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An inquiry into the formation of Washington's Farewell address .. online

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I shall quote its language hereafter.

These are golden truths, a treasure of political wisdom.

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experience, and foresight, which, jfrom the gravity of their
tone, the depth of their sincerity, their simplicity, and the
tenderness as well as the strength of the concern they
manifest for the whole people, make them in themselves a
" Farewell Address," as it were, from a dying fether to his
children. And they are Washington's alone, without sug- ^
gestion by anybody, — ^Madison, Hamilton, or any other
friend or adviser,— draT<ii from the depth of Washington's
own heart; and if the whole Farewell Address, as it now
stands on record, were decomposed, and such parts dispelled
as were added to give the paper an entrance into the minds
of statesmen and legislators, and to place it among the per-
manent rules of government, the great residuum would be
found in these principles, an imperishable legacy to the
people. They are the soul of the Farewell Address.

All these thoughts will be found introduced into Hamil-
ton's original draught of the Farewell Address, and not
iinfrequently in the language in which Washington has ex- ^
pressed them; but, from the bearing that is there given
them, they have not only a different aspect, but a united
and concentrated influence upon one momentous and predo-
minant interest. Their aspect is changed. In the Hints, or
Heads of Topics, they have the enunciative form, which is •
so common in Washington's writings — simple truths, or
propositions, or statements of wisdom or patriotism, with
little support by argument, and without a manifest bearing
upon each other, or upon any general truth which they are
meant to establish ; and they have no dependent order or
succession. They are neither branches from a common
trunk, nor rays converging to a common focus, but separate
and independent truths or postulates. With the exception

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of the preamble and the final clause, they might all change
places with each other, in any way that could be chosen,
and none of them would receive injury, nor would the effect
of the whole be impaired by the change. But when they
are carried into the Farewell Address, they are found to
assume the ratiocinative or argumental form, so characteristic
of Hamilton's writings. They are made to have a general
bearing upon a general truth or aspiration ; and their sepa-
rate value, and their combined strength, are augmented by
their order and position.

I must, therefore, assume that these paragraphs, in con-
nection with Madison's draught, and the beginning and con-
dtision before mentioned, did, in the design of Washington,
constitute definitely a draught by him of a valedictory address,
so ^ as he should prepare or arrange it himself; and that
this was the very paper that Hamilton saw before the 10th
May, 1796, and was sent to him by Washington on the
15th May, 1796, as the basis of the work to which Wash-
ington called him. This, however, will become more evi-
dent by the letter itself, to be presently introduced.

It is proper to remark in this place, that if the preserved
paper consisted of the whole of Mr. Madison's draught, and
of all the paragraphs called " Hints, or Heads of Topics," it
would have filled about five and a half of such printed pages
as are those of Mr. Sparks's Appendix. Washington's be-
ginning and conclusion, might have added another such
page and a half, or thereabouts.

I shall now introduce, and in going on, partially apply or
explain the proofs which more specially bear upon the com-
position of the Farewell Address.

The reference of the subject to Hamilton, of course pro-

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Hamilton's letter to Washington, may 10th, 1796. 43

ceeded from Washington, as is shown by Hamilton's first
letter to Washington.

Mr. Sparks, in his Appendix, has printed the first part of
this letter as an extract ; and it is the only part of the letter
that has any the least reference to the subject of the pre-
served paper. The commencement of the letter, and its
concluding address, are as follows : —

" Niw YOBK, May 10th, 1796.

" Sir,—

" When last in Philadelphia, you mentioned to me your wish,

" that I should redress a certain paper, which you had prepared.

" As it is important that a thing of this kind should be done with

*' great care, and much at leisure touched and retouched, I submit a

" wish, that as soon as you have given it the body you mean it to

" have, it may be sent to me.''


" Very respectfully and affectionately,

" I have the honor to be,

" Sir,

" Your ob't serv't,

" A. Hamilton."

« The President of the United States."

Washington replied on the 15th May, from Philadelphia;
and as this letter is the key to Washington's intentions and
to Hamilton's acts, the entire letter will be given, although
it may be found at large in 6 Hamilton's Works, p. 120.
The convenience of making an occasional remark upon a
paragraph of it, before the whole is exhibited, wiU lead to
its being presented in sections.

" Philadblphia, May 15tb, 1796.

" My dear Sir, —

" On this day week I wrote you a letter on the subject of the

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44 WASHnraTOH to hamiltok, mat ISth, 1796.

*^ information received from 6 M , and put it with some

*^ other papers respecting the case of M. de La Fajette, under
*^ cover to Mr. Jaj, to whom also I had occasion to write. Bat in
" my hurry (makiug up the despatches for the post-office next
" morning), I forgot to give it a superscription : of course it had
" to return from New York for one, and to encounter all the delay
" occasioned thereby before it could reach your hands."

" Since then I have been favored with your letter of the 10th
" inst., and inclose (in its rough state) the paper mentioned therein,
" with some alteration in the first page (since you saw it) relative
" to the reference at foot. Having no copy by me, except of the
" quoted part, nor of the notes from which it was drawn, I beg
" leave to recommend the draught now sent to your particular
" attention."

There are some inferences from this part of the letter,
which, although self-evident, it is thought material to state
with precision in this place.

1. The identical paper or draught which Washington had
prepared, which Hamilton Tiad seen, and which he men-
tioned in his letter of the 10th of May, was inclosed in
Washington's letter of the 15th. Some alterations in its
first page, relative to a reference at the fi)ot of the page,
had been made after Hamilton had seen the paper, and be-
fore it was inclosed to him. These alterations appear on the
face of the preserved paper, mentioned by Mr. Sparks, a line
being drawn through several words, as well as through the
name of ** ####### at the foot of the page.

2. Washington, when he so inclosed the draught, had no
copy by him of any part of the draught, except what he
calls "the quoted part," nor of the notes from which it,
m^paning most probably the original part not quoted, had

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been drawn, and therefore he recommends the draught to
Hamilton's particular attention.

Was the preserved paper a different draught, prepared
he/ore Washington's letter of 15th May, and not mentioned
when he sent to Hamilton the draught inclosed in that let-
ter '? This is to the last degree improbable; for Washington
said he had no copy by him except of the quoted part,
which was Madison's draught, nor the notes from which the
draught he sent was drawn. Such a previously prepared
paper, if it existed, must therefore have been without a trace
of connection with the draught that was sent. Did Wash-
ington, after sending his draught to Hamilton, subsequently
make another draught himself, or prepare Hints or Heads
of Topics, corresponding with the preserved paper in Mr.
Sparks's Appendix ? The whole subsequent correspondence
wdll show the futility of such a suggestion. The draught
sent to Hamilton was therefore the preserved paper. The
letter proceeds : —

" Even if you should think it best to throw the whole into a
*' different form, let me request, notwithstanding, that my draught
*' may be returned to me (along with yours) with such amendments
*' and corrections as to render it as perfect as the formation is sus-
" ceptible of; curtailed if too verbose ; and relieved of all tautology
" not necessary to enforce the ideas in the original or quoted part.
*' My wish is that the whole may appear in a plain style, and be
" handed to the public in an honest, unaffected, simple garb.''

It is from Washington, consequently, that first came, if
not the suggestion that the whole should be thrown into a
diflferent form, the clearly implied authority to Hamilton to
throw it into that form, if he should think it best. The
letter still proceeds : —

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46 washikoton's lbttbr to Hamilton.

^' It will be perceived, from hence, that I am attached to the
^^ quotation. My reasons for it are, that as it is not only a fact
^' that such an address was written, and on the point of being pub-
'^ lished, but hnotvn aho to one or two of those characters, who are
^^ now strongest and foremost in the opposition to the goyemment,
" and consequently to the person administering of it contrary to
" their views, the promulgation thereof, as an evidence that it
'' was much against my inclination that I continued in office, will
" cause it more readily to be believed, that I could have no view in
" extending the powers of the Executive beyond the limits pre-
" scribed by the Constitution ; and will serve to lessen, in the public
^' estimation, the pretensions of that party to the patriotic zeal and
" watchfulness, on which they endeavor to build their own conse-
" quence, at the expense of others who have differed from them in
" sentiment. And besides, it may contribute to blunt, if it does
*' not turn aside, some of the shafts which, it may be presumed, will
" be aimed at my annunciation of this event ; among which, con-
" viction of fallen popularity, and despair of being re-elected, will
" be levelled at me with dexterity and keenness."

In this paragraph, the reasons of Washington's attach-
ment to the " quotation " lead immediately to the inference,
which we now know to be true, that the " quoted part" of
his draught consisted of Madison's draught, and thus iden-
tifies the draught sent to Hamilton, as being composed in
part of Madison's draxight, and in part of original matter
written by Washington, which is the character of the
" preserved paper," according to Mr. Sparks's accoimt of it.
Madison was certainly one of the "o/ie (yr <tw" who knew
that the Address was written, and on the point of being
published, in 1792, and who were foremost in the opposition
to Washington's administration in 1796; and Washington
held with some tenacity to what Madison had written, even

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in regard to Washington's very fiillible judgment and infe-
riority of qualifications, because the reference to it in the
present Address would bring the matter home consciously
to Madison, and with this could hardly fail to recur to
him, at the same time, the consciousness of Washington's
sincerity, candor, modesty, and real greatness and elevation,
that would not put away from him these depreciating
reminders of his first adviser, after their relations had'

" Having struck out the reference to a particular character in
" the first page of the Address, I have less (if any) objection to
" expunging those words which are contained within parentheses, in
'' pages 5, 7, and 8, in the quoted part, and those in the eighteenth
" page of what follows ; nor to discarding the egotisms (however
"just they may be), if you think them liable to fair criticism, and
" that they had better be omitted, notwithstanding some of them
" relate facts which are but little known to the community/*

" My object has been, and must continue to be, to avoid person-
" alities : allusions to particular measures, which may appear
*^ pointed, and to expressions which could not fail to draw upon
" me attacks which I should wish to avoid, and might not find
" agreeable to repel.*'

Whether this reference to the eighteenth page of Wash-
ington's manuscript draught includes the last portion of the
" Hints, or Heads of Topics," or a part of the Gonclnsion^
which has been called the fourth paper, it is impossible to
determine, without seeing the copy-book, or the entire
manuscript and its paging, which I have not seen. But
this is not very material.' The last paragraph of the " Hints,
" or Heads of Topics," printed by Mr. Sparks, is one of a
personal character, which becomes more pointed in the

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Chnclusion^ not printed by Mr. Sparks; thoxigh it is not
connected there, as it is in the " Hints or Heads of Topics,"
with the motive which led him to retain Madison's draught
as a part of his own paper. " In expressing these senti-
"ments," he says ("Hints, or Heads of Topics," Wash-
ington's Writings, voL xii, p. 394), "it will readily be
" perceived that I can have no other view now, whatever
*' malevolence may have ascribed to it before, than such as
" results frofn a perfect conviction of the utility of the mea-
" sure. If public servants, in the exercise of their official
" duties, are found incompetent, or pursuing wrong courses,
" discontinue them ; if they are guilty of malpractices, let
" them be more exemplarily punished : in both cases, the
" Constitution and laws have made provision. But do not
" withdraw your confidence from them, the best incentive
" to a faithful discharge of their duty, without just cause ;
" nor infer, because measures of a complicated nature, which
" time, opportunity, and close investigation alone can pene-
" trate, — for these reasons are not easily comprehended by
" those who do not possess the means, — that it necessarily
"follows they must be wrong. This would not only be
" doing injustice to your trustees, but be counteracting your
" own essential interests^ rendering those trustees, if not
" contemptible in the eyes of the world, little better, at
" least, than ciphers in the administration of the govem-
" ment ; and the Constitution of your own choosing would
" reproach you for such conduct."

Such a paragraph as this, as weU as others in the con-
cluding paper, might very naturally be embraced by the
license which this part of the letter gives to Hamilton.
But this is not certain. The pages of the copy I possess do

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Washington's letter to Hamilton. 49

not, I apprehend, conform to the original ; and there are no
parentheses in the copy, except in two instances, quite un-
important. Washington's marks may have been made by
pencil, and become eflfaced. The references at pages 5, 7,
and 8, cannot be ascertained by the copy. The letter goes
on: —

" As there will be another session of Congress before the political
" existence of the present House of Representatives, or my own,
" will expire, it was not my design to say a word to the Legislature
" on this subject ; but to withhold the promulgation of my intention,
" until the period when it shall become indispensably necessary for
" the information of the Electors (which this year will be delayed
" until the 7th of December). This makes it a little difficult and
" uncertain what to say, so long beforehand, on the part marked
^' with a pencil, in the last paragraph of the second page.**

The reference in this last sentence, is undoubtedly to the
paragraph of Washington's beginning^ as I have called it,
which immediately precedes Mr. Madison's draught, distin-
guished by marks of quotation in the paper appended to
this Inquiry, as Washington's original draught.

" All these ideas and observations are confined, as you will
" readily perceive, to my draught of the Valedictory Address. If
" you form one anew, it will, of course, assume such a shape as you
*^ may be disposed to give it, predicated upon .the sentiments con-
" tained in the inclosed paper.**

" With respect to the gentleman you have mentioned as successor

L " to Mr. P , there can be no doubt of his abilities, nor, in my

" mind^ is there any of his fitness ; but you know, as well as I,
" what has been said of his political sentiments, with respect to
** another form of government ; and from thence can be at no loss


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'^ to guess at the interpretation which would be given to the nomi-
" nation of him. However, the subject shall have due considera-
" tion ; but a previous resignation would, in my opinion, carry with
" it too much the appearance of concert, and would have a bad,
" rather than a good effect.

" Always and sincerely,
" I am yours,


The concluding remark in the last paragraph but one of
this letter, is in the full character of Washington, and can-
not be too well remembered by the reader. It is the key to
that part of the Farewell Address that he reserved for him-
self. It says, in the plainest language, to Hamilton, — my
sentiments are contained in the paper I send you. Certain of
them, which have a bearing upon particular persons or party,
and what may be called egotisms^ — ^matters touching myself
particularly, — I have no objection to expimge, if you think
them liable to fair criticism. Correct, amend, make it as
perfect as the formation is susceptible of, to enforce the ideas
or sentiments that are expressed in the draught. Or, throw
the whole into a different form, if you please ; let it assume
such a shape as you may be disposed to give it ; but the
sentiments contained in the inclosed paper are to be the
guide. These show my design, my object, my opinions,
my <;ounsels to the country, my admonitions to the whole
people ; these are mine, and are to be observed in whatever
plan you may adopt.

And thus Washington's relation to the subject was de-
clared and established at the outset by himself, and wiU be "
found to have been most faithfully, as well as most inge-
niously, observed and followed by Hamilton to the end.

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Washington was the designer, in the general sense, if not in
the artistic. The fundamental and radical thoughts were
his, and were to remain his, even in a new draught. The
Address was to disclose his principles and admonitions, of
which he gave a full outline, in sentiments sufficiently de-
lineated by him to characterize and identify them. As to
order, symmetry, amplification, illustration, support by rea-
soning, or by reference to general or known facts or truths,
or even additions of the same temperament as those he had
expressed, he committed all this to Hamilton, if Hamilton
should think it best, under the names of "form" and
" shape," by which Washington distinguished the external
appearance or composition, from the general and fimdamen-
tal truths. I may here, as well as anywhere else, ask the
reader to observe, how expressly Hamilton will call upon
Washington to see that none of the thoughts he had desired
to be embodied in the work, had been omitted by oversight ;
and how cautiously, even laboriously, Washington's eye will
be found passing and repassing over the whole, to the very

In the month of June following, Hamilton wrote to
Washington upon a subject of public concern, making no
reference to the valedictory ; and Washington repUed from
Mount Vernon, on the 26th of Jime. Hamilton's letter is
printed in the sixth volume of " Hamilton's Works," page
133; Washington's reply to Hamilton, in the same volume,
page 135. A considerable part of the reply relates to the
public subject only ; but midway, it adverts to the embar-
rassment of the administration, "from the conduct of
" characters among ourselves ; and as every act of the
" Executive is misrepresented and tortured, with a view to

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^^ make it odious," it suggests that the aid of the friends of
govemment is peculiarly necessary at such a crisis.

" It is unnecessary, therefore, to add," the letter says, " that I
^^ should be glad upon the present, and all other important occa-
" sions, to receive yours ; and as I have great confidence in the
" abilities and purity of Mr. Jay's views, as well as in his expe-
" rience, I should wish that his sentiments on the purport of this
" letter, and other interesting matters as they occur, may accom-
" pany yours ; for, having no other wish than to promote the true
" and permanent interests of this country, I am anxious always to
" compare the opinions of those in whom I confide, with one ano-
*' ther, and these again (without being bound by them) with my
^^ own, that I may extract all the good I can."

The letter turns, in its concluding paragraphs, to the
subject of the Valedictory Address, and expresses Wash-
ington's regret that he did not publish it the day after the
adjournment of Congress ; and gives several reasons for this
regret ; among others,

" that it might have prevented the remarks which, more than pro-
" bable, will follow a late annunciation — ^namely, that I delayed it
" long enough to see that the current was turned against me, before
" I declared my intention to decline. This is one of the reaspns
" which makes me a little tenacious of the draught I furnished you
" with, to. be modified and corrected. Having passed, however,
" what I now conceive would have been the precise moment to have*
" addressed my constituents,"

he asks Hamilton's opinion as to the next best time, and
requests to hear from him as soon as was convenient.
Hamilton answered this letter on the 5th July, the

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greater part of the answer being confined to the public
matter, and to Washington's suggestions arising out of it.

What regards the present subject is contained in these
paragraphs : —

" As to your resignation, sir," it proceeds to say, " it is not to be
" regretted that the declaration of your intention should be sus-
^' pended as long as possible ; and, suffer me to add, that you should
** really hold the thing undecided to the last moment. I do not
" think it is in the power of party to throw any slur upon the late-
'* ness of your declaration ; and you have an obvious justification in
" the state of things. If a storm gathers, how can you retreat ?
" This is a most serious question."

" The proper period now for your declaration, seems to be two
** months before the time for the meeting of the Electors. This
" will be sufficient. The parties will, in the meantime, electioneer
" conditionally, that is to say, if you decline ; for a serious opposi-
*' tion to you will, I think, hardly be risked.''

" I have completed the first draught of a certain paper, and shall
" shortly transcribe, correct, and forward it I will then also pre-
** pare and send forward, without delay, the original paper cor-
" rected upon the general plan of it, so that you may have both
*' before you for a choice, in full time, and for alteration if neces-
'' sary."

By '^ first draught of a certain paper ^^^ Hamilton undoubt-
edly meant his own original dratight of a Farewell Address.
By " the original paper corrected upon the general plan of ity'
he as clearly meant Washington's original or preparatory
draught, which had been sent to him on the 15th of May.
The phrase " corrected upon the general plan of itj^ could not
reasonably have meant corrected upon the face or paper
itself of Washington's draught, but corrected in correspond-

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ence or conformity with its general plan, that is to say,
without altering the plan.

Before Hamilton entered upon what he called the first
draught of a certain paper, he appears to have made an
" abstract of points to form an address," a copy of which is
printed in the seventh volume of Hamilton's Works, page
570, and wiU be found in the Appendix. It places the
points in the order in which they are afterwards developed
in* Hamilton's original draught, and must be particularly
noticed hereafter.

It is here called the original draught of Hamilton, for the
purpose of constantly distinguishing it in my ftiture remarks.

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Online LibraryHorace BinneyAn inquiry into the formation of Washington's Farewell address .. → online text (page 4 of 20)