Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 5: Washington’s Farewell Address

Chapter 5: Washington’s Farewell Address

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





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Chapter 5: Washington’s Farewell Address:

46-47: Conor Cruise O’Brien, First in Peace: How George Washington Set the Course for America (Cambridge, Mass.: DaCapo, 2009), pp. 21-22. On Washington’s diplomacy toward the French Revolution see also Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (New York: Oxford University, 1993), chapter 8; James Thomas Flexner, George Washington and the New Nation, 1783-1793 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970), chapter 22. John Adams’ final work of political theory, Discourses on Davila (1790-91) likewise foresaw how the French Revolution would miscarry and extirpate liberty: Robert W. Smith, Keeping the Republic: Ideology and Early American Diplomacy (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University, 2004), p. 96.

47: Conor Cruise O’ Brien, The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996), p. 145. For my own concise yet comprehensive interpretation of Washington’s presidency see McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828 (NewYork: HarperCollins, 2004), pp. 337-57.

47-48: O’Brien, The Long Affair, quotes from Jefferson, p. 81; Conor Cruise O’Brien, First in Peace: How George Washington Set the Course for America (Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo, 2009), quotes from Washington to Morris, pp. 21-22.

48-49: Conventional wisdom holds that besides the personal passages the Farewell Address was drafted mostly by Hamilton. In May 1796 the president sent him an earlier draft composed in tandem with James Madison with permission “to throw the whole into a different form.” See Felix Gilbert, To the Farewell Address: Ideas of Early American Foreign Policy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 1961), pp. 123-36.  But recently John Lamberton Harper, Alexander Hamilton and the Origins of U.S. Foreign Policy (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University, 2004), and O’Brien, First in Peace, pp. 161-67, have argued that Washington was the principal author.  Hamilton’s main contribution, writes Harper, was to incline the text “toward a prudent, realistic recognition of America’s long-term inseparability from the European state system that it otherwise would not have had” (p. 177).  That is, the Address emphasized the wisdom of neutrality precisely because the United States could not “isolate” themselves from the rivalries of the European powers.  See also Karl-Friedrich Walling, Republican Empire: Alexander Hamilton and War and Free Government (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1999) and Lawrence S. Kaplan, Alexander Hamilton: Ambivalent Anglophile (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2002), who faults Hamilton for failing to appreciate how frightening his visions of national greatness appeared to the Jeffersonian opposition.  He quotes John Adams to the effect that Hamilton “knew no more of the sentiments and feeling of the people of America, than he did of those of the inhabitants of one of the planets” (p. 159).

48-49 cont.: In “Political Observations” (April 20, 1795), Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 vols. (New York: R. Worthington, 1884), IV: 491, he wrote: “Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered in both.  No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it.  In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them.  In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle.  The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.”

48-49 cont: David C. Hendrickson, Union, Nation, or Empire: The American Debate over International Relations, 1789-1941 (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2009), pp. 25-34. Washington was enraged by suggestions that his policies had ulterior or self-serving motives. Thus, when he heard rumors that Jefferson was accusing him of secret favoritism toward Britain, Washington candidly wrote that he the rumors had to be false “unless (which I do not believe) he has set me down as one of the most deceitful, & uncandid men living….  Having determined, as far as lay within the powers of the Executive, to keep this country in a state of neutrality, I have made my public conduct accord with the system, and whilst so acting as a public character, consistency, & propriety as a private man, forbid those intemperate expressions in favor of one Nation, or to the prejudice of another, wch <sic> many have indulged themselves in – I will venture to add – to the embarrassment of government, without producing any good to the Country.  With very great esteem & regard I am – Dear Sir Your Obedt & Affecte Go. Washington”: private letter to Henry Lee (Aug. 26, 1794) in David Hoth and Carol S. Eber, eds., The Papers of George Washington. Presidential Series 16 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2011), pp. 603-4.

49, ¶ 1: Felix Gilbert, “Bicentennial Reflections,” Foreign Affairs 54, no. 4 (July 1976): 635-44 (quotes, p. 642); Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York: Penguin, 2004), pp. 505-8.

49-51: Washington’s Farewell Address (Sept. 19, 1796): – emphasis added.

52, ¶ 2: Washington to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, from Philadelphia (May 1, 1796), in John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, 39 vols. (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1931-44), 35: 29-31. According to Burton Ira Kaufman, Washington’s Farewell Address: The View From the 20th Century (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969), pp. 169-87, the Farewell Address clearly expressed the belief that the greatest peril to America’s future was disunity and the next greatest foreign war.

  1. Letter to Lafayette from Mt. Vernon (July 25, 1785), in Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of Washington 28: 205-10.


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