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Washington's Farewell Address

The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Military and Diplomatic History
Dorothy Twohig

Washington's Farewell Address 

Published on 19 September 1796 in Claypoole's American Daily Advertiser, George Washington's Farewell Address to the nation quickly came to be regarded as the first president's legacy to the American political system. Conceived by Washington partly to answer critics of his presidential policies and partly as a means of deflecting public pressure for a third term, the address often reveals Washington's dismay at the charges of partisanship leveled against him by political opponents during his second term. But the valedictory address that closed his public career also gave him an opportunity to express his own blueprint for the new nation's future. Drawing upon his stature as Revolutionary leader and as president, he counseled unity among the states and among citizens, advised against partisan politics, expressed his support for public education, and emphasized the importance of maintaining the government's public credit. In the part of the address that would have a lasting impact on American foreign relations, he advised the nation to pursue a policy of neutrality, have as little political connection as possible with foreign nations, and steer clear of “permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” In drawing up the address, Washington relied on advice and drafts that he requested from James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and others, but the ideas contained in the message were his own.

Although viewed by many of Washington's contemporary critics and some subsequent historians as a partisan political statement reflecting the Federalist Party policy of opposing any alliance with Republican France, the widely published address was lauded by the American public and has had a lasting influence on American political thought. Emulating Washington, other presidents have issued farewell messages, most notably Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961.

[See also Early Republic, U.S. Military and Diplomatic Affairs during the; Hamilton, Alexander; Jay, John; Madison, James; Neutrality; Revolutionary War (1775–1783); and Washington, George.]


Gilbert, Felix. To the Farewell Address: Ideas of Early American Foreign Policy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961.Find this resource:

    Spalding, Matthew, and Patrick J. Garrity. A Sacred Union of Citizens: George Washington's Farewell Address and the American Character. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996.Find this resource:

      Dorothy Twohig