tv The Presidency George Washingtons Farewell Address CSPAN February 21, 2022 10:59am-12:25pm EST
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beginning now on american history tv. find a full schedule at c-span.org/history or consult your program guide. and now here's a look at george washington's farewell address. >> good evening, everyone. my name is kevin butterfield and on behalf of george washington's mount vernon, the mount vernon ladies association, the organization that rescued mount vernon in the 1850s and continues to protect and preserve it today i want to welcome me to this conversation about george washington's farewell address. .. washington announced to the world he would not seek reelection to the presidency. his letter to friends and citizens offer some of the much thorough, thoughtful and inspiring advice has ever been given to the american people. in more than a few genuine warnings were included there now 225-year-old dogma, much
of what we debate and discuss in 21st-century american politics is addressed here in one form or another. in recognition of the 225th anniversary we brought together an incredible lineup of talented scholars to reflect on the relevance of the farewell address today . where joined by john is, and author, mark columnist, in your political analyst, anchor at cnn, appearing at noon day every morning . he's author of the books including one we're about to discuss tonight, washington's farewell and a book on abraham lincoln. his book will be important to our conversation tonight as will be the work of truancy. she's an expert on presidential history, government institutions and a a senior fellow at southern methodist university rsand a professorial lecturer at the school of media andpublic affairs . she is also fellow at the international center for jefferson studies at monticello. she is the author of the award-winning book accounting
, george washington and the creation of an american institution . she is one of the nations leading scholars of american history, author of a dozen books and awarded the pulitzer prize for the revolutionary generation, he won the national book award for america stinks, his biography of thomas jefferson and his recent book the cause, the american revolution and its discontent comes out tomorrow. all of our guests are great friends of matt burnham and we are pleased to be able to offer signed copies of their asbook so please look for links in the chat that can help you find those and also of course please feel free to visit us anytime at mount vernon.org. >> thanks for having us. >> we are here to discuss an important document in american history and it is a farewell address. i gave a preview of what it is but imagine someone is coming into this right now.
when is the farewell address? what is the status? >> it is america's original civic scripture. it was the most widely printed document in american history including the declaration of independence around the first hundred ed years of the republic and it was the sum total of wisdom that george washington accumulated in a life of war and peace as president he put down working first with james madison and primarily with alexander hamilton as a award to his friends and fellow citizens about the forces that he feared could derail the democratic experiment going forward and it is one of the most pressing in and relevant documents you could imagine so even though it fell out of favor for its
time i think when it's red today you see it is s a stark warning about among other things the dangers of what we would call hyper- partisanship, excessive debt, foreign wars, foreign interference in our elections and suggests some of the things we can draw upon to avoid those traps . a remembrance of the primacy of national unity, the importance of morality and virtue, fiscal discipline and importance of moderation. that's what i think. >> a lot of these, let me turn to you lindsay.george washington created this text although as john mentioned there areother authors . can you talk about the moments and years leading up to this because this is a moment when you did he decided not to be president any longer. set the stage for those last months or days of the washingtonpresidency as he is thinking about this trip . >> i think that most important place to start with is washington didn't want it at all.
he had wanted to be in office for a couple of years and s hightail it as soon as he could . he didn't particularly like being president. he had to be away from home. he had so much stress and pressure on every single action and new that every step was established precedent for those that came after him. he did not like criticism and he was worried that his reputation he spent decades building would be damaged by a poor choice for a poor action. he also had a real commitment to be the importance of him leaving office while he was alive. he felt wrongly that the american people needed to choose his successor, that it could not come through success. the process of transition and election and peaceful transport of power had to be learned and practiced and cultivated and he was determined to try andoversee that . that was his mindset leading up to 1796.
but he has set his mind quite firmly that by early 1796 he decided in february and march of 1796 while alexander hamilton was in philadelphia to argue his case in front of the supreme court had a conversation about this address and got the process rolling and shared a series of drafts over the next months and then september, partly to sort of speedy election season as short as possible. and washington finally published it in a newspaper in september. he reached the maximum number of people to make it clear that he was sspeaking to people, not to congress or to a district . >> will be spending most of our time talking about the text itself and the themes we find there but what would you out about the origins that led up to the creation of this document you might want to share about washington before 1796?
>> i would venture to guess john as a student of modern presidency, no president in american history did not want to be president more than georgewashington . not only did he not want a first term and nwhen he was going up to new york he said he felt like a prisoner going to jail. >> and he really meant it. and washington correspondence during the years half of them have to dowith mount vernon. that's where you wanted to be. you u really did . all of the views of the presidency are shaped by a more 20th-century conception of its significance. washington didnot regard the
presidency as the capstone of his career he regarded it as an epilogue . one that he wished he didn't have to do . the great thing he did was win the war. allen's great thing was before the revolution to bring it in. jeffersons was the declaration and madisons was theconstitutional convention and the federalist papers so all of them didn't think about the presidency as the great moment in their lives . and washington was an aficionado of exits . he in surrendering his steward or even before that refusing to become dictator and in baltimore met where the capital was, annapolis where the capital was, the surrender of his commission. but when he did that george iii said it can't be. if he does that he would be the greatest man in the world.
well, he did and for that moment at least he was. jefferson writes about this right afterwards that i think jefferson wrote some of washington's speechat annapolis as a matter of fact . i can't prove that. but jefferson says one man saved us from the fate that befalls most republics. they were thinking of caesar, they were thinking of cromwell . subsequently we can think of napoleon. we can think of mal and castro. we can think of a variety of leaders who never want to leave office. i won't mention one thatmight still be alive in american politics . but the president he says, i agree with howlindsay put it .
it's often discussed as the 2 term president which is ratified in the constitutional amendment in 1951 i believe . the real presidents, the real precedents is a republic all leaders no matter how indispensable are disposable. that you do not die in office like a monarchy. that is the real eprecedents and i'll conclude here but the dominant thing you need to remember is when this was not ever delivered as an address. now, both our commentators know that but we haven't mentioned it. it wasn't a speech. it was an open letter to the american people that first appears in the philadelphia papers and i think it's in a new hampshire paper begins the title the farewell address. initially, the initial reaction to the address was
all my god. he can't leave us. the american efforts have not existed without him at its helm. he was like thefather saying to the children you're on your own now . and it was a trauma. nobody thought he was ever going to retire. they presumed he would win elections until he died. and again, he couldn't wait to get back to the place where you're sitting, kevin. >> jim referenced something, stepping away from power at annapolis and you write about this in your book . this is not the first bit of advice washington shared with the nation. could you tell us about washington back in 1783 and how he associated his guidance to the nation?
>> the circular address to the state, that was calledhis farewell address . >> i didn't know that, is that true? you're not making that up? >> know, true story. what's fascinating about that is first of all there's broad continuity but most importantly with the power of the gesture itself , the simple act of voluntarily relinquishing hepower itself wasrevolutionary . and the quote that joe is referring to by jefferson actually in the epilogue to my book is that it's perfectly crystallizes washington throughout his career but particularly as is culminated in the farewell address. jefferson said the moderation of virtue of single character probably prevented this revolution from being closed by a subversion of the liberty it was intended to establish.
and certainly those were the stakes in 1783 as well. the normal course of events says that the military leader would displace the tyrant and become a tyrant himself. so talk about the prevalence of ancient roman and greek precedents on this young republic. this was a real cincinnatus step he took. he wwas relinquishing power to return to his farm and it wasn't a pose on his part. it was genuine. the advice he gives is similar, albeit subsequently a prism of the political fights he saw as president and the fights over the ratification of the treaty and america's foreign policy but he says first of all , this is not time for celebration. it's a time of real responsibility because the revolutionary war is one but we need to establish the pump republic and show the world we can establish a democratic republic on a scale never
before seen . because among other things it was basically wisdom that a democracy couldn't exist but if it could it maybewould work in a couple of swiss cantons . it would never work in a country as big as the 13 colonies. and he warns about the need for national unity. he had been fighting this continental congress throughout the war because they couldn't find a sense of collective results for focus on the common good . they didn't want to let the money to support the troops . he said we need to have discipline, a privacy and a sense of unity and to really think as citizens. and one of the important voices, independence and freedom. they can be sort of a state of nature but liberty n requires responsibility. that's what lincoln or excuse me, i'm finishing a lincoln book right now.'m that's what washington said in the 1783 address and again in 1796.
>> one of the things i can do tonight and i hopefully construct this now is bring us a few of the short quotations that people can pull out of the farewell address. first one actually i'd like to bring up because as we were discussing if you read down to the bottom it refers to the fact that he's given this kind of advice before you see a disinterested warning of a parting friend . he can have no personal motive to buy the council and he reminds about the letter in 1783. this is the way he begins. this is after i can't remember the phrase. you're perhaps like i should stop where he has a few paragraphs and he says you're perhaps i should stop but then he goes on many paragraphs longer to get some serious advice to the american people. when you see phrases likethis disinterested warning, a parting friend .
how does this fit what washington as leader, as president as you come to study him? >> washington wanted to see himself as above party spirit . he really did see himself as a president for all of the american people and this sort of white american people and wanted to represent them regardless of what their partisan identity was. now, that might be a little bit rose-colored glasses. he certainly had some partisan biases by the end of his presidency which he didn't necessarily want to admit because he felt like certain sides had been more critical of him or had stirred up domestic values that he voiced that spirit but you wanted to see himself as above those things and certainly the most i think a political president we've had to be sure.
and his leaving office gave him sort of more credence to do that. had he still been in office there's no way anybody could see him as disinterested because he been gunning for a third term but by using office he had put himself in that elevated position and claim these to be disinterested even if some didn't necessarily agree with him. what's fascinating aabout the perception of his farewell address is people who were inclined to think well of him saw it as disinterested as he had intended. those inclined to see him as a more political actor like thomas jefferson thought that it was very political. >> disinterested warnings of a olparting fan, how do you read that? >> agree with what lindsay just said and let me build on that a little bit .
political parties, the founders as agreed including washington all regarded political parties as evil vultures that were cutting through the political ha atmosphere. jefferson evenclaimed if i must go to heaven in a party i prefer not to go at all . they all talked that game and washington believed that game and i think john adams is the only other president that did as well. they really regarding parties as a threat to the state ability of the republic. and so in washington's second term and political scientists think that the creation of political parties is one of the major contributions the founders made two political thought because it disciplines and creates the possibilityof a legitimate opposition which is a good thing . washington and adams were
cognitively incapable of thinking of a political party as anything other than anevil intrusion . and he could not see himself as the head of the party. so you might think he's an anachronism for that reason but he's a classical figure. and i would just build on something again that lindsay said . in the second term, the aurora, now, you look up in textbooks and they'll say the opposing party that comes into existence is called the democratic republican party. wrong. it's not called the democratic republican party. it's called the republican party. the word democrat and democracy is an epithet in 18th-century. it means mob rule. democratic republic and doesn't come into existence
until 1860 with monroe . it's tricky because that party morphs into the democratic party but it's even worsethan that, the federalists more into the waves and the wakes more into the republicans so it's tricky .ur but the aurora is the 18th-century version of john, you might comment on this, fox news. and they published forged british documents claiming that washington throughout the war was really a traitor. he was trying to be benedict arnold but was beaten to the punch by benedict arnold. this is just off the top stuff. and actually among the people commenting on his farewell o address was thomas pain who hated him because he didn't t think washington got him oute of france fast enough . he said we must all devoutly pray for his imminent death . so the criticism he was getting ...
>> which was pretty funny because he was famously an atheist. >> that's true, he was. pain, not washington. but the level of partisanship in the 1790s is terrible compared to what we're facing in washingtonnow . the press and you have to listen tothis, there were no rules for the press . all the news fit to print. now, washington stands firmly against that whole thing. he thinks if there are any problems you can vote against me in the next election but the level of partisanship in the newspapers in the 1790s is scatological. and washington really can't understand it. it's just common he doesn't understand it. and i think these are client.
i think that he survives the french and indian war. he should have been killed when he was a young man. he should have been killed several times in the courseof the war for independence . he wasn't even wounded but they wanted him in his second term. they really got him. he couldn't wait to getout of there . but i want to move into the discussion of his attitude towards political iopartisanship but i think the context is what i described and the specific education legislation that it expounds on is the jay treaty . and his defense of that. and here i'll shut up on this after i promise you. the word is republic and that means res publica.
the republic is different from the people. the people are usually misinformed. that's the reason democracy is not a positive term. the function of a leader is to act in the public interest even when it's unpopular. adams carries this to extremes. he's the guy that defends the british troops in the boston massacre but he always thought if what i do is unpopular it must beright . but he could have won the election of 1800 by going to war with france and he refused to do it and said it was the proudest thing he ever did. but the public is a big word here. and washington internalized and it was the job, one of the reasons the senate has a six-year term is supposedly at to make them more likely to vote in the long-term interest of therepublic . of course, that's the most partisan version of the
government now. i'll shut up but public, he represents them. >> i can tell you want to say something. >> one quick thing i wanted to highlight when joe is talking about how washington was, that was quite intentional on the part of the newspaper editors. those so the editor of the aurora would deliver three copies of his newspaper every day to the front steps of the president's house. even though washington was not a subscriber and he did sointentionally to get under washington's skin . we know that work. he rant and rave about it in cabinet meetings and jefferson took careful notes. this political warfare and partisan mood they were trying to inflict was quite intentional.
>> let's get a taste of washington on parties and we can further explore this. this is some of his language and there's much more in the address . it serves only to distract the public counsel and enfeeble the spirit of the party. it agitates the community with well-founded jealousies and false alarms, candles the animosity of one against another. it opens the door to foreign influence and corruption which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through thetschannels of party passions . first crack at some of this language here. >> leave it up for a second because this is i think if you had to pick what's ripped from the headlines today this would beit . particularly at add security with well-founded jealousies and false alarms. candles theanimosity of one partyagainst another , foments riots and insurrection . i mean, we just had a right and insurrection, that was partisan in its nature this calendar year that resulted in the worst attackon the
capital since the war of 1812 . it was fueled by misinformation and disinformation channeled through partisan media and tiexacerbated by party figures who put party over country. they kindled the animosity of one party against another taste on a lie i. perpetrated by the then president but amplified through partisan media. and also amplified bias social media some for actors who saw an interest in dividing america against itself. it's all there, folks. right there. george washington warned us, he predicted us and especially when he went out there tried to act like a pretend patriot. really act like they are more patriotic than anybody else which itself was a sin against national unity. if they'd fed into that stuff washington warned against their part of the problem.
washington made a very specific warning, we just lived through evidence of it so we could not be more relevant ivand that's precisely why we need to be listening to washington's farewell addressnow , today because we are falling into the traps that he warned us about almost 250 years ago. >> you're the one respond to this most recently, when did they stop making it mandatory to read this farewell address ? is it the full houses or both houses? the senate still read it every year.still read it >> how ironic. >> i would >>argue the house is more partisan than the senate although it's kind of a jump ball but ithought you were going to say in the wake of the civil war , teaching the address, memorize it is part of thecore public school curriculum . so it is foremost in people's
minds even though obviously it's easier to memorize 272 word gettysburg address and it's in the wake of world war i. it sort of begins to fade. and then the original america first movement of neo-isolationist in the run-up to world war ii by adopting the farewell address i think fundamentally creates the misimpression it's an isolationist document and a nazi rally in madison square garden but will get tothat . >> can you take us back to the 18th century and some of this language? john gives us great way that this speaks to the 21st century. how would this have been read in seven 1796? there's an election just around the corner. >> i think john alluded to at the beginning that this was an intensely partisan atmosphere.
when we think of the challenges that are facing today in terms of misinformation and disinformation. party structures. nativism.uc hears about foreign interference, all the things we fear, they hadn't done it before and as eric talked about they were students of history and they knew that republics had historically failed. let's not forget the constitution was the president's second chance so this government was already the issecond chance at getting it right. there was such an intensity at this time that one misstep would lead to the nations undoing and washington share that fear, adams that fear during the states that joe mentioned. adams wrote in his letter to abigail that he thought either civil war was coming or maybe the constitution would last another 10 years. but that's really the five of
this moment. and one of the things that i think washington highlights in the third-party section of his farewell address is that the party animosity and intensity of that party spirit can lead us to forget similarities we have with one another and say we might have differences, we might have regional differences. but we actually have much more in common as federalists or as republicans. boy, is that a lesson we need . >> i think that we need to recover the historical context of the late 18th century for listeners and viewers because he's doing that right now. and i'm hitting on her book this remark. if you read article 2 of the
constitution of the united states i'll bet youcan't tell me what the president can do . the definition of the presidency isn't shaped by the constitution. it's shaped by washington's own administration. i always voted for him as number one president, even ahead of lincoln . he creates the republic that lincoln saves. but let me tell you, the average american in the 1780s, 1780s and 90s was born, lived out his or her life and died within a three hour horse ride. the mentality was local, not continental or national. this is what underlay a perception that was strong. that we created a national government for we were a nation.
so it's what one historian called the constitution is a roof without walls. so washington is the embodiment of a nation that doesn't exist. it's one of the reasons that he goes on a trip in his first two years to visit all the states. and i believe ysomebody's got a book on that right now. thank you. but what we need to remember is the united states in the 1780s and 90s was a plural noun. and by the way, jefferson would go to his grave believing that we're still a confederacy. not a nation. washington is an attempt to create and it's one of the reasons why any address in the address itself keeps trying to get hamilton to insert a long paragraph on a nationaluniversity .
and hamilton keeps saying what in heavens name does this have to do with it? he keeps saying it got to put it in, it ends up like two sentences. he wants to create an institution where americans from all kinds of different states and sections can come together and interact and intermarry. and i don't think george washington university makes that yet but the first institution that does that is west point which comesinto existence in 1803 . >> washington is proposing both a civic collagen helps put the naval observatory. but that idea dies and you're right, hamilton those back and forth and keeps going through his annual message to congress. that's where most of it goes but if you look the original
farewell was at the public library and you can see you can literally cut and paste that section . >> i think we're carrying too much into this. if you look at that last address to congress it's almost fdr. you know what i mean? >> that's not a good thing. >> i'm sorry. >> no one. >> but you have to get beyond this. you know what i'msaying . it's a vision very close to what john quincy adams will have and it's a vision of a nationstate that makes domestic andforeign policy in a robust way . and in the view washington is a member of a very small minority in the nation. and anybody that opposes him can lay on to his position. because he is
attempting to re-create a monarchy and of course jefferson is the main guy that's doing this behind the scenes. malone we spent 50 years writing about jefferson said you know, jefferson in the 1790s i don't really understand what he was doing. he spent50 years and you don'tunderstand what he's doing . what he's doing is lying . what he's doing is treasonable. he's stabbingwashington in the back . and i might be wrong in, tell me. i've often said to students, i don't know if i was right that jefferson wrote to martha when he came became president because he was only in melbourne andcan i come see you . she never answered i don't think but she said washington said i never want that man on my property. >> is right after washington's death in
particular that martha has a powerful statement about her distaste for jefferson. let me bringup a little more language here . it's all through this address, the word union appears so much you think they're writing about abraham llincoln. it's all through this address words like unity and union the unity of government which constitutes one people is also now always jumps out at me. it's one of the main pillars in the edifice of your real independence. your piece abroad, of your safety and your prosperity of that very liberty which you saw highly prized. this treatment of union is powerful and this is again not the only chunk of the addressthat touches on this . howdo you take this ? >> it's a little bit what joe is just describing which is washington is willing to the
creation of a nation. he is conscious of the fact that he is creating a national character through the example of his character. the decisions he makes as president which sets a precedent as lindsay writes about through the american government . but it is a hard sell because everybody still thinks of themselves as a virginian first or a new yorker first or a south carolina in first. so washington is trying to say all the time that no, this works because of the federal government. it is theguarantor of your liberty . you are not safe from strife, you don't necessarily even have property rights unless we have a strong central government and you see in that first constitutional convention, it does mention journalistsi like to point out but it doesn't mention political parties . people show up to new york
and they see the bill of rights and there representing their constituencies and theirconscience, not political parties . that's a letter invention that i'm sure will come up again but washington is trying to say all our interesting differences are nothing if we can't focus on what unites us rather than divide us so very early over the ratification you see so many arguments twe still see today. it's a debate about a largely urban for saying rbthat we need a stronger central government to unitethe nation . and primarily rural folks saying that stronger central government is a threat to our way of life . and that is a continuity in american debate that goes for constitutional conventions today . but i think washington clearly is on the side of a stronger central government and emphasizing there's a balance to bestruck . this is not all onone side of the ledger .
that's the primary project is emphasizing the creation of a nation.. >> your thoughts on washington, was unity addressed? >> i would go off of what john said which is the importance of the union but also process and what he's saying is we cannot have liberty without having a strong central government. this is again another incredibly relevant aspect for the 21st century and especially for 2021 that the goal is to have certain rules, to have the recognition of authority. to have a link to the rule of law. uthese will actually be safeguards for liberty. youdon't get to have a free for all of whatever you want . as the modern society we accept that you're supposed to stop for red lights and you're not allowed to drive drunk because that is a limitation that we accept and
that it's basically more american people. obviously they didn't have cars in 1776 when he was writing this but the concept is true that as part of a free society you have to expect the limitations and this is incredibly relevant coming on the heels of the whiskey rebellion which wrapped up a few years prior to his address. he says that there is a constitutionally mandated way in which one can air grievances and one can seek redress for the things that you don't like, the measures that you think are inappropriate but unless the constitutions changed , the medium of the constitution is the true way to be an american. >> let me ask you to address one specific thing, washington spends a bit of time on his discussion of unity and that's regionalism.
he talks about the north, talks about the south . could you help people less than earlier, what is he seeing when he looks at north, south and particularly west . what is that regional concern of his? >> in the north-south the obvious issue is the threat of civil war and the underlying issue there is slavery and later in the program i want to say that i wish there was one thing he did talk about in the farewell address thathe didn't . he said to jefferson, this was i think even before he was president if there ever is a war between the north and south, you need to know how we treat the north. and i think jefferson repeats it. and he sends his kids, they're not his kids but to colombia rather than william
and mary . he becomes a kind of trojan horse in themiddle of virginia in some sense . so that's that. but the other thing is the west. and you know, i think john was mentioning that first farewell address in 1783. that is his most lyrical statement of all time in terms of his vision. and you can see it implied in the farewell address but you have to knowabout it before hand . that is america's future is not with europe it's to the west. and lafayette says come to me and we will do paris and rome and berlin, i don't think we will do london. and he says no, you come with me, we will do detroit, do
new orleans, we will do savanna. that's the future h, out there. and as a young man in the seven years he knows about what that is out there more than most other political leaders of the time. and when you get to the louisiana purchase, it's funny. they think dinosaurs are out there and its mammoths and all that kind of thing. i might be pushing this too much to diplomacy but i think washington believes we begin with the largest trust fund at any new nationhas ever enjoyed . and we've got just geographic advantage as well on both sides of the atlantic and pacific. he's mostly concerned obviously with the atlantic. but maybe john and lindsay can disagree with me or we canplay this out as an
argument . washington's definition of american exceptionalism is exactly the opposite of what most contemporary people think american exceptionalism is. and in the contemporary view which we saw at the cold war was the russians are gone and we can make the world safe for democracy because we have to model that works everywhere. washington said our model is distinctive and unique and exceptional and for that reason don't expect it to work in france. the french model is probably going to fail. and when the iraq war was going on and that was during the book tour for my biography of washington everybody wants toknow what washington would say about iraq . i said you didn't he didn't know where iraq was. but later when they kept pressing me i said he would say how dowe become britain ?
explain that one to me. i'm pressing towards a policy and maybe you don't want todo that yet . the rest is what drives in there because he believes that is certainly the future for the next hundred years. >> let's go to foreign policy. this is another small thing but a fairly lengthy discussion in the address. here's the tape, the great rule of conduct in regard to foreign isnations is extending our commercial relations to have a liminal collection as possible so as far as we've formed engagements let them befulfilled in perfect good faith . here let us stop . this is washington at the end of its his presidency. is this how washington's presidency played out? did he exercise this across
the years? >> for the most part he did. he didn't want to be beholden to any one nation. he recognized that relying too much on any one country for support, for economic support was asking for trouble especially at a time when france and great britain were having a second 100 years war. they were constantly at each other's throats and they pulled each other iinto the next. the best way was not to get too close to anyone's side. in 1793 when france declares war on great britain, the united states and france did have treaties on the book. they had a treaty of commerce and a treaty left over from the revolutionary war. and the design did jefferson's encouragement to interpret the treaty of t defense as a defensive tree. so it's in france and the united states were bound if
they were attacked by their enemies. but because france was the one in the war they were not attacked and therefore the erunited states was not obligated to come to france's assistance. this was convenient because the united states didn't have an army. but the concept is to balance these two local superpowers which really i think his main goal is worthy of his presidency trying to not get too close or having to incentive relationship with either. >> it's one of my favorites, he praises washington for having the steadfastness to maintain that neutrality and that no one else could have done it. john, this foreign relations statement, can you talk about
the legacy of that? take us pastthe 18th and 19th and 20th century . >> of all, he statement of neutrality between france and britain is itself revolutionary but washington as joe was indicating is fixated on the fact that we have a strategic asset that unlike any other . you know, and i joke in my book that it's a version of what will rogers used to say which is america's got the two best presidents a country ever had, the atlantic and pacific ocean. insulated from the chaos of europe where they killed each other for centuries so that's a strategic asset particularly at the time when n distance really inoculates us . so he said look, we need to become an independent nation but he also says we need at least 20 years in the
farewell address to build our own strength, military and economic and we can make our own decisions with a sense of interest and sense of justice. it's not an isolationist statement. it says you are not going to be a satellite of anybody else,we're not going to get dragged into a foreign war . that would be a huge mistake for who we are now as a young nation needs to build up strength and when squandering our greatest advantage which is our geographic isolation. this plays out through the 19th centuries considered basically sacred. but it is easily enforced by the distance. by the fact that the world is not, you can't attack america very easily albeit it had happened but we were fairly isolated. john harry was abraham lincoln's secretary of state during mckinley and roosevelt said americans foreign policy can be summed up in two words. the golden rule and monroe doctrine.
with the doctrine that says we're going to stay outof your business, don't come in our sphere of influence . but there are temptations to empire. where a republic, not an empire. that is the four foundational founding fathers wisdom. within the century that starts to get straight. by the time we get into the debate over world war i and i write about this in my book, it's really fascinating because the debate about getting involved in world war i is conducted in the ratification of the league of nations . there conducted by two washington biographers, william and henry cabot lodge and their arguing they're defending the washingtonian tradition lodge is doing it with more authenticity because he say we've never gotten involved in a continental flight, why iwe start now and wilson is a the ideals of washington areat stake . s a lot of the icon on the fee was we do get involved in the first worldwar .
they're calling on washington's legacy. andthen something interesting happens . the world doesn't end. america turns at the first world war quickly and it looks like washington wasn't this perfect profit. you can get involved in foreign wars in short order and do good and make the world safe for democracy so it takes washington down to pay . in a significant way. there's a backlash to involvement in the first world war that when the second world war comes about, you see a group called the america first committee. some of them were anti-semitic and some of them were isolationist but they used washington's farewell address as an avatar to argue against the united states getting involved in the second world war. this is an absurd extent when the german-americans rallied at madison square garden in new york city.
that function as an american nazi party rally and there's a giant poster or flag, billboard of george washington in the background and the keynote address is all someone misappropriating the text of the farewell address. this is paid for by a foreign government. you need to be careful about misappropriation and washington is warning against foreign influence in politics. that's one reason to stay out of this and your you have a foreign government, the nazis misappropriating the farewell address to argue against getting involved in a foreign war. by the way backfires badly on them . but the legacy of the farewell address really starts to fall away for a time as a result of tthat association with the america firsters and the incorrect
belief that it's an isolationist document. it's not. he's talking about a foreign policy of independence, not squandering our strength and we shouldn't start trying to export democracy or get involved inforeign wars . we can make decisions based on our own conception. it'sdifferent than an isolationist . >> in a recent book of yours american dialogue you have a long section on washington and his foreign-policy vision writ large. i think not just at the farewell address but his actions across all his as commander-in-chief. what's your read on this? the foreign-policy vision of washington that you would share . >> that there's a portion of his legacy that is no longer relevant . i hear john it's really not isolationism but i don't
think washington ever envisioned us. well, he did envision us as a world power. i think his vision of us as a world power is close to what john quincy adams would say. we do not go abroad in search of monsters to hdestroy. but i've lost my train of thought. what did you ask me again? >> is foreign-policy vision. >> here's what it seems to be another dimension to washington's legacy that is very much alive. there are different people who claim loyalty to it don't always agree about what it means about what we should do. that's the realistic tradition in american foreign policy.. and it has its origins in the dialogue of greece and in washington's terms nations act solely on the basis of
interest and you should not expect them to act on any other grounds whatsoever and in some sense all treaties are temporary until that interest might particularly change. but if you want to carry it into its contemporary american world, we care a lot about human rights but we're not going to war on. and i think that the person that most embodies it in the mid-and late 20th century is george cannon and his doctrine of containment and it's clear that what realism does well is say you have to distinguish wbetween what you can and should do and what you cannot and should not do. it cannot be an open ended foreign-policy. which regions are our national security interest
and which aren't. at least in my humble opinion washington you could somehow bring him out like what do we do about iraq? if there's one place onthe planet you don't want to get involved in its the middle east . and if there's one place in the middle east that is like a graveyard for all western values, it'safghanistan . and so to bring it really up-to-date i think he would be supportive of biden's decision to get us out. he would say what you need to do is not look for scapegoats but let's try to figure out s how we made this mistake in the first place . and i think that in some sense our own understanding of why britain makes the biggest mistake in its statecraft history by making war on the united d states in 1775, 76. we can understand that nowin
a way that we could before . >> we have a world power brimming with confidence, certain of its economic supremacy into a quagmire of a war that is both unwinnable andunnecessary . we should know about that. >> there's a lot i agree with joe, let me push back just for debates sake . >> i knew you were going to push. >> but on two points, first of all i think the core of what you're saying is right. it can be summed up in a number of different ways but the first is america is not a colonizing power. that doesn't mean we don't have interests as an independent nation but we're not a colonizing power. if you look at our involvement in world war i and world war ii, that's another definition of american exceptionalism but we beat back people who were not simply disrupting the balance of power but attacking free and allieder
nations . and then. >> not world war i, world war ii but not world war i. world war i was a mistake. >> the commissioncandidate that but i'm not going to do that just yet .t the only grounds we ask is cemeteries to bury our dead. and yes, it's we don't need to go into that level of detail right now. parable that intrigues me is the case of the barbary pirates which doesn't occur under washington but if we're attacked what do you do? how far do you extend that? how far does the treaty with morocco apply? there are parallels to what we've got given the apertures of the time and of course where it begins as when we were attacked on 9/11. that's the situation washington couldn't have imagined. i don't know if he could have imagined americans attacking
their own capital but that's a separate but important conversation. >> i think you could have easily imagined it. >> the whiskey in the past. >> i'll go to you in a second but to finish on foreign-policy , with your attacked, we responded with an open-ended commitment rather than sort of a more realist or so crafty and, we have a limited objective and then we are going to achieve that. that's where the balance occurs, dealing with a different geopolitical realities of today versus 1776. >> who was in charge of counterinsurgency under bush said it was as if after pearl harbor we hadinvaded mexico . and that's the reason why i'm going to disagree with you on some of this because i think
all of the energy and the asked and anguish that was created by that event on september 11 was diverted into an unnecessary war. >> are you talking aboutiraq or afghanistan ? >> you got to dry distinction . >> there was not containing nuclear weapons,iraq had nothing to do withal qaeda . >> i agree with you . >> those were the principles for invading iraq. >> keep us there for a few minutes longer. we had a great conversation and i hope you had time to answeraudience questions . i don't nsmean to keep you long because i've already learned the time but judy who is running things behind the scenes has a couple of audience questions. k allison asks about where is it written, when was it written, did anyone helphim write it ? i'll go to you first as people that have to writeit .
the wear and the wind, the where is quite interesting. >> .. he's persuaded that the one thing jefferson has to agree on that washington is along the president, the conjugate of the civil war. he puts it away in a show in the drawer. as he's in his second term, hamilton is no longer secretary treasury. he's up in new york city but washington becomes corresponding. because jefferson hamilton informed the democratic republican party as a joe corrects us, he brings added in
as, hamilton in and starts corresponding with him. that is the primary collaboration. they bring john jay in at the very end to sort of perform an on-site edit with hamilton a new york but it's a process a back-and-forth. the point hamilton does a very good job of describing, i interviewed someone from a book which begin before the play came out, i was delighted to find there was a song about the farewell address which use some of the actual line but what lin-manuel said is he designed it i so that hamilton would be delivering it as pros and washington would turn into poetry. the music and the spirit and the soul is washington's and the public delivery. that's a process. the philadelphia advertiser,, among holster partisan papers in
pennsylvania, the advertiser is not a partisan paper, not a federalist paper notably in part because it has congressional printing contracts but he chose a nonpartisan paper to publish it. >> i've always wondered why hamilton and since washington had so make people to be trusted, so may peoplean he coud were close with and yet hamilton was at the very top of the list. can you tell us about that? >> by 1796 washington sort of had his hands in the relationship with the department secretary he had an office. i often refer to this as -- washington certainly thought of them as such. he didn't want of cabinet meetings with them. he didn't trust the writing abilities to the samee degree that he trusted hamilton, and frequently sought out advice on his annual addresses, during the presidency and asking hamilton to draft things for him. one really important element
though that washington insisted upon, and this was come he told hamilton when they first talked about it in march 1786 and in washington sent him the draft.. washington kept madison's first draft and insisted that the final include several paragraph paragraphs, and is basically a shot across the bow because washington was insistentef that madison and jefferson be critical this address. and sunup paints the address as an attempt to garner more power for the executive. so by including those paragraphs drafted by madison, he was basically saying you already knew about the farewell address. you participate in the drafting of the farewell address. keep your mouth shut. it was a very intentional very savvy political move and sure enough madison was not publicly
critical of it. >> very briefly the reason he picked hamilton iss because hamilton of the most experience. throughout seven years of the war hee was writing jefferson's -- when you read the general orders throughout the 1770s, and they are70 signed by washington but he didn't write them. most of those are written by hamilton or one of his other aids. >> another question -- >> washington was insecure about his own lack of education. i once the jefferson went to wayman mary, adams went to harvard, washington went to war. that was his educational experience, and he was conscious of hisnd own lack of literacy ad he really surrounded himself with people who were well educated, and that was hamilton, that was lafayette, those were
the people. >> let's go to another audience question. we had one from jim about some specifics here. how much of washington foreign policy advice was driven by the fact that the spanish maintain control of the florida louisiana territory and the british held canada? we've talked about the oceans, keeping a quay fromy foreign powers, and yet they were there. who wants to take a first avenue at this, the specifics of north american geopolitics? >> i will take a quick stab here i'm pushing this hard. you can disagree. why is it called the continental army? why is it called the continental congress? it's really only the coast. in some sense, they are thinking continental he from the beginning. the border of the united states
under washington inns with the mississippi. it was generally regarded and john jay was most of outspoken about it. the spanish were declining european power and they were like a cowbird, a bird that sits on a nesting take and take over. it's great, spain is a perfect european nation to have power over there because we know as soon as the demographic wave hits them they are gone. i don't think anybody could easily foresee the louisiana purchase, but there is this sense of manifest destiny before 1840 when he becomes a term. canada, remember, they thought
we were going to get canada. i mean, the war of 1812 was supposed to win canada and, of course, it didn't work out thato way but it's a continental vision in certain people's hands like aaron burr, goes all crazy and off the record, but i think the presumption was that florida and most of the west would eventually come our way. >> i think that as joseph earlier, washington was a realist and he understood 1795, the united states with signing this important treaty with spain which gave americans access to europe which was a critical element of the western territory. and didn't have the ability to send the goods over the mountain ranges to places like
philadelphia. they desperately needed access to the water before there were trains and cars and that kind of thing. however, washington was very realistic about the fact that spain and france werewe playing off of each other, regularly there were complaints about individuals that self emancipated towards florida and while there were goals about taking canada, that had not happened yet. so much of his foreign policy advice is about not getting too close to one g country because f you get too close to britain, then france will get annoyed on the southern border. it may be more friendly to self emancipated or you get too close to france and spain will get jealous and you cut off access. this delicate dance of trying to hold all of these pieces together before the united states did have the entire continent, and recognizing that
as great as we thought we were in 1786, at this point we were still a relatively new national power and very much subject to sort of the wins of international superpowers, and washington really understood that. >> john? >> look, i would you say remember, most of european power powers thought the democracy would fail, they would get a chance to record up the continent at the time, and the whole episode in washington second term which is related to the j ratification of the treaty and t the fact jefferson and madison basically because washington declares neutrality, theyy say if you declare neutrality and range of really siding with the english. they played that game to great effect, and then t the french revolutionary sort of -- part of the deal was trying to either
sway the u.s. back to the site or build on louisiana and destabilized nation. there were a lot of adventuresome plots around that at the time. ultimately even jefferson realized it was a bad deal and he got wind of the fact is about to get his head cut off but he retired to jamaica long island, and married the governors of daughter.ov >> correct. >> i knew neither of those things. >> there is one topic we barely touched on a few different times but we haven't exploded close enough and we do have an audience question coming in to help us explore that. might george washington's last will and testament reconsidered and a dinner to his farewell address picker with respect to what i was suggesting we have an export quite enough to slavery. john? >> i especially say in my book
that his last will and testament should be considered a codis to the farewell address. look, to washington's discredit, certainly by contemporary perspectives, the farewell address is silent on the issue of slavery. washington, in his last will and testament which could be considered the ultimate farewell address, takes the decided an unusual moment a founding father steps, step of freeing his slaves, albeit upon martha's death. there's a million different reasons why this is insufficient and emotionally unsatisfying by contemporary perspectives, all of which are so obvious they don't need to be discussed.
it is a core contradiction to the promise of america. it is a revolution act the washington knows is going to be public. there's lot of math he doesn't do, sets up a dynamic a lot of people looking for martha toeo e sooner rather than later. but this is intended to be an written to be a public statement. there's a lot of drama around its drafting and which version he chooses. and notably the other founding fathers who follow him who are virginian and not named adams who owned slaves don't do this. they don't release their slates upon their death of washington was making ato very clear statement of the country. so i went hundred% believe and argue my book can and should be considered t a coded to the farewell address were slavery is finally addressed by washington. >> i wish we had a paragraph in the farewell address that told
his leaders and americans that he intended to free his slaves. he sort of did. at that moment trying to follow his thought process is that easy. he's committed to freeing his slaves once he can get money off the sale of his western lands, but he can't get that sold and so he keeps forging until 1799 he does finally commit picky can only free the slaves he owns what your slight less than half of the 317 slaves at mount vernon. i think russia was on for martha. we can't prove this but martha is very reluctan to see slaves offered of freedom part because they're all inl a married on the plantation, or on the farms there. i mean, i would think that washington is the greatest leader in american history.
i think that slavery is america's original sin, and racism is its enduring toxic residue. we are still living with it. was there a chance to end it? put it on a road to extinction before the cotton gin came, before the neighbors became impossible? -- numbers. was it a shakespearean tragedy another week tragedy? yes. who could have noticed effectively moved in that direction? washington. he failed as f a leader on this issue. now, that'ss a heck of a standad to apply, and i agree with john in the sense that women look back from the 21st century, our present perspective gives us an enormous advantage. but they knew, washington knew that slavery was a contradiction
to the values of the american revolution. he said that. you knew that. he knew, and what he kept saying is we have to wait, wait until 1808, he said. because that's when the slave trade will end. and so in some sense -- by would of liked him to say, i would've liked the i constitution just sd look, we're not going to attempt to end slavery in the state in the deep south now i'll let us all agreed that theut core principles of this republic cannot allow an permit this to exist forever, and a house divided cannot stand. which by the way somebody, a methodist minister used that phrase in 1778. that's where lincoln got it from. >> lyndsay, last word on this important subject? >> historian of slavery annette gordon-reed has said that she thinks george washington was
concerned that if -- during his lifetime he would cause terrible harm and divide us. whether not that's try to know about that's what he thought. that is why he didn't say anything during his lifetime. now, his will was certainly more than some people did. it was less than others did. and so i think that in some ways it's a little bit of certainly wasn't taking the easy road out because it wasn't, but it also wasn't really taking a super principled stand because he enjoyed the labor and their time while he was still alive. the way i see it, it was more than nothing but it certainly wasn't much. >> i think annette is right and let's remember weha began with e union, his commitment to the union. if you raise the question of slavery at all, you risk that
and that's what he was those terrified of. we have to keep off the national agenda and tell us some point when we can really face it squarely, until the republic a sufficiently stable to survive the debate. >> i'm going to bring things to close but each asking -- ask each of you, we're talking about this, we wanted you to close on this, biggest take away for an alaska this we do each of you and start with john. why would you want people to continue reading the farewell address now to t a 25 years lat? what is the main take away for you? >> washington warned us about the forces that can destroy an aquatic republics. the document contains all the hard-won wisdom of his life and it is a prophetic document. and in particular, his warnings against hyper partisanship, foreign wars, excessive debt,
foreign interference in our domestic politics are ripped from the headlines of today. if i do pick one of those that i would argue that washington and seneca, we should be most concernedd about is hyper partisanship, party over country. that's the forcessh we are facig today and that is risking the success of our republic. >> i agree with everything john said. i would add one element to the foreign policy piece that dovetails that we didn't touch on was that washington warned against allowing emotions for other nations, for poor nations to call our ideas against our fellow americans. to color our ability, just in d as united nations. i think that gets it was the same point which is that soft allowing weatherby partisan identity or foreign policy identity, to make us forget what we have in common, to make us
forget our common ties and instead see the differences. it's really looking for the divisions and instead look for the things that we have that bind us together. >> joe, last word? >> i think both of my colleagues have done af great job, john and lindsay, so i echo their view. as a teacher for 44 years, many students these days don't think anything happen before they were born. because the document would be so alien to them i want and understand it. like a president would go into a foreign country and learning to think and speak the different language. the language that washington speaks is for all the reasons john mentioned desperately absentbs from the center of american politics, especially
the congressional and presidential level. the public interest is something that nobody understands now, and even suggest that your highest priority is to mean that you're not qualified to serve. washington would never, neither would any of the other four presidents i've mentioned earlier, they would never runr for public office or for presidency in the current form. they would regard it as prostitution. >> comparing to where we were to where we are and looking back and learning something about where we need to l get to the future. >> thank you so much, john, t lindsay, joseph, it's been a great conversation. i have learned a lot here it's an important document. thank you for helping so many a people outeo there better understand it, why it remains relevant today. on behalf of mount vernon thank you so muchh for joining us here tonight. we hope to see you again soon. thank you and good night.
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