There’s so much noise from so many different perspectives and voices today, that I imagine it’s difficult for most people to filter everything. It’s probably easier to just pick a “side” and just tune out any noise we don’t want to hear. This however tends to create barriers and walls between us. We are a Union of many different peoples, with many opinions. Is there any voice today that might help Americans to remember how truly connected we are to each other? Perhaps we should hear from someone else, another voice with more knowledge about such things; someone distant enough from the noise of today, that more of us might just listen. I present you the first president of these United States of America, George Washington.
Washington wrote a letter to this new nation in 1792, but set it aside while he continued to work to secure the fragile country from forces that almost immediately began working to undo every advance that had been made to that point. Over the next four years, with the help of his friends Madison and Hamilton, and following his second term in office, George Washington’s letter was finally completed and published in 1796 as his “Farewell Address” to the nation.
The Wikipedia entry on this topic is very interesting as well. I encourage you to read it, along with the entire letter. Yes, the language and writing style of the time is a bit difficult to translate, but it’s well worth it.
I have copied a very small number of excerpts below, which focus particularly on the concerns of Washington (and most of our Founding Fathers) with regard to dangers of “party” or groups seeking to divide our new nation, and each of us, from ourselves. Washington and others from that time knew full well the dangers we would face, and which we do face today. We are all Americans first, with more common cause than difference.
Here are my selected excerpts from George Washington’s Farewell Address to the People of the United States of America:
“…All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.”
Translation: Don’t allow anyone, any party, or any branch or agency of government, to use legal or bureaucratic tricks to disregard or undermine the will of the nation. For example: People have the right to vote. Don’t resort to administrative tricks, excessive registration requirements, or only mailing city, state and county election materials and voting information to voters from your own party.
“…In contemplating the causes, which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by Geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavour to excite a belief, that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.”
Translation: Beware of anyone who tells you that your neighbor is your enemy, or who try to divide your house against itself.
“…The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.”
Translation: We have the freedom to change our Constitution in the future. We also have a sacred obligation to the Constitution as it is today. No individual or group can selectively decide to ignore established Clauses and Amendments of the written document that is the basis of our democratic republic. If you want something to change, change it. By the way, a note to our political leaders: “Promote the General Welfare” (from our Constitution’s Preamble) means everyone… not just 1% of the population, or the 400 wealthiest families.
“…With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”
“…your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.”
Translation: We are stronger united, than divided.