Farewell Speech Samples
George Washington, 1796
George Washington had been the obvious choice to be the first president of the United States, and
indeed, many people had supported ratification of the Constitution on the assumption that Washington
would be the head of the new government. By all measures, Washington proved himself a capable, even
a great, president, helping to shape the new government and leading the country skillfully through several
crises, both foreign and domestic.
Washington, like many of his contemporaries, did not understand or believe in political parties, and saw
them as fractious agencies subversive of domestic tranquility. When political parties began forming during
his administration, and in direct response to some of his policies, he failed to comprehend that parties
would be the chief device through which the American people would debate and resolve major public
issues. It was his fear of what parties would do to the nation that led Washington to draft his Farewell
The two parties that developed in the early 1790s were the Federalists, who supported the economic and
foreign policies of the Washington administration, and the Jeffersonian Republicans, who in large
measure opposed them. The Federalists backed Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's plan for
a central bank and a tariff and tax policy that would promote domestic manufacturing; the Jeffersonians
opposed the strong government inherent in the Hamiltonian plan, and favored farmers as opposed to
manufacturers. In foreign affairs, both sides wanted the United States to remain neutral in the growing
controversies between Great Britain and France, but the Federalists favored the English and the
Jeffersonians the French. The Address derived at least in part from Washington's fear that party
factionalism would drag the United States into this fray.
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. Contrary to some
opinion, Washington did not call for isolation, only the avoidance of entangling alliances. While he called
for maintenance of the treaty with France signed during the American Revolution, the problems created
by that treaty ought to be clear. The United States must "act for ourselves and not for others."
The Address quickly entered the realm of revealed truth. It was for decades read annually in Congress; it
was printed in children's primers, engraved on watches and woven into tapestries. Many Americans,
especially in subsequent generations, accepted Washington's advice as gospel, and in any debate
between neutrality and involvement in foreign issues would invoke the message as dispositive of all
questions. Not until 1949, in fact, would the United States again sign a treaty of alliance with a foreign
For further reading: Burton I. Kaufman, ed., Washington's Farewell Address: The View from the 20th
Century (1969); Paul A. Varg, Foreign Policies of the Founding Fathers (1963); Alexander De Conde,
Entangling Alliances (1958).
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....
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 toward 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....
Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare which can not end 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 permanency of your felicity as a people.... 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,
habitual, 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
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, benefiting by the same 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 governments, 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....
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. 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 can not shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and
heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other
those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection....
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 till 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
Toward 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 can not 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 hypothesis and
opinion exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis 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 government, 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 con-fine 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
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 enemy....
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 finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of
party passion. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of
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 intrusted 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.... 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
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 have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen
which we ourselves ought to bear....
Observe good faith and justice toward 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 felicity 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 toward all should be cultivated. The nation
which indulges toward 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.
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 country 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....
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
remain 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
Why forego 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, therefore, let those engagements
be observed in their genuine sense. But in my opinion it is unnecessary and would be unwise to
Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive
posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
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 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 independence 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 discard....
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 toward 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.
Source: J.D. Richardson, ed., Compilation of Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol.1 (1907), 213.
Reading for Purpose
Identify the two main points Washington is making in this address, citing excerpts from the text to illustrate your
point. Explain how both of these issues relate to the present day and argue whether Washington’s advice is still
applicable to current situations. You may do this in sentence or chart form.