It is September and I am reminded that, at the close of his second term as president, George Washington wrote a farewell address to the people of our nation, declining to serve another term as president and offering insight and guidance to the new nation. This address was first published in Claypoole's American Daily Advertiser, a Pennsylvania newspaper, on Sept. 19, 1796. It was then reprinted in newspapers across the country.
Each year in February, in commemoration of President George Washington's Birthday, his 1796 Farewell Address is read on the floor of the U.S. Senate. It was read in both chambers, but the House discontinued the practice in 1984 -- I'm not surprised. But even though it is still read in the Senate (often to a mostly empty chamber), does anybody heed these words to which we give annual lipservice?
What's in the address? In addition to Washington's explanation as to why he was retiring from public life after his second term as president -- something more politicians ought to consider -- Washington offers some guiding advice to a young nation that our country would do well to heed yet today.
As our nation's only true nonpartisan president, Washington outlined the dangers of geographical and political factions and parties. He warned against factions between North and South, East and West, and urged the nation to work together in unity for the common good. His advice went unheeded as political parties and factions struggled for power. Not only was the nation divided North versus South for a season; it still struggles with a two-party system which often does more for the sake of political power than for the nation's good.
Washington urged strict adherence to the nation's new constitution and warned against overstepping constitutional authority and the division of powers spelled out in the U.S. Constitution -- even when the cause seems good and right. Rather than violating the provisions of the document upon which our nation is founded, Washington urged taking the time and following the constitutional guidelines for altering the document if changes were deemed absolutely necessary.
But today the executive branch violates the constitutional provisions put in place to protect citizens from government intrusion into their private lives. Instead of submitting to the Constitution's Bill of Rights, it looks for ways to circumvent the Constitutional protections and it allows the government to eavesdrop on its citizens in its "war against terror." When the president can't get Congress to enact the laws he wants, he seeks to legislate his agendas through executive orders. And how many recent military actions in which we have sent our young men to fight and to die on foreign soil are legitimate wars declared so by Congress? Think June 3, 1942.
The legislative branch has ignored the Constitution's provisions regarding a direct tax and has trampled on the rights of citizens to keep and bear arms and "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." And it continues to overstep its constitutional duties and limitations by allocating our tax dollars to projects and programs far outside the purview of the federal government's powers and authority. Did you ever think that we might be able to live within our means, pay down our national debt, and then reduce taxes if the government cut all programs and expenditures outside of its constitutional authority in Article I, Section 8?
The judicial branch has, in effect, legislated by rulings based on opinion and bias rather than on sound interpretations of the Constitution. Thus, we have had protections for the murder of millions of unborn children and now for same-sex marriage and an ever-growing list of alternative lifestyles.
Washington said that religion and morality are our nation's "indispensable supports" and that there can be no morality and justice apart from religion. Since so many deny religion's role in the founding and preservation of our nation, I'll include his words to prove my point:
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
Apparently, no one is listening to our first president. Our nation's government, both through its courts and its laws, has attempted to completely separate religion and religion-based morality from our nation's laws and public duties. And Washington was right; it can't be done. Citizens and public officials lie under oath, and less and less respect is shown for human life, for marriage and families, and for the rights of individuals to own and use property.
And did you catch those words of Washington, those of you who would do away with religious morals? You are not a patriot!
Washington cautioned against government borrowing and added that, if it needed to be done in times of war, the debt should quickly be repaid so that the burden of one generation is not passed down to the next. He even urged avoiding such occasions of expense (wars) by pursuing peace.
Need I even say that no one has been listening? Our national debt has soared beyond my ability to count. I learned what a billion and a trillion were when the government debt reached that mark. What comes after a trillion? I expect I'll soon find out when reading about our government's ever-growing debt.
Taxes are already unbearable for many. What will it be like for our children? I hate to think about it. I suppose the government will finally seize everyone's property in lieu of unpaid taxes, and we'll all become -- even more than we already are -- the servants of a tyrannical government.
Washington urged neutrality in dealing with foreign nations and avoiding any permanent foreign alliances. He stated his belief that our nation would fare much better if it were fair and impartial in its dealings with other nations and that it could avoid devastating and costly wars by neutrality in the conflicts of other nations.
Who is listening to this wise president? Who is heeding his advice? It seems our nation is so entangled in the affairs of other nations that we can't handle our own anymore. There is a time for peace and a time for war, but it seems our leaders don't count the costs and don't carefully consider the outcomes of war -- even if we should win.
I am happy the Senate still reads Washington's Farewell Address each year. We need to hear the wise advice of our first president. What great advice he gives! What troubles me is that, while Washington's wise counsel is read each year, our government leaders aren't listening. In essence, Congress honors and builds up the tomb of one of our nation's greatest leaders. But, like much of what Congress does, it's all for show and political gain.
If George Washington were alive and president today, I suspect most of our officials in Washington who pay lip service to his memory by rereading his Farewell Address would be more than anxious to run him out of town.
Randy Moll is the weeklies editor for Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. He may be contacted by email at [email protected]. Opinions expressed are those of the author.