John Adams, “There Never Was A Democracy Yet That Did Not Commit Suicide"
George Washington’s ‘Warning From a Parting Friend’ – DailyBeast
Washington’s vice president, John Adams, believed “there never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Civilization was understood to be fragile, barbarians always at the gate.
George Washington had set his mind on a Farewell Address at the end of his first term. He assembled the greatest team of ghostwriters in history to help flesh out his ideas. First James Madison and then Alexander Hamilton—the once-friendly coauthors of the Federalist Papers—were summoned to work on the speech in secret, even as both schemed to create opposing political parties, against Washington’s wishes and in contradiction of the warning they helped him write. In bringing their words together, Washington hoped to create a document beyond partisanship, able to unite the nation.
To Washington, the success of a nation, like the success of an individual, was a matter of independence, integrity, and industry. The character of a nation mattered as much as the character of a man or woman. His Farewell Address represented lessons taken from his time as a surveyor, soldier, farmer, revolutionary general, entrepreneur, and president, drawing on sources as diverse as the Bible, the Constitution, and his favorite play, Cato. It was the work of a lifetime, an autobiography of ideas.
The 6,085-word, fifty-four-paragraph text—longer than the original draft of the Constitution—had been written and rewritten over five years. His beloved step-granddaughter Nelly would recall decades later, in a previously unpublished letter, watching “President Washington repeatedly in the act of writing the ‘Farewell Address’ in the day time, and also at night by the candlestick.”
Washington’s Farewell Address was not read aloud by its author before an audience. Instead of formally addressing legislative leaders as a European king, he delivered the news in an open letter written directly to the American people through one of the 100 newspapers in the nation. He chose the independent-minded American Daily Advertiser, whose offices were five blocks down the street from the executive mansion in Philadelphia. He submitted it almost nine years to the day after the Constitution was signed.
Addressed to his “friends and fellow citizens,”…
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