George Washington's thoughtful words of warning

The holiday was on Monday, but today is the real anniversary of George Washington's birth. Born Feb. 22, 1732, to a Virginia planter and his wife, Washington rose to command the victorious Continental Army and become the first president of the United States.

Knowing that he would step down from office in March 1797, Washington prepared a speech. James Madison (fourth US president) wrote a draft. Alexander Hamilton (secretary of the Treasury) also helped.

Washington delivered the speech Sept. 19, 1796, in what was then America's capital: Philadelphia. In the speech, he announced his retirement, warned of foreign influence and internal faction, and made a case for unity. It was widely published. Here is an excerpt:

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint councils, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

• Source: The Avalon Project, Yale Law School.

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