Note: I am reposting this address as it was the topic of the Continental Congress 2009 discussion today. Delegate after delegate were stunned to hear this address, as it seems Washington was predicting the calamity that has befallen the United States now.
In continued celebration of Constitution Day, September 17, a focus on President George Washington’s Farewell Address to the American People seems both appropriate and timely.
Washington had stunned his colleagues by refusing to stand as a candidate for President as the United States prepared for its second Presidential election, explaining why it was necessary for him personally and for the growth of the young country. The spirit of liberty and the administration of a government based on these principles deeply motivated Washington:
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; than, 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. [emphasis added]
Washington’s farewell address then went on to both advise and warn us of the dangers that would be ever-present in the governance and administration of America:
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 counsels, and modified by mutual interests.
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…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. [emphasis added]
A caution clearly stated regarding innovation, that is, amendment of the Constitution. The phrase ‘irregular oppositions to it’s acknowledged authority’ is critical as we examine today’s almost daily regular opposition to its authority by our elected representatives. The insidious forces, the daily insults, which seem to shift the meaning of our founding documents’ intent, are a kind of death by a thousand cuts I believe Washington was warning of:
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.
An increasing portion of the American population clearly understands that a fundamental basis of the ‘taxpayer’s movement’ is the Constitution…and that it is necessary to use the tools and directives that our founders gave us to restore and maintain its existence. On this 17th day of September, let us never forget the document that to this day is the law of our land.