To The People Of The United States by George Washington

What follows is the version of the letter which has, traditionally, been read by the Senate each year – although considering recent events, I’m not sure if any of our elected representatives listen or consider what Washington is trying so hard to convey.  I have not made any changes other than to indent the text of the actual letter (so you will notice page numbers and repeated headings, which are in the document found on the U.S. Senate Website) – There is also a brief introduction prepared by the Senate Historical Office, The link to the Senate site which holds the letter is HERE

George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 2 Letterbooks
George Washington, September 17, 1796, Farewell Address

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Internet: Phone: (202) 512–1800 FAX: (202) 512–2250
Mail: Stop SSOP, Washington, D.C. 20402–0001
Prepared by the United States Senate Historical Office
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.
Washington’s principal concern was for the safety of the eight-yearold
Constitution. He believed that the stability of the Republic was
threatened by the forces of geographical sectionalism, political factionalism,
and interference by foreign powers in the nation’s domestic affairs.
He urged Americans to subordinate sectional jealousies to common
national interests. Writing at a time before political parties had
become accepted as vital extraconstitutional, opinion-focusing agencies,
Washington feared that they carried the seeds of the nation’s destruction
through petty factionalism. Although Washington was in no
sense the father of American isolationism, since he recognized the necessity
of temporary associations for “extraordinary emergencies,” he
did counsel against the establishment of “permanent alliances with
other countries,” connections that he warned would inevitably be subversive
of America’s national interest.
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.
In January 1862, with the Constitution endangered by civil war, a thousand
citizens of Philadelphia petitioned Congress to commemorate the
forthcoming 130th anniversary of George Washington’s birth by providing
that “the Farewell Address of Washington be read aloud on the morning
of that day in one or the other of the Houses of Congress.” Both
houses agreed and assembled in the House of Representatives’ chamber
on February 22, 1862, where Secretary of the Senate John W. Forney “rendered
‘The Farewell Address’ very effectively,” as one observer recalled.
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.


To the people of the United States


Friends and Fellow-Citizens: The period for a
new election of a citizen to administer the executive
government of the United States being not far
distant, and the time actually arrived when your
thoughts must be employed in designating the person
who is to be clothed with that important trust,
it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce
to a more distinct expression of the public
voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution
I have formed, to decline being considered
among the number of those out of whom a choice
is to be made.
I beg you at the same time to do me the justice to
be assured that this resolution has not been taken
without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining
to the relation which binds a dutiful citi-
zen to his country—and that, in withdrawing the
tender of service which silence in my situation
might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of
zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful
respect for your past kindness, but am supported
by a full conviction that the step is compatible
with both.
The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in,
the office to which your suffrages have twice called
me have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to
the opinion of duty and to a deference for what appeared
to be your desire. I constantly hoped that it
would have been much earlier in my power, consistently
with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard,
to return to that retirement from which I
had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination
to do this, previous to the last election,
had even led to the preparation of an address to
declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then
perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with
foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons
entitled to my confidence, impelled me to
abandon the idea.
I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external


as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of
inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty
or propriety and am persuaded, whatever partiality
may be retained for my services, that in the present
circumstances of our country you will not disapprove
my determination to retire.
The impressions with which I first undertook
the arduous trust were explained on the proper
occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only
say that I have, with good intentions, contributed
towards the organization and administration of
the government the best exertions of which a very
fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in
the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications,
experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in
the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives
to diffidence of myself, and every day the increasing
weight of years admonishes me more and more that
the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it
will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances
have given peculiar value to my services, they were
temporary, I have the consolation to believe that,
while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political
scene, patriotism does not forbid it.


In looking forward to the moment which is intended
to terminate the career of my public life,
my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep
acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I
owe to my beloved country for the many honors it
has conferred upon me, still more for the steadfast
confidence with which it has supported me and for
the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting
my inviolable attachment by services faithful
and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to
my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country
from these services, let it always be remembered to
your praise and as an instructive example in our
annals that, under circumstances in which the passions
agitated in every direction were liable to mislead,
amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes
of fortune often discouraging, in situations
in which not unfrequently want of success has
countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy
of your support was the essential prop of the efforts
and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected.
Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall
carry it with me to my grave as a strong incitement
to unceasing vows that Heaven may continue to you


the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your
union and brotherly affection may be perpetual;
that the free constitution, which is the work of your
hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration
in every department may be stamped with
wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of
the people of these states, under the auspices of liberty,
may be made complete by so careful a preservation
and so prudent a use of this blessing as will
acquire to them the glory of recommending it to
the applause, the affection, and adoption of every
nation which is yet a stranger to it.
Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude
for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life,
and the apprehension of danger natural to that solicitude,
urge me on an occasion like the present to
offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend
to your frequent review, some sentiments
which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable
observation, and which appear to me
all important to the permanency of your felicity as
a people. These will be offered to you with the
more freedom as you can only see in them the disinterested
warnings of a parting friend, who can


possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel.
Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it,
your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a
former and not dissimilar occasion.
Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament
of your hearts, no recommendation of mine
is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.
The unity of government which constitutes you
one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for
it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence,
the support of your tranquility at home, your
peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of
that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it
is easy to foresee that, from different causes and
from different quarters, much pains will be taken,
many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds
the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in
your political fortress against which the batteries of
internal and external enemies will be most constantly
and actively (though often covertly and insidiously)
directed, it is of infinite moment that you
should properly estimate the immense value of your
national Union to your collective and individual
happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habit-


ual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming
yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium
of your political safety and prosperity; watching
for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing
whatever may suggest even a
suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned;
and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of
every attempt to alienate any portion of our country
from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which
now link together the various parts.
For this you have every inducement of sympathy
and interest. Citizens by birth or choice of a common
country, that country has a right to concentrate
your affections. The name of American,
which belongs to you in your national capacity,
must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more
than any appellation derived from local discriminations.
With slight shades of difference, you have
the same religion, manners, habits, and political
principles. You have in a common cause fought
and triumphed together. The independence and
liberty you possess are the work of joint councils
and joint efforts—of common dangers, sufferings,
and successes.


But these considerations, however powerfully
they address themselves to your sensibility, are
greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately
to your interest. Here every portion of
our country finds the most commanding motives
for carefully guarding and preserving the Union of
the whole.
The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with
the South, protected by the equal laws of a common
government, finds in the productions of the latter
great additional resources of maritime and commercial
enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing
industry. The South in the same intercourse,
benefitting by the agency of the North, sees
its agriculture grow and its commerce expand.
Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of
the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated;
and while it contributes, in different ways, to
nourish and increase the general mass of the national
navigation, it looks forward to the protection
of a maritime strength to which itself is unequally
adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the
West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement
of interior communications by land and water


will more and more find a valuable vent for the
commodities which it brings from abroad or manufactures
at home. The West derives from the East
supplies requisite to its growth and comfort—and
what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must
of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable
outlets for its own productions to the weight,
influence, and the future maritime strength of the
Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble
community of interest as one nation. Any
other tenure by which the West can hold this essential
advantage, whether derived from its own
separate strength or from an apostate and unnatural
connection with any foreign power, must be
intrinsically precarious.
While then every part of our country thus feels
an immediate and particular interest in union, all
the parts combined cannot fail to find in the
united mass of means and efforts greater strength,
greater resource, proportionably greater security
from external danger, a less frequent interruption
of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable
value! they must derive from union an
exemption from those broils and wars between


themselves which so frequently afflict neighboring
countries not tied together by the same government,
which their own rivalships alone would be
sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign
alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate
and embitter. Hence likewise they will avoid
the necessity of those overgrown military establishments,
which under any form of government are
inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded
as particularly hostile to republican liberty.
In this sense it is, that your Union ought to be considered
as a main prop of your liberty, and that the
love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation
of the other.
These considerations speak a persuasive language
to every reflecting and virtuous mind and exhibit
the continuance of the Union as a primary object
of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a
common government can embrace so large a
sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere
speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized
to hope that a proper organization of the
whole, with the auxiliary agency of governments for
the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue


to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment.
With such powerful and obvious motives
to union affecting all parts of our country, while experience
shall not have demonstrated its impracticability,
there will always be reason to distrust the
patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor
to weaken its bands.
In contemplating the causes which may disturb
our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern
that any ground should have been furnished for
characterizing parties by geographical discriminations—
northern and southern—Atlantic and western;
whence designing men may endeavor to excite a
belief that there is a real difference of local interests
and views. One of the expedients of party to
acquire influence within particular districts is to
misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts.
You cannot shield yourselves too much
against the jealousies and heart burnings which
spring from these misrepresentations. They tend to
render alien to each other those who ought to be
bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants
of our western country have lately had a useful
lesson on this head. They have seen in the


negotiation by the executive—and in the unanimous
ratification by the Senate—of the treaty with
Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event
throughout the United States, a decisive proof how
unfounded were the suspicions propagated among
them of a policy in the general government and in
the Atlantic states unfriendly to their interests in regard
to the Mississippi. They have been witnesses to
the formation of two treaties, that with Great
Britain and that with Spain, which secure to them
everything they could desire, in respect to our foreign
relations, towards confirming their prosperity.
Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation
of these advantages on the Union by which
they were procured? Will they not henceforth be
deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would
sever them from their brethren and connect them
with aliens?
To the efficacy and permanency of your Union,
a government for the whole is indispensable. No
alliances, however strict, between the parts can be
an adequate substitute. They must inevitably experience
the infractions and interruptions which all
alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of


this momentous truth, you have improved upon
your first essay by the adoption of a Constitution
of government better calculated than your former
for an intimate Union and for the efficacious
management of your common concerns. This government,
the offspring of our own choice uninfluenced
and unawed, adopted upon full investigation
and mature deliberation, completely free in
its principles, in the distribution of its powers
uniting security with energy, and containing
within itself a provision for its own amendment,
has a just claim to your confidence and your support.
Respect for its authority, compliance with its
laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined
by the fundamental maxims of true liberty.
The basis of our political systems is the right of
the people to make and to alter their constitutions
of government. But the Constitution which at any
time exists, until changed by an explicit and authentic
act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory
upon all. The very idea of the power and the
right of the people to establish government presupposes
the duty of every individual to obey the
established government.


All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all
combinations and associations under whatever plausible
character with the real design to direct, control,
counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action
of the constituted authorities, are destructive of
this fundamental principle and of fatal tendency.
They 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. However
combinations or associations of the above description
may now and then answer popular ends, they
are likely, in the course of time and things, to become
potent engines by which cunning, ambitious,
and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the
power of the people and to usurp for themselves the
reins of government, destroying afterwards the very
engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.


Towards the preservation of your government
and the permanency of your present happy state, it
is requisite not only that you steadily discountenance
irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority
but also that you resist with care the spirit of
innovation upon its principles, however specious
the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect
in the forms of the Constitution alterations
which will impair the energy of the system and thus
to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown.
In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember
that time and habit are at least as necessary
to fix the true character of governments as of
other human institutions, that experience is the
surest standard by which to test the real tendency
of the existing constitution of a country, that facility
in changes upon the credit of mere hypotheses
and opinion exposes to perpetual change from the
endless variety of hypotheses and opinion; and remember,
especially, that 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;
liberty itself will find in such a govern-


ment, with powers properly distributed and adjusted,
its surest guardian. 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.
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.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our
nature, having its root in the strongest passions of
the human mind. It exists under different shapes in
all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or
repressed; but in those of the popular form it is
seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst
The alternate domination of one faction over another,
sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to
party dissension, which in different ages and coun-


tries 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 the 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.
It opens the door to foreign influence and
corruption, which find a facilitated access to the
government itself through the channels of party


passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country
are subjected to the policy and will of another.
There is an opinion that parties in free countries
are useful checks upon the administration of the
government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty.
This within certain limits is probably true—
and in governments of a monarchical cast patriotism
may look with indulgence, if not with favor,
upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular
character, in governments purely elective, it is a
spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency,
it is certain there will always be enough of
that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there
being constant danger of excess, the effort ought
to be by force of public opinion to mitigate and assuage
it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a
uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a
flame, lest instead of warming it should consume.
It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking
in a free country should inspire caution in those
entrusted with its administration to confine themselves
within their respective constitutional spheres,
avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department
to encroach upon another. The spirit of


encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of
all the departments in one and thus to create, whatever
the form of government, a real despotism. A
just estimate of that love of power and proneness to
abuse it which predominates in the human heart is
sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.
The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of
political power, by dividing and distributing it into
different depositories and constituting each the
guardian of the public weal against invasions by the
others, has been evinced by experiments ancient
and modern, some of them in our country and
under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as
necessary as to institute them. If in the opinion of
the people the distribution or modification of the
constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let
it be corrected by an amendment in the way which
the Constitution designates. But let there be no
change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance,
may be the instrument of good, it is the customary
weapon by which free governments are destroyed.
The precedent must always greatly
overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient
benefit which the use can at any time yield.


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.
It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a
necessary spring of popular government. The rule
indeed extends with more or less force to every
species of free government. Who that is a sincere


friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts
to shake the foundation of the fabric?
Promote then, as an object of primary importance,
institutions for the general diffusion of
knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government
gives force to public opinion, it is essential
that public opinion should be enlightened.
As a very important source of strength and security,
cherish public credit. One method of preserving
it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding
occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering
also that timely disbursements to prepare
for danger frequently prevent much greater
disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation
of debt, not only by shunning occasions
of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time
of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable
wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing
upon posterity the burden which we ourselves
ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs
to your representatives, but it is necessary
that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate
to them the performance of their duty, it is essential
that you should practically bear in mind that to-


wards the payment of debts there must be revenue;
that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no
taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient
and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment
inseparable from the selection of the
proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties)
ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction
of the conduct of the government in making
it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the
measures for obtaining revenue which the public
exigencies may at any time dictate.
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations;
cultivate peace and harmony with all; religion
and morality enjoin this conduct, and can it
be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It
will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant
period, a great nation, to give to mankind the
magnanimous and too novel example of a people
always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.
Who can doubt that in the course of time
and things the fruits of such a plan would richly
repay any temporary advantages which might be
lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be, that
Providence has not connected the permanent felic-


ity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at
least, is recommended by every sentiment which
ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible
by its vices?
In the execution of such a plan nothing is more
essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies
against particular nations and passionate
attachments for others should be excluded and
that in place of them just and amicable feelings towards
all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges
towards another an habitual hatred, or an
habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a
slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of
which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and
its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another
disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury,
to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to
be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling
occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent
collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests.
The nation, prompted by ill will and resentment,
sometimes impels to war the government,
contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government
sometimes participates in the national


propensity and adopts through passion what reason
would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity
of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated
by pride, ambition and other sinister and
pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes
perhaps the liberty, of nations has been the victim.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation
for another produces a variety of evils.
Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion
of an imaginary common interest in cases
where no real common interest exists and infusing
into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former
into a participation in the quarrels and wars of
the latter, without adequate inducement or justification.
It leads also to concessions to the favorite
nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt
doubly to injure the nation making the concessions,
by unnecessarily parting with what ought to
have been retained and by exciting jealousy, ill will,
and a disposition to retaliate in the parties from
whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to
ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote
themselves to the favorite nation) facility to
betray or sacrifice the interests of their own coun-


try without odium, sometimes even with popularity,
gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of
obligation, a commendable deference for public
opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the
base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption,
or infatuation.
As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable
ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to
the truly enlightened and independent patriot.
How many opportunities do they afford to tamper
with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction,
to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe
the public councils! Such an attachment of a small
or weak towards a great and powerful nation
dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence
(I conjure you to believe me, fellow citizens) the
jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly
awake, since history and experience prove that foreign
influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican
government. But that jealousy to be useful
must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument
of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense
against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign


nation and excessive dislike of another cause those
whom they actuate to see danger only on one side,
and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence
on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the
intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected
and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp
the applause and confidence of the people to surrender
their interests.
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign
nations is, in extending our commercial relations,
to have with them as little political connection
as possible. So far as we have already formed
engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect
good faith. Here let us stop.
Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us
have none or a very remote relation. Hence she
must be engaged in frequent controversies, the
causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns.
Hence therefore it must be unwise in us to
implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary
vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations
and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
Our detached and distant situation invites and
enables us to pursue a different course. If we re-


main one people under an efficient government,
the period is not far off when we may defy material
injury from external annoyance; when we may take
such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may
at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected;
when belligerent nations, under the impossibility
of making acquisitions upon us, will not
lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we
may choose peace or war, as our interest guided by
justice shall counsel.
Why forgo the advantages of so peculiar a situation?
Why quit our own to stand upon foreign
ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that
of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and
prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship,
interest, humor, or caprice?
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent
alliances with any portion of the foreign world—so
far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it, for let
me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity
to existing engagements (I hold the maxim
no less applicable to public than to private affairs,
that honesty is always the best policy)—I repeat it
therefore, let those engagements be observed in


their genuine sense. But in my opinion it is unnecessary
and would be unwise to extend them.
Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable
establishments, on a respectably defensive posture,
we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary
Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are
recommended by policy, humanity, and interest.
But even our commercial policy should hold an
equal and impartial hand: neither seeking nor
granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting
the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying
by gentle means the streams of commerce but
forcing nothing; establishing with powers so disposed—
in order to give to trade a stable course, to
define the rights of our merchants, and to enable
the government to support them—conventional
rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances
and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary,
and liable to be from time to time abandoned
or varied, as experience and circumstances shall
dictate; constantly keeping in view, that it is folly in
one nation to look for disinterested favors from another—
that it must pay with a portion of its inde-


pendence for whatever it may accept under that
character—that by such acceptance it may place itself
in the condition of having given equivalents for
nominal favors and yet of being reproached with
ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no
greater error than to expect or calculate upon real
favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which
experience must cure, which a just pride ought to
In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels
of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not
hope they will make the strong and lasting impression
I could wish—that they will control the usual
current of the passions or prevent our nation from
running the course which has hitherto marked the
destiny of nations. But if I may even flatter myself
that they may be productive of some partial benefit,
some occasional good, that they may now and
then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to
warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to
guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism—
this hope will be a full recompense for the
solicitude for your welfare by which they have been


How far in the discharge of my official duties I
have been guided by the principles which have
been delineated, the public records and other evidences
of my conduct must witness to you and to
the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience
is that I have at least believed myself to be
guided by them.
In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe,
my proclamation of the 22d of April 1793 is the
index to my plan. Sanctioned by your approving
voice and by that of your representatives in both
houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has
continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts
to deter or divert me from it.
After deliberate examination with the aid of the
best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that
our country, under all the circumstances of the
case, had a right to take—and was bound in duty
and interest to take—a neutral position. Having
taken it, I determined, as far as should depend
upon me, to maintain it with moderation, perseverence,
and firmness.
The considerations which respect the right to
hold this conduct it is not necessary on this occa-


sion to detail. I will only observe that, according to
my understanding of the matter, that right, so far
from being denied by any of the belligerent powers,
has been virtually admitted by all.
The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred,
without anything more, from the obligation
which justice and humanity impose on every nation,
in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain
inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards
other nations.
The inducements of interest for observing that
conduct will best be referred to your own reflections
and experience. With me, a predominant
motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our
country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions
and to progress without interruption to that
degree of strength and consistency which is necessary
to give it, humanly speaking, the command of
its own fortunes.
Though in reviewing the incidents of my administration
I am unconscious of intentional error, I
am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to
think it probable that I may have committed many
errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech


the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which
they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope
that my country will never cease to view them with
indulgence and that, after forty-five years of my
life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal,
the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned
to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the
mansions of rest.
Relying on its kindness in this as in other things,
and actuated by that fervent love towards it which
is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil
of himself and his progenitors for several generations,
I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat,
in which I promise myself to realize without
alloy the sweet enjoyment of partaking in the midst
of my fellow citizens the benign influence of good
laws under a free government—the ever favorite
object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust,
of our mutual cares, labors and dangers.

                                                     GEO. WASHINGTON

19th September 1796


2 Responses to To The People Of The United States by George Washington

  1. Focus November 29, 2008 at 12:17 pm #

    I can honestly say I have never seen that before. I had always though, and been told by numerous people, that George Washington had stepped down to show that the President should only serve so long for the good of the country. It appears after reading that that there was more to it than I had originally thought. Very thought provocative and informative. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Mark November 30, 2008 at 3:32 pm #

    @Focus – I appreciate your comment. I think that with the current “political” environment we find in the United States, it is good to be reminded of the “evils of partisanship” and our first President does that in his letter.

Leave a Reply