Thursday, February 11, 2021

Wisdom from Washington

Monday, February 15th, is Washington's Birthday, a public holiday in the United States. Federal, state, and local government offices will be closed as will many non-retail business.

Since 1971, Washington's Birthday has been observed, as a public holiday on the third Monday in February. The day is commonly called "Presidents’ Day," but the legal name remains, "Washington's Birthday."

"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and enduring scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. To his equals he was condescending, to his inferiors kind, and to the dear object of his affections exemplarily tender; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. His last scene comported with the whole tenor of his life although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and with undisturbed serenity he closed his well-spent life. Such was the man America has lost such was the man for whom our nation mourns."
-- Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee

We could do no better, in reflecting on the life and influence of President Washington, than to consult his 1796 Farewell Address to the nation written as he prepared to retire from public life. It was almost immediately reprinted in newspapers across the country and later in pamphlet form.

In the address Washington argues that the Union of the States "ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty," and that "there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands." He warns against sectionalism: North versus South, or Atlantic versus West. He praises the Constitution, which he declares, "improved upon [the Articles of Confederation]" and "better calculated than [the Articles] for an intimate union." The Constitution, he says, "till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all." As every schoolboy knows, he then goes on to warn against factions and "the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally."

Washington stresses the need for religion and morality if the republic is to be preserved. And he exhorts to maintain good public credit and to be careful with regard to public debt "not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear." Finally Washington warns against foreign alliances.

The full text of the Address is available at libraries and online. The original hand-written address is 32 pages in length, far from a 140 character "tweet."

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