Thursday, March 05, 2015

George Washington: Ignored Father of his Country

The United States Senate reads “George Washington’s Farewell Address” every year, alternating between the two parties.  It was read by John Hoeven, R-ND on February 23, 2015.  The House of Representatives last read it publicly in 1984.  You can find a copy at

Whether Congress listens to the reading or not, I think they often forget what George Washington wrote, maybe within hours of the reading.

Washington warned again and again about faction.  One example is:

“[The obstructions of constituted authorities] 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 councils and modified by mutual interests.” [page 14]

He went on about how unprincipled men could actually take over the government, subverting the will of the people.

In the same month that a Republican Senator read “Washington’s Farewell Address”, the Republicans went right back to factionalism, finding all kinds of fault with President Obama and pushing a corporate agenda.

As General of the Continental Army, Washington provided lessons that we have not learned about wars but “insurgents” in many countries know only to well.

Washington and the Continental Army knew the country; the British did not.  Boxed in several times, Washington managed to escape with his army.  For example, he was in Manhattan and Brooklyn when the British invaded Long Island.  He commandeered every boat he could and took all his men, cannon, horses, and more to Manhattan on a foggy night and then on to White Plains..

"I am well convinced myself, that the enemy long ere this, are perfectly satisfied that the possession of our towns while we have an army in the field will avail them little.”  Think Baghdad, Kabul.

He predated by almost two centuries Mao Zedong: “enemy advances, we retreat; enemy retreats, we pursue.”

George Washington also stuck to the task from 1775 until the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781.  What is the average tour of duty of a general in Iraq or Afghanistan?  And of course, every general has a different idea of what to do.  Oh, yes!  Washington would let himself be outvoted by his officers.

As President, George Washington was for efficient government, not necessarily for limited government: “for the efficient management of your 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…  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.” [pages 15-16]

“[The spirit of party] opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.” [pages 17-18]  Does this apply to the Congressional invitation for the prime minister of Israel to speak before it?

“And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.” [page 20]  Note that he doesn’t specify what religion, one of the numerous Christian sects or one of the many non-Christian sects.

Washington wrote a section on the need for public credit and to use it sparingly by “cultivating peace”.  If war is necessary, the burden should not be put on future generations.  “[Y]ou should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes…”  He followed this with a discourse about the problem of selecting what to tax.  I wonder what he would think of all the highways that we demand, the degree of safety oversight we want, and the research we want.

He wrote a couple pages about the necessity of treating all nations the same. “The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, in is some degree a slave.”  What would Washington say about our relations with Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Israel, Saudi Arabia, or Egypt?  All of them manipulate us more than we manipulate them.  George Washington considered those who resist these entanglements as the “real patriots”.

He also extended this view to commerce: “our commercial policy should hold an equal hand: neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences…” [page 28]

As much as we have put Washington on a pedestal, he is more modest: “I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.”

He looked forward to enjoying “the benign influence of good laws under a free government…”

Sorry, Mr. President, but fools have rushed in where heroes fear to tread.  We have many bad laws under a bought government.

Mel votes in almost every election, mostly in the hope of avoiding really bad laws.

Also published in the Reader Weekly, 2015-03-05 at