Washington's Farewell Address comprises various aspects of American political thinking. It reaches beyond any period limited in time and reveals the basic issue of the American attitude toward foreign policy: the tension between Idealism and Realism. Settled by men who looked for gain and by men who sought freedom, born into independence in a century of enlightened thinking and of power politics, America has wavered in her foreign policy between Idealism and Realism, and her great historical moments have occurred when both were combined. Thus the history of the Farwell Address forms only part of the wider, endless, urgent problem. Felix Gilbert analyzes the diverse intellectual trends which went into the making of the Farwell Address, and sheds light on its beginnings.
Washington's Farewell Address to the People of the United States. This reprinted compact volume contains the official text of George Washington's historic Farewell Address, which he wrote in September 1796 after he decided not to seek a third term as President of the United States. Two-thirds of the Address is devoted to domestic matters and the rise of political parties, and Washington set out his vision of what would make the United States a truly great nation. He called for men to put aside party and unite for the common good, an "American character" wholly free of foreign attachments. The United States must concentrate only on American interests, and while the country ought to be friendly and open its commerce to all nations, it should avoid becoming involved in foreign wars.
In September 1796, worn out by burdens of the presidency and attacks of political foes, George Washington announced his decision not to seek a third term. With the assistance of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Washington composed in a "Farewell Address" his political testament to the nation. Designed to inspire and guide future generations, the address also set forth Washington's defense of his administration's record and embodied a classic statement of Federalist doctrine. The practice of reading the Farewell Address did not immediately become a tradition. The address was first read in regular legislative sessions of the Senate in 1888 and the House in 1899. (The House continued the practice until 1984.) Since 1893 the Senate has observed Washington's birthday by selecting one of its members to read the Farewell Address. The assignment alternates between members of each political party. At the conclusion of each reading, the appointed senator inscribes his or her name and brief remarks in a black, leatherbound book maintained by the secretary of the Senate. The version of the address printed here is taken from the original of the final manuscript in the New York Public Library provided courtesy of The Papers of George Washington. The only changes have been to modernize spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Washington did not publicly deliver his Farewell Address. It first appeared on September 19, 1796, in the Philadelphia Daily American Advertiser and then in papers around the country.