Was Washington's Farewell Address prophetic?

American Minute with Bill Federer

The world held its breath, watching to see if he would really go through with it – step down from power! The novel, “The Lord of the Rings,” by author J.R.R. Tolken, described man’s insatiable lust for “the ring of power.” Throughout history, kings killed to get power and kings killed to keep power. In a very real sense, George Washington had the power . . . and gave it up, twice.

The first time was when he resigned his commission as General of the Continental Army in 1783. After the American victory over the British at Yorktown, King George III asked American-born portrait painter Benjamin West what Washington planned to do now that he had won the war. West answered:

“They say he will return to his farm.”

King George replied:

“If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”

Later, after serving two terms leading the American Republic, President Washington again decided to return to his farm.  This is similar to Roman leader Cincinnatus, who twice led the Roman Republic to victory in battle then returned to his farm, resisting the temptation to make himself dictator.

On SEPTEMBER 19, 1796, President George Washington delivered his Farewell Address, stating:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars . . . Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

George Washington continued:

“Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle . . . Morality is a necessary spring of popular government . . . Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation?”

George Washington continued with an almost prophetic warning:

“And of fatal tendency . . . to put, in the place of the delegated will of the Nation, the will of a party; often a small but artful and enterprising minority . . . They are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the Power of the People and to usurp for the themselves the reins of Government; destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion . . . ”

Washington added:

“But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism . . . Disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual . . . (who) turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty . . . The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism . . . ”

Washington concluded:

“Let there be no change by usurpation…It is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”


Self-Educated American contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.


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