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George Washington: Farewell Address

George Washington: Farewell Address

On September 17, 1796, leading newspapers published President George Washington's Farewell Address to the nation. Washington, who was nearing the end of his second four-year term, had rejected pleas by members of the Federalist party to seek a third term. The address, which was never delivered orally, is now remembered for its comments on foreign policy, but in 1796 Washington was also concerned with domestic politics.

Alexander Hamilton, who helped draft the Constitution and who wrote many of the essays contained in the Federalist Papers, prepared an initial version of the speech. Washington then revised and reshaped it into its final form. The president used the address both to end speculation that he would seek a third term and to help the chances of the Federalists in the forthcoming election.

Washington discussed the state of U.S. politics and lamented the bitter rivalry that had developed between the Federalists and the Republicans, who were led by Thomas Jefferson. A proponent of a strong national government, he warned against the dangers of sectionalism, political revenge, and "the insidious wiles of foreign influence." The latter statement referred to the pro-French sentiments of Jefferson and the Republicans. Washington's policy during the wars between Great Britain and France in the early 1790s had been one of strict neutrality.

The most important section of the address dealt with U.S. foreign relations. Washington stated that the "true policy [of the United States] is to steer clear of permanent alliances with any parts of the foreign world." His views provided support and inspiration for U.S. isolationists who sought to prevent the United States from becoming involved with European governments. U.S. isolationism did not disappear as a viable political viewpoint until the nation's entry into World War II in 1941.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationHistorical Legal Documents and Landmark Speeches