The wisdom of George Washington

I cannot help but believe that this nation is and was blessed by God when I consider the people that founded it. Their words of wisdom are numerous, patriotism unmatched, their courage–impregnable.

George Washington defined my beliefs when it comes to our government’s role and practices. He was a man who sacrificed personal comfort in exchange for the public good. He fought against the world’s mightiest army and prevailed. For him, defeat was not an option. The Michael Moores of the world cannot understand such a man as Washington.

Please take a look at selected portions of Washington’s farewell address. The words are beneficial even now. the foresight is astounding… * = This blog’s author interjecting opinion and observation.

19 Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the constitution, alterations, which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments, as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard, by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that, for the efficient management of our common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

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.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

* Here, Washington is about to enrage liberals everywhere!

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 connexions 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.

* Our government spending is out of control. Here was Washington’s warning, which we the people ignored by continuously asking for more “free” stuff.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

* A nation is defined by it’s virtue and annihilated by its vice. Public morality, more specifically, a lack of it, destroyed Rome. It will destroy us as well.

Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its Virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices ?

* We must favor no nation based solely on past relations. This can lead us into bad wars. Israel comes to mind here.

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The Nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of Nations has been the victim.

* Humility must be fostered by all members of government

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope, that my Country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.


1 Response to “The wisdom of George Washington”

  1. November 13, 2008 at 2:32 am

    This is a particularly good post. So often when people write about what the Founders said, it’s stuff that’s been regurgitated so frequently it’s almost cliche’ and often people get the whole point wrong. That’s certainly not the case here. The only real problem with posts like this is that they clearly illustrate how incredibly well the Founders understood human nature and man’s overwhelming tendency to reject freedom in favor of serfdom. The fact the words are aged yet so absolutely spot on today speaks to the degree of understanding these men had. And so much of what they warned against is being done and their wisdom wrecklessly disregarded that it’s hard to imagine the pendelum swinging back to any real degree. While things do wax and wane, govt has gotten bigger and bigger since the early part of last century and in spite of the track record of market economies and the monumentous disasters of controlled economies, people still fall for the rhetoric of the demagogues. We’re infinitely more educated than people were 200 years ago and despite how bad our public schools are and their obsession with indoctrination,, it’s not ignorance that’s causing this… more than anything its expediency. Everyone wants the benefits of free markets but the second they end up on the negative side of them, they want absolved of responsibility. This is just not a Constitution that can survive with a populace of people who were brought up by parents who thought their kids should never hear the word “No”. On the other hand, there are many among us who appreciate the Constitution and learn the lessons of history – and are willing to take the good and bad that comes with being free. Hence this radical split that’s going on in our country right now. And while those who love freedom aren’t cramming freedom down their fellow citizen’s throats who want taken care of, those who want taken care of are cramming their agenda on the rest. They have to – if everyone lives off the dole then no one is earning the money to fund the dole

    As an aside, we fought a huge Civil War over slavery (I know in the pedantic sense it was over State’s rights but Slavery was the right that was being fought over). If one has a slave, it makes sense to keep the slave healthy. One has to feed the slave. One has to provide basic necessities for the slave. So the slave owner doesn’t keep all of the output the slave produces. Depending on the specifics, it could be a lot or a little that the Slave owner gets to keep but on the whole, the Slave gets to keep less of his output then he gets to keep. That seems to look and sound to me a lot like what a world with a > 50% tax rate with heavy regulation on what you can and can not do looks and sounds like. Depending on the slave owner, a slave may have a decent bit of freedom and may live fairly well. but at the end of the day, his output isn’t his. When every aspect of our lives is governed and regulated and we keep a smaller proportion of what we produce than we have to give away, it seems that the only distinction between slavery (perhaps Serfdom is a more appropo descriptor) and the existence so many seem to want these days.

    For all of their Wisdom, I can’t think of a single Right in the Bill or Rights that would have a snowballs chance in hell of getting passed and signed into law were it not already in place. Many are advocating for all sorts of other trendy Bill of Rights du jour, yet the original one is under constant assault. The far left and far right seem to care about a few of the rights laid out in the BoR but neither side respects them all. although I have a tremendous amount of faith in my fellow citizens and am an eternal optimist, it’s hard to imagine that we’re not going to end up falling victim to so much of what the founders predicted would happen if the populace wasn’t vigilant. Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now 😉 Your post just got me rather inspired on this subject.



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