farewell address

George Washington's Farewell Address

George Washington's Washington's Farewell Address was written to the people of the United States at the end of his second term as President of the United States. It appeared in many Americans' newspapers on September 19, 1796. Technically speaking, it was not an address, but an open letter to the public published in the form of a speech. Washington's fellow Americans gave it the title of "Farewell Address" to recognize it as the President's valedictory to public service for the new republic.

In 1792, Washington was prepared to retire after one term as the President of the United States. To that end, Washington, with James Madison, wrote a farewell address to the public of the United States of America. Faced with the unanimous objections of his Cabinet, Washington agreed to stand for another term. In 1796, Washington refused a third term. Starting with his 1792 draft, Washington rewrote the text to better fit the problems that were emerging in the new political landscape. He had much help from Alexander Hamilton, and some passages do sound like Hamilton's writing, but all the key ideas were those of Washington, not Hamilton or Madison.


paragraph  topic
Washington's Farewell Address#1Impending retirement from public life
Washington's Farewell Address#8Importance of unity, danger of factions, authority of the Constitution
Washington's Farewell Address#19Strict construction of the Constitution
Washington's Farewell Address#20Danger of political parties
Washington's Farewell Address#26Checks and balances, strict construction of the Constitution
Washington's Farewell Address#27Religion and morality
Washington's Farewell Address#29Education
Washington's Farewell Address#30Sparing use of government borrowing
Washington's Farewell Address#31Foreign relations, avoiding permanent foreign alliances
Washington's Farewell Address#43Closing thoughts
Washington's Farewell Address#45American neutrality in European war
Washington's Farewell Address#50More closing thoughts

Major Themes

Political factionalism

There were two notable themes from the speech. The Washington's Farewell Address#8 warned about what Washington saw as a potentially harmful political factionalism in the country. He urged Americans to unite for the good of the whole country. Two political factions had developed into political parties in the early 1790s: the Federalists and the Republicans (later known as the Democratic-Republicans). The Federalists, and Washington himself, backed Hamilton's plan for a central bank and other strong central economic plans based on manufacturing. The Democratic-Republicans opposed the strong government inherent in the Hamiltonian plan and favored farmers as opposed to city people. Washington foresaw that this political polarization would play significantly in the new government, as these two emerging parties attempted to guide the nation and shape it to correspond with their thought.

Foreign alliances

The Washington's Farewell Address#31 was a warning to the nation to avoid permanent foreign alliances, particularly in Europe. Both parties wanted to stay out of the wars between France and Britain. The Federalists favored stronger ties with the British, while the Republicans insisted on adhering to the Treaty of Alliance the U.S. had already signed with France in 1778.


The Address quickly became a basic political document for the new nation. It was reprinted as part of the membership paraphernalia of the Washington Benevolent Societies that sprang up after his death in 1799. It was printed in children's primers, engraved on watches, woven into tapestries and read annually before Congress. The Address received widespread fame and became a symbol of American republicanism, the nation's guiding political philosophy. It was used as a benchmark with which to judge the two-party political structure, foreign affairs, and national morality. The Address was invariably cited whenever an alliance was discussed. Not until 1949, with the signing of the treaty that established NATO, did the United States again enter into a permanent treaty of military alliance.

In 1862, the House and Senate commemorated the 130th Anniversary of Washington's birth by reading aloud his Farewell Address. In a special joint session held in the House Chamber, the House and Senate, along with several cabinet officials, Justices of the Supreme Court and high-ranking officers of the Army and Navy, gathered to listen to the Secretary of State read the address aloud. Eventually, the reading of George Washington's Farewell Address became an annual event for the Senate, a tradition that is still observed to this day.

See also



Further reading

  • Deconde, Alexander. "Washington's Farewell, the French Alliance, and the Election of 1796." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 1957 43(4): 641-658. ISSN 0161-391X
  • Burton I. Kaufman, ed. Washington's Farewell Address: The View from the 20th Century (1969)
  • Gilbert, Felix. To the Farewell Address: Ideas of Early American Foreign Policy. (1961)
  • Pessen, Edward. "George Washington's Farewell Address, the Cold War, and the Timeless National." Journal of the Early Republic 1987 7(1): 1-27. ISSN 0275-1275
  • Spalding, Matthew and Patrick J. Garrity. A Sacred Union of Citizens: George Washington's Farewell Address and the American Character (Roman & Littlefield, 1996)
  • Spalding, Matthew. "George Washington's Farewell Address." The Wilson Quarterly v20#4 Autumn 1996.
  • Paul A. Varg, Foreign Policies of the Founding Fathers (1963)
  • Full text of the Address.

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