Yesterday, I shared George Washington’s farewell address from 19 September 1796. In it, he warned Americans against devolving into political parties and he encouraged them to remain neutral when it comes to international politics.
I really, really like his speech, and I wish more people would read it. But it’s long (6000 words) and while the language isn’t too convoluted, it does get boggy in spots. So, I spent some time attempting to “translate” Washington’s farewell address into modern English. At the same time, I trimmed it from 6000 words to 1000 words.
I’ll grant that I could very well have made some errors here, both in interpretation and in translation. If you spot a mistake, please tell me so that I can fix it.
With that out of the way, here’s my attempt to convert George Washington’s farewell address from 1796 to 2021…
George Washington’s Farewell Address (in Modern English)
I’m not running for re-election. This was a difficult decision, but I think it’s best for me and for the country. I didn’t even want to serve a second term, and I’m certainly not coming back for a third.
I’ve tried to be a good President, although I know I wasn’t perfect. I’m grateful for so much support during the past eight years. I wish you all well in the future.
Before I retire, let me offer you some free advice. [Yes, that’s a little Hamilton joke. A very little one.]
Right now, the country is unified. For the most part, everyone gets along. That’s not going to last. Please please please, always remember that you are Americans first before whatever other differences divide you. Work toward the common good of the country above all else.
The North depends upon the South; the South depends upon the North. The East depends upon the West; the West depends upon the East. We’re all interconnected. Try not to quarrel amongst yourselves but instead stand united — especially against foreign influence. (But be careful not to let the military grow too large. That’s also a danger to freedom.)
This American experiment has never been tried before, and you’re going to find (and make) mistakes. That’s okay.
Remember to always prize unity over division.
I’ve been thinking about the things that might tear this country apart, and I’m especially worried about the formation of political parties. Political parties put their own interests over those of the nation. They’re divisive. We are a union, and parties are antithetical to that. The federal government must represent all Americans, not just a few. Factions make this problematic.
The Constitution is a fine document, and you should respect it. Still, it’s not infallible and I’m sure it’ll have to be changed in the future. That’s okay! When you do change it, make sure the changes reflect the will of the majority.
I know that sometimes political parties will seem like they solve some sort of short-term problem, but they’re going to really screw things up in the long term. I mean it. Watch out for them.
Fight against those who reject the authority of the federal government. When you eventually have to make changes to the government, be cautious about those changes. Remember that the purpose of government is to guarantee “the rights of person and property”.
I know I’ve already warned you against party politics, but I’m going to warn you again.
Look, I get that it’s human nature to want to ally yourself with those who think like you do. But fight the urge. Political parties can grow cancerous. Partisanship “is itself a frightful despotism”. Sooner or later, the leader of some party is going to destroy your freedoms.
Wise people avoid putting party over country.
Partisanship weakens government. Partisanship kindles hatred. Partisanship “opens the door to foreign influence and corruption”. Some folks argue that parties offer a check on government. This might be true with monarchies, but they’re a danger to democracy.
Okay, enough of that.
Next, let me also warn government officials not to overstep their bounds. Some people lust for power. We’ve created a government with checks and balances to try to prevent the power-hungry from seizing control, but we probably didn’t get things perfect. It’s likely that you’ll have to change the Constitution.
To have good government, you have to have good morals. To have good morals, you usually need religion. I suppose it’s possible to have good morals without religion, but religion is a sure source.
Education leads to good morals and good government too, so do whatever you can to promote the education of the general public.
The government also needs to be smart with money.
To that end, promote peace. Peace is far cheaper than war. (But, at the same time, don’t ignore the national defense. Be prepared!) Keep the country out of debt whenever possible. To do this, you’re going to have to levy taxes. I know that taxes suck, but they’re a necessity.
Cultivate peace and harmony with all nations. America should stand as an example to the rest of the world. This means that we should be as neutral as possible, avoiding strong positive or negative relations with individual countries. A passionate hatred of a nation leads to evil, but so too does a passionate attachment.
These passionate hatreds and attachments foster internal corruption and foreign influence. (Partisan politics also foster foreign influence.)
I’m serious. Foreign influence is a very real threat. Guard against it. Reject excessive partiality or hatred toward other nations. Really, I think we should have as little connection with other countries as possible. Let them worry about themselves while we worry about us.
Unity. Efficient government. Foreign neutrality. Remember these three things.
Steer clear of foreign alliances. This military and political neutrality should also extend to economic neutrality. Deal fairly with all nations, but be wary of becoming too involved with any one country. They have have their own interests at heart.
I know I’m old, but with age comes wisdom. I truly believe what I’ve given here is wise advice.
I’ve done my best to be a faithful public servant. I’ve done what I can to buy time for our young nation to grow and mature. Still, I’m sure I’ve made mistakes. I hope you’ll forgive them. I meant well.
I love America. I served it for 45 years. Now, however, it’s time for me to rest and to enjoy the fruit of my labors. Peace out!