George Washington's Farewell Address

Essay by Anonymous UserA+, September 1989

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George Washington's life was intertwined with the early history of the republic that he became President of. He began his career as a public servant by surveying the western frontier of America. He then went on to defend that frontier in the Virginia militia, and then the entire thirteen colonies as the Continental Commander-in-Chief. It was he who kept the Constitutional Convention in order. And when the final decision was made, George Washington was the only man in America whom both the general populace and his peers trusted enough to hold the new office of President, with all of its unexplored powers. In his two terms as President, Washington strove to live up to that trust. Though a Federalist at heart, for most of his two terms he tried to remain impartial on all major policy questions, and not descend into the growing partisan conflict between the Federalists and the Republicans.

He envisioned a similar international role for the U.S., apart from the petty intrigues and maneuverings of world (European) power struggles. He kept America out of the wars following the French Revolution, kicking French recruiters out of the country, despite strong Republican support for involvement. Having decided not to run for a third term, Washington delivered his 'Farewell Address', imploring his countrymen to avoid foreign 'entanglements'. There were two drafts; one that Washington drew up in 1796, and the actual one, rewritten with Alexander Hamilton in 1797.

In the course of his address, Washington (with Hamilton's help) relies on many different devices to persuade his audience. He uses language, switching from sermonical preaching to simple straightforward prose and back. He draws on the prevailing values of his society. And finally, he draws on (mostly recent) lessons of history through subtle (and not so subtle) allusions.

He begins his Address...