paused, and said
            ‘Not one - his name alone strikes every title dead.[7]

George Washington passed from this life on December 14th, 1799.  In the Official Eulogy delivered by Henry Lee of Virginia, he declared that Washington was "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."   Is it still so, or can it be so?  It is our sincere hope at the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute that our nation’s teachers and parents will faithfully continue, or choose to commence, the study and teaching of Washington’s life and character, and his Farewell Address, thus turning our hearts and our children’s hearts to him, that our generation and generations to come will not fail to remember and honor America’s Founding Father.

J. David Gowdy is the Founder and President of the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute.

[1] Washington’s birthday was first celebrated at Valley Forge on February 11, 1778 (Washington was 46 years old) with a serenade by the band of the Fourth Continental Artillery.
[2]  See, e.g., February 22, 1860 Celebration in New York City,; and "George Washington Birthday Celebrations,"
[3] The city celebrates the General's birthday throughout the month of February with more than a dozen festivities, including the George Washington Birthday Parade. See
[5] Abraham Lincoln, Executive Letter dated February 19, 1862, James D. Richardson, ed., "Messages and Papers of the Presidents," (Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.,1902), 5:3289-90.
[6]  Jefferson to Dr. Walter Jones, January 2, 1814, ME 14:48-52.
[7]  See Minutes of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, March 4, 1825, ME 19:460-61 ( In contrast to our modern Civics textbooks, during the 19th Century prominent Constitutional textbooks written for use in public schools included the entire text of the Farewell Address, such as Furman Sheppard’s The Constitutional Text-Book: A Practical and Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States, (Childs & Peterson, Philadelphia, 1855), and Harvard law professor Joseph Story’s A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1884).
[8]  Bible owned by Ancient York Masons, St. John’s Lodge No. 1, See:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

George Washington: The Indispensable President

By Stephen F. Knott 

With all due respect to Tom Brokaw and our World War II veterans, the founding generation was the greatest American generation. The American founders defeated the superpower of their time and overcame parochial interests and powerful passions to prove that “societies of men are really capable … of establishing good government from reflection and choice.”

What was true of the founding as a whole was true of the American presidency – George Washington was the “indispensable man.” Washington’s reputation for integrity legitimated an office that was viewed with suspicion by many of his fellow citizens. Washington was the only national figure who was known to his fellow citizens (other than Benjamin Franklin, who was 83 when Washington was elected) and trusted by them to safely wield the powers the president was granted in article two of the new Constitution. Suffice it to say that these powers were unlikely to have been granted without the assumption by the delegates at the Constitutional Convention that George Washington would be the first president.

George Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, taking the helm of an executive branch with a mandate to execute, and more importantly, define, the nebulous powers of article two.  His great collaborator and author of the Federalist essays explaining the powers of the presidency was Alexander Hamilton who had a significant influence on President Washington.

In his Federalist essays Hamilton argued that an “energetic executive” was a crucial ingredient for the preservation of the nation and the protection of liberty. Hamilton contended that the President needed to be equipped with “competent powers” and be given incentives to resist congressional incursions on his power through a fixed salary and a lengthy term of office that would allow him to implement his plans. Hamilton also argued that “unity” in the executive, meaning one person, not a committee, was a vital element for presidential success. He noted in Federalist # 74 that “of all the cares or concerns of government, the direction of war most peculiarly demands those qualities which distinguish the exercise of power by a single hand.” The president brings to the conduct of war and foreign policy the essential qualities of “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch.” Again, for Washington and Hamilton the ability of the nation to coherently conduct war and foreign affairs was deeply felt by both men, for they had seen, up close and personal, the near-disastrous results of conducting war by committee.

George Washington wasted no time in attempting to flesh out the details of the President’s article two powers (and he wasted no time appointing his first cabinet member, Alexander Hamilton). Washington’s First Annual Message to Congress (commonly referred to today as “The State of the Union Address”) included a request for a “secret service fund.” This fund would be controlled by the president and would allow the chief executive to conduct secret operations free from congressional oversight. The “Contingency Fund” passed in 1790 and granted the President the authority to avoid the usual reporting procedures mandated by Congress – the President was essentially given a blank check in order to conduct clandestine operations he deemed to be in the national interest. Those who claim today that the founders were champions of transparency and deference to Congress in the conduct of foreign relations, especially regarding secret operations, are simply wrong.

George Washington set a number of other precedents that would be cited by his successors to justify presidential leadership in matters of war and national security. In the early days of his presidency, Washington believed that his power to negotiate treaties was shared with the Senate, but after a dismal experience where he genuinely sought the advice of the upper chamber, he quickly abandoned the practice. Washington also refused in 1795 to hand over to the House of Representatives correspondence related to the Jay Treaty with Great Britain by invoking for the first time the doctrine of what would become known as executive privilege. And most importantly, by issuing his Neutrality Proclamation of 1793, announcing that the United States would remain neutral in the war between Britain and France, Washington made it clear that while Congress had the power to declare war the president had the authority to declare American neutrality in the absence of such a declaration.

Washington shaped many other aspects of the presidency that we take for granted today. He created the president’s cabinet (and what a cabinet it was); he fulfilled his constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” by suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794; he established (in concert with James Madison) the precedent that the president alone possessed the power to remove executive branch appointees; and perhaps most importantly, he left a legacy of respect for the new office through his deft blend of accessibility and detachment – Washington’s frequent presidential tours of the nation allowed the people to see their president, although always at a distance. This was not a glad handing president who pandered to the people and tried to win their affection by presenting himself as a “regular guy.” Washington believed that the people wanted to look up to their president, and that a certain amount of awe toward the office, even in a republic, was an attribute that contributed to a respectable government.

George Washington and Alexander Hamilton understood something many modern political scientists do not: that the more you democratize the office of the presidency, the more you diminish it. It is important to note that the constitutional presidency provides both a floor and a ceiling that protects but also energizes the office; without this, the office is trapped in a cycle of raised expectations followed by public disappointment and cynicism.

A century of disregard for the Constitution has damaged our nation’s polity, possibly beyond repair. Too much is expected of the federal government, especially the presidency. Even strong nationalists like Hamilton acknowledged limits to what the presidency should do: it should concentrate on administering the government, conduct foreign negotiations, oversee military preparations, and if need be, direct a war. It should not attempt to democratize the world, comfort the sad, or heal the planet. The prospects are remote that we can roll back some of the more egregious elements of the personalized presidency, since any such effort would be portrayed as an attempt to neuter the presidency. Yet the founder’s “energetic” presidency possessed formidable powers, including the ability to respond to emergencies through the vesting clause; the veto power; the Commander-in-Chief power; the pardon power; the power to receive ambassadors (making him the nation’s chief diplomat); and the shared power over treaties and appointments. A restoration of the constitutional presidency might even force Congress to begin to conduct itself in a manner intended by the framers.  While the prospects for such a restoration may be remote, the hope remains that the American experiment will be restored to full health.


Presidential historian Stephen F. Knott is a member of the WJMI Board of Visitors and a Professor of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval War College. He served as co-chair of the University of Virginia's Presidential Oral History Program and is the author of several books, including Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth and Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

George Washington's Finest Hour

In December, 1782, as General George Washington awaited news of a preliminary peace treaty with Great Britain, he had little reason to be optimistic.  The British still occupied New York, a congressional tax on imports had failed, and his soldiers had not been paid in months or years.  In the midst of these continuing difficulties, a delegation of three officers rode into Philadelphia to issue a warning to Congress. 

The officers met with certain key nationalist members of Congress such as Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris, as well as with financier, Robert Morris, hatching a plan to use the discontent in the army to force Congress to adopt more powers adequate to a national government.  It was a dangerous game to play in a fledgling republic. 

On January 6, 1783, the officers presented an ominous petition to Congress: “We have borne all that men can bear – our property is expended – our private resources are at an end, and our friends are wearied out and disgusted with our incessant applications.”  The officers demanded that Congress make good on its promise of a half-pension as an “honorable and just recompense for several years hard service in which the health and fortunes of the officers have been worn down and exhausted.”  They gave a final warning of the consequences of not paying the army: “The uneasiness of the soldiers, for want of pay, is great and dangerous; any further experiments on their patience may have fatal effects.” 

Congress responded by appointing a committee.  Meanwhile, Robert Morris ratcheted up the pressure on that body by threatening to resign if Congress did not establish a “permanent provision for public debts.”  Hamilton, Washington’s former intimate aide, worked on the general to win over his support for the scheme.  “The claims of the army urged with moderation, but with firmness . . . may add weight to the applications of Congress to the several states.” 

Washington, however, was not taking the bait.  From his humble acceptance of the position of commander of the Continental Army through his continued deference to the civilian government during the war despite the constant sufferings of the army due to a penurious Congress and state governments, Washington was unwaveringly dedicated to the republican government. 

When the general caught wind of the plot afoot among the officers at Newburgh, he feared that their machinations would plunge the nation “into a gulph of civil horror.”  Washington was sympathetic to their plight and the continental vision but would not countenance military threats to the civilian government.  He called a meeting of the officers at the appropriately-named Temple of Virtue on March 15 – the Ides of March. 

When General Washington unexpectedly marched into the meetinghouse, he immediately addressed the men with a deeply-moving speech, appealing to their patriotic and republican principles:

Let me conjure you, in the name of our common country, as you value your own sacred honor, as you respect the rights of humanity, and as you regard the military and national character of America, to express your utmost horror and detestation of the man who wishes, under any specious pretences, to overturn the liberties of our country, and who wickedly attempts to open the flood gates of civil discord, and deluge our rising empire in blood . . . By thus acting you will give one more distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings.  And you will, by the dignity of your conduct, afford occasion for posterity to say, when speaking of your glorious example you have exhibited to mankind, “had this day been wanting, the world had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining.” 

Washington loved the theater throughout his life, especially his favorite play, Joseph Addison’s Cato.  Indeed, he had been playing the role of the aloof general for years and commanded as much as anything by his presence.  He understood the human response to a dramatic gesture.  At Newburgh, he pulled out a pair of spectacles, candidly admitting his declining vigor in front of his men, muttering, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind, in the service of my country.” 

The cabal collapsed on the spot.  The tension broke and the officers wept openly.  They pledged their “unshaken confidence” in Congress. 

In the end, Congress failed to fulfill its promises and never assumed greater powers.  These failures would help lead to the Constitutional Convention to erect a new framework of government with adequate powers.

For now, Washington established the critically important precedent that in America the republican civilian government was superior to the military.  Washington could easily have decided to march on Congress and become a Caesar or Alexander.  Instead, he became as the legendary Roman Cincinnatus who patriotically served the republic and returned to his plow. 

To paraphrase Churchill’s great praise for the fighter pilots who defeated the Nazi air assault in the Battle of Britain, perhaps we can say of the virtuous Washington that if the American republic lasts a thousand years, men will say, this was his finest hour. 
Tony Williams is the WJMI Program Director and the author of four books including America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Character of George Washington as described by Thomas Jefferson

By: J. David Gowdy

George Washington had a complex, constantly evolving relationship with Thomas Jefferson. Prior to the Revolutionary War, Washington and Jefferson labored together as delegates from Virginia to the Continental Congress during 1775. After the war, under the newly adopted Constitution, Thomas Jefferson was appointed by Washington as his first Secretary of State in the new cabinet, where he served from March 22, 1790, to December 31, 1793.  Though Washington and Jefferson’s relationship grew to be somewhat contentious by the end of Washington’s life due to party politics (Jefferson refused to attend memorial services for the President), the two were not always at odds personally and politically. Their dedication to the cause of the American Revolution by far proved to be their greatest common bond; however, as Mary Stockwell points out they were alike in even more ways. Both were “tall redhead[s] from the middling planter class,” “who raised their social and economic “status by marrying a wealthy widow.” Additionally, “Jefferson considered himself a farmer and spent his life improving his plantations… just as Washington cared for Mount Vernon.” (1)

Jefferson and Washington corresponded over many years.  Washington wrote to Jefferson about the Constitutional Convention while he was in France.  In addition to political matters, they wrote each other about western lands and agricultural topics.  Thomas Jefferson admired the pecan tree and sent seeds to George Washington, who planted and cared for his own pecans. Today those pecans have the distinction of being the oldest living trees at Mount Vernon. (2)

In Paris, while serving as Ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson owned two portraits of George Washington, a full-length by Charles Willson Peale and a half-length by Joseph Wright.  Before leaving Paris, Jefferson presented the Peale to Madame de Tessé. Wright's portrait of Washington became part of the art collection at Monticello. 

After Jefferson resigned from Washington’s cabinet in 1793, he soon became the leader of the Democratic-Republican Party.  He  was elected Vice President in 1796 and President in 1801. In his inaugural address delivered on March 4, 1801, Jefferson called Washington “our first and greatest revolutionary character, whose preeminent services had entitled him to the first place in his country’s love.” Later, upon founding the University of Virginia, Jefferson recommended Washington’s Farewell Address as part of the required reading for the study of the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson wrote a detailed description of the great qualities of mind and character possessed by George Washington in a letter written fourteen years after Washington’s death:

I think I knew General Washington intimately and thoroughly; and were I called on to delineate his character, it should be in terms like these.

His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though, not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion. Hence the common remark of his officers, of the advantage he derived from councils of war, where hearing all suggestions, he selected whatever was best; and certainly no General ever planned his battles more judiciously. But if deranged during the course of the action, if any member of his plan was dislocated by sudden circumstance, he was slow in re-adjustment. The consequence was, that he often failed in the field, and rarely against an enemy in station, as at Boston and York. He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man. His temper was naturally high toned; but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendancy over it. If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath. In his expenses he was honorable, but exact; liberal in contributions to whatever promised utility; but frowning and unyielding on all visionary projects and all unworthy calls on his charity. His heart was not warm in its affections; but he exactly calculated every man’s value, and gave him a solid esteem proportioned to it. His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble; the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback. . . .

On the whole, his character was, in its mass, perfect, in nothing bad, in few points indifferent; and it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance.

For his was the singular destiny and merit, of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example. . . .

We knew his honesty …

I felt on his death, with my countrymen, that verily a great man hath fallen this day in Israel.” (3)

(1) See:; and Stockwell, Ph.D., “Thomas Jefferson” (Mount Vernon Digital Encyclopedia),
(3) Jefferson to Dr. Walter Jones, January 2, 1814, ME 14:48-52.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Favorite Quotes by Abraham Lincoln

16th President of the United States of America
Born February 12, 1809, Hodgenville, Kentucky
Died April 15, 1865, Washington D. C.

Here are some of my favorite Lincoln Quotes in honor of his birthday:

"Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, "Letter To Henry L. Pierce and Others" (April 6, 1859), p. 376.

"Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it." Lincoln's Cooper Institute Address, February 27, 1860.

"I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, "Speech at Chicago, Illinois" (July 10, 1858), p. 502.

"Common looking people are the best in the world: that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them." Lincoln and the Civil War In the Diaries and Letters of John Hay selected by Tyler Dennett (New York, Da Capo Press, 1988), p. 143.

"I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day." Lincoln Observed: The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks edited by Michael Burlingame (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), p. 210.

"Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did. On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all your life." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume V, "Letter to Quintin Campbell" (June 28, 1862), p. 288.

"...I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side." The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House by Francis B. Carpenter (Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1995), p. 282. Also, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln by Ward Hill Lamon (Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1994), p. 91.

"In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free - honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just - a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless." Lincoln's Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862.

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved - I do not expect the house to fall - but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other." Lincoln's 'House-Divided' Speech in Springfield, Illinois, June 16, 1858.

"I have never studied the art of paying compliments to women; but I must say that if all that has been said by orators and poets since the creation of the world in praise of women were applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war. I will close by saying, God bless the women of America!" The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VII, "Remarks at Closing of Sanitary Fair, Washington D.C." (March 18, 1864), p. 254.

"Perhaps a man's character was like a tree, and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing." Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln compiled and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1996), p. 43.

"Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, "Notes for a Law Lecture" (July 1, 1850?), p. 81.

"In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VII, "Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible" (September 7, 1864), p. 542.

"Property is the fruit of is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VII, "Reply to New York Workingmen's Democratic Republican Association" (March 21, 1864), pp. 259-260.

"I have stepped out upon this platform that I may see you and that you may see me, and in the arrangement I have the best of the bargain." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume IV, "Remarks at Painesville, Ohio" (February 16, 1861), p. 218.

"The demon of intemperance ever seems to have delighted in sucking the blood of genius and of generosity." Lincoln's Temperance Address, Springfield, Illinois, February 22, 1842.

"What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?" Lincoln's Cooper Institute Address, February 27, 1860.

"We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name - liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names - liberty and tyranny." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VII, "Address at Sanitary Fair, Baltimore, Maryland" (April 18, 1864), p. 301-302.

"Stand with anybody that stands RIGHT. Stand with him while he is right and PART with him when he goes wrong." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, "Speech at Peoria, Illinois" (October 16, 1854), p. 273.

"There are no accidents in my philosophy. Every effect must have its cause. The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future. All these are links in the endless chain stretching from the finite to the infinite." Herndon's Life of Lincoln by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik (New York, Da Capo Press, 1983), p. 354.

"The legitimate object of government is 'to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves'." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, "Fragment on Government" (July 1, 1854?), p. 221.

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Washington’s Farewell Address

By: Tony Williams
        When Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the other board members designed the civics curriculum of the University of Virginia, they concurred that there were certain key readings that were essential to the training of statesmen and citizens.  The works of John Locke and Algernon Sidney, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist, and President George Washington’s Farewell Address were the basis for understanding the American character and system of constitutional self-government. 

          Known as a man of action rather than philosophical reflection, even among many historians today, Washington offered advice to his country that was a profound reflection in American principles of constitutional liberty and republicanism.

     Washington mainly collaborated with two trusted advisers – first Congressman James Madison in 1792, and later Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in 1796 – in composing the address.  This reflected the waxing and waning influence of the two men during Washington’s presidency, but it also reflected a liberality of spirit in bringing what became two warring parties together. 

        Washington’s Farewell was not delivered as a speech but rather printed in newspapers for all citizens to read or have read to them.  It was a public farewell from a patriotic, magnanimous citizen who had served the republic for half a century in the French and Indian War, Virginia House of Burgesses, the Revolutionary War, President of the Constitutional Convention, and President of the United States. 

       Washington begins the Farewell by announcing his intention to retire from the presidency.  There is a deep humility in his hope that he discharged the trust his countrymen placed in him by giving his “best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable.”  Washington describes the sense of duty that bound him as a patriotic citizen to answer the repeated call of his country in war and peace despite his longings for his farm.  He emulates the legendary Roman Cincinnatus and the main character of his favorite play, Cato, rather than an ambitious Caesar, and establishes the firm precedents of republican virtue in public service and the superiority of the civilian government. 

       Washington then offers a prayer for the well-being of the American republic as he prepares to go to his fathers.  He prays that the American people enjoy the blessings of providential liberty and self-government rooted in Union.  He gives them a classical recipe for their true happiness rooted in virtue and ordered liberty.  He ends this passage with a statement of American exceptionalism. 

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.

Washington then offers the reflections of a “parting friend” to his country for their “felicity as a People.”  The sentiments of the “Father of His Country” were actually excellent political principles – the centrality of the Union, the danger of political parties, the significance of religion, and independence in foreign policy – upon which to found the country. 

       UNION.   Washington first discusses the importance of Union to the American experiment in liberty.  He recognized that sectional and cultural differences could imperil the nation at some future point.  He urges his fellow citizens to revere, “The name of AMERICAN, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism.”  Washington reminds them that despite their local attachments, they had “the same Religion, Manners, Habits, and political Principles.”  They must remember that they have “in a common cause fought and triumphed together.” 

The Union was so central to the American nation, in Washington’s view, because it was the “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.”  Americans should jealously guard their lasting Union, forming a habitual and unfailing attachment to it because it was “the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity.” 

The Union has at its foundation the Constitution.  It was a framework of government reflecting the great deliberative moment of the American founding and its principles had a just claim on their confidence and support.  “Respect for its authority, compliance with its Laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty,” Washington argues.  He emphasizes that though the sovereign people can alter the Constitution through the American process, it is otherwise “sacredly obligatory upon all.” 

PARTIES.  In his discussion of political parties, Washington follows the proposition laid down in Federalist #10 that they were factions, “whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”  In the Farewell, Washington similarly warns that they were artificial designs of a “small but artful and enterprising minority” who sought to “direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the Constituted authorities,” with invariably fatal results.

Madison reflected that factions were rooted in the self-interest of human nature.  He wrote, “The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society.”  Washington agreed that the “baneful spirit of party was unfortunately “inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human Mind.” 

At best, however, both founders agreed that they could only be controlled not destroyed in a free government.  Madison thought a large republic would create contending factions that would limit their effects, while Washington settled for “a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into flame.”  After powerlessly witnessing the rise of the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans that fiercely divided his own administration, Washington warned his countrymen of the dangers of the passions stirred by political parties. 

RELIGION AND VIRTUE.  Washington was and remains an unrecognized essential founder of American religious liberty even though he advanced the principle while general of the Continental Army and as President when he wrote letters to various congregations promising them the natural right of liberty of conscience.  He did not believe, however, that religion should be divorced from public life.  Indeed, in a logical syllogism embraced by all the Founders, Washington advanced the notion that religion was the basis for virtue and morality and a virtuous character was essential for good citizenship and republican self-government. 

Washington called religion and morality the “indispensable supports” of political prosperity, the “great Pillars of human happiness,” and the “firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens.”  He warned, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.”  If either religion or morality were to collapse, then the conclusion is clear that self-government could not endure.  Washington believed that, “’Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”  Self-government was not possible if its citizens were not self-governing individuals who controlled their passions with reason. 

FOREIGN POLICY.  Washington had vast experience in diplomatic affairs during his public service in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the presidency.  Britain and France were at war throughout the 1790s, and Washington proclaimed the neutrality of the fledgling republic with some opposition from the Democratic-Republicans.   The European powers consistently violated American neutral rights and threatened to drag the new nation into war.  

In the Farewell Address, Washington had a very simple formula for American foreign policy: no permanent alliances in commercial or diplomatic relations (some attribute to him the phrase “entangling alliances,” which were actually Jefferson’s words of a similar sentiment).  He warned that America should not be a “slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.” 

Before one assume that he was America’s founding Machiavelli, Washington did not argue purely for a foreign policy rooted in American interest devoid of morality.  He states that, “Harmony, liberal intercourse with all Nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest.”  Indeed, in this section of the address, he advises that American foreign relations be guided by good faith, justice, religion, morality, peace, harmony, free, enlightened, benevolence, and magnanimity.  In short, he believed that “just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated.” 

Washington does address other topics briefly but no less importantly.  He warns against “overgrown Military establishments” that threaten liberty, defends a strict separation of powers by the branches of the national government, supports “institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge” for an enlightened public opinion, and advises the retiring of the public debt with necessary and prudent taxation.  And he concludes with this maxim, “no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy.”

         As you can see from the principles discussed above, Washington’s Farewell Address deserves an exalted position among American founding documents, and it is vitally important for our young people in schools and American citizens to know.  In our national civic conversation, we must appeal to first principles often, and Washington’s Farewell Address is one of the pillars and best sources of those founding principles. 

Tony Williams is the Program Director of the WJMI and the author of four books including America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character.