September 19, 1796 – George Washington Warns the Country About Political Rivalries

On this day in history, President George Washington’s “Farewell Address to the People of the United States of America” was published in the “American Daily Advertiser.”

The address is notable for many wise pronouncements, among them being his warning about political rivalries, about which he knew firsthand from dealing so long with, inter alia, the vicious competition between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.

He expressed his concern on a number of developments disturbing the new country:

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.

…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.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. …”

If he were watching us now, he would undoubtedly be shaking his head and saying “I told you…..”

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

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