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

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PARRY & McMillan, publishers.


Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1859,


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Eastern District of PennsylTania.



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Comer of Sercnth aod Cherry Street*, Philadelphia.


If the title of this paper had substituted the word Authorship
for the word Formation, it would have contained the ambiguity
which it is the object of the Inquiry to clear away. There are not
many words in our language that describe a greater variety of ope-
rations than the word Author. From the first step in production,
even from the mandate to produce a work of any kind, to the perfect
completion of the work, there are many relations to it, and at times
several contributions to it, which may make more persons than one
authors of it, in different senses, Avith equal justice and exclusiveness.
And only something short of this is the word Authorship ; which,
though it signifies the quality of being an author, and therefore
may comprehend that quality in regard to any property of any sub-
ject, yet seems to be generally confined to literary works or compo-
sitions in writing, and to admit of nothing being truly predicated of
it, except in this relation. The word Authorship is large enough,
however, in this limited application, to include more than one per-
son as possessing this quality in regard to the same thing ; and in
the rather jealous domain of literature, if different persons have
contributed to the same written composition, it sometimes happens
that the application of the word in honor of one rather than another
of them, is the occasion of very lively disputes, where there is per-
haps little or no difference of opinion about the respective contribu-
tions of the parties, or no previous analysis to ascertain what the
respective contributions were. This word has therefore been care-


fully oxcluded frf)in the title, and will he as carefully avoided in
the In<(uiiy, uidi-ss with some attcnthint definition or description, to
show the sense in which it is used. Undoubtedly a written composi-
tion may have been so much the mixed work of two persons, that
the authorship of it in some sense may be justly attributed to both.
Where the contributions are well discriminated, the respective au-
thorships may be attributed to each. In which class the Farewell
Address Avill fall, or whether it will fall into cither, is reserved for
the judgment of the reader, at the conclusion of the Inquiry.

The writer's aim in this essay, has been certainty in the facts,
and accuracy in his deductions from them. He has therefore scru-
pulously endeavored to avoid embellishment in either of these
respects, while he has been regardless of it in any other. He hopes
that the result will give equal relief to the friends of Washington
and to the friends of Hamilton, who for the most part were the
same persons while the objects of their regard were living, some
appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. It cannot be denied
that there have been since, as there were in the previous day, seve-
ral appearances which have manifested greater favor to Washington
and less to Hamilton, independently of the pre-eminent military and
patriotic services of the former; and that these appearances still
continue, and have been much enlarged ; but perhaps with this dis-
tinction, that Washington is praised more and followed less, while
Hamilton is praised less, and, at least in the great mass of fiscal, com-
mercial, and judicial principles and arrangements, which he recom-
mended for the Treasury and for the country, is followed more. But
the probability, nevertheless, is, that the friends of both, as supporters
of the same policy, are still the same persons. Their number will
increase, no doubt, from day to day, as these great men shall
become more thoroughly known by their writings, and more impar-
tially compared with others ; but it is to their friends only, present
and to come, that the writer can promise himself to supply either
facts or deductions in regard to the Farewell Address, that will be
of any considerable interest.


The manner in which Alexander Hamilton's connection -with the
Farewell Address of "Washington has been occasionally written and
spoken about, has been a source of discomfort to many persons who
have a great admiration for that remarkable man ; and perhaps of
as much discomfort from the bearing of these remarks upon \Yash-
ington, as from their bearing upon Hamilton. To all persons who
possess, in the same degree with the writer of this paper, a profound
veneration for the whole character of the Father of his Country,
and at the same time an exalted respect for the intellectual and per-
sonal qualities of Hamilton, it must have been for years past a
cause of disturbance, to perceive that by some persons the composi-
tion of the Address has been regarded either as an unsupported pre-
tension on the side of Hamilton, or as an assistance which he should
have taken effectual means to conceal forever ; and by others, as a
transcript by Washington, with a view to unneedful honor, of what
another had written, fundamental or guiding thoughts, and all.

That "Washington, like other executive chiefs, or heads of mili-
tary command, consulted his ministers, officers, and friends, and was
sometimes obliged to use their pens for the expression or the arrange-
ment of his thoughts, is not only probable but certain. He left
behind him some traces of this wise practice, and it was more than
once avowed by him ; but that he had done this at any time and
under any circumstances, with such an appeal, either expressed or
understood, as would reflect upon his minister or friend if he left a
trace of his contributions among his papers, or that in the instance
of this great paper he had cloaked the service so carefully as to
imply a corresponding duty on the other side to do the same, for the
purpose of leaving the honors of the entire written composition
with him, is a thought that cannot be recalled without the greatest
repugnance, from both its aspects. In this last case, the character
of each party was a guarantee that whatever was asked or done
was properly asked and done; that there was no vain-glory on
either side, no sense of humiliation or superiority, no aspiration
for the honors of authorship at the expense of either truth or loy-


alty, but just such a contribution on each side, if there Averc two
contributing parties, as would leave to the principal party the merit
and tlic responsibility of the fundamental thoughts, and to the other
the merit of expanding, defending, and presenting them in the most
suitable form, a task which public engagements, or a particular turn
of mind, may have made unusual to the one, while it was habitual
and easy to the other ; and that no sense of honor had been wounded,
nor any pretension of vanity consulted, by leaving the traces of a
joint co-operation, just as each party has left them. Such as the
character of both AVashington and Hamilton gave assurance that
the co-operation, if it took place, would be, such upon very full
examination of the facts, it turns out to have been. The reader
will probably regard the character of each, after he has considered
the proofs, with as much esteem and admiration as he felt before the
fact of co-operation Avas known to him. It is not improbable that
he will regard it with even greater.

A recent perusal of the correspondence between Washington and
Hamilton, in regard to the Farewell Address, has led to the prepa-
ration of this paper. Part of that correspondence, the letters of
Washington, has been in print for some years, and is to be found in
the Congress edition of Hamilton's works. The letters of Hamilton
to Washington have not been heretofore printed. The writer did not
keep a copy of any of them. The originals were found among the
papers of Washington, at the time of his death, and copies of them
have been supplied by Mr. Sparks, the Editor of Washington's writ-
ings, and the author of his biography, to Mr. John C. Hamilton, the
author of Hamilton's Life, and of "The History of the Republic,"
now in course of publication, who has given me permission to print
them. I am indebted to the same gentleman for permission to print
certain other papers, derived by him from the kindness of Mr.
Sparks, which enable me to identify the original or preparatory
draught by Washington of a Farewell Address, as the same which
he sent to Hamilton on the 15th May, 1796, and which became the
basis of Hamilton's work. The permission of Mr. Hamilton enables


me to place a copy of this preparatory paper in an appendix. The
originals of Hamilton's letters to Washington, and Washington's
original draught, were, I understand, deposited in the office of the
Department of State, after the conclusion of Mr. Sparks's great
work ; but Mr. Hamilton informs me, that by order of Mr. Marcy,
when Secretary of State, diligent search was made, at Mr. Hamil-
ton's request, and these letters and draught were not found.

For the greater convenience of the reader, I have appended to this
Essay, 1. A copy of Washington's original or preparatory draught
of a Farewell Address ; 2. A copy of Hamilton's " Abstract of
Points to form an Address ;" 3. A copy of Hamilton's original
draught of an Address; 4. Washington's Farewell Address, conform-
ing to the record of it in the Department of State ; and 5. A copy
of Washington's autograph paper, from which the Farewell Address
was printed. I should not have felt at liberty to use for this pur-
pose the reprint of that autograph paper in the appendix to the fifth
volume of Mr. Irving's Life of Washington ; but I have been favored,
through Mr. Hamilton, with a permission to reprint it, by its pro-
prietor, Mr. Lenox, who printed a very fine edition of it for private
distribution. The pagings in Mr. Living's appendix, are noted in
this reprint, to facilitate a reader in tracing my references to that


Philadelphia, August 9, 1859.


From the first publication of "Washington's Farewell
Address, in September, 1796, it has never been imiversally
agreed, that the paper was written altogether by the illus-
trious man whose name is subscribed to it.

The first intimations of doubt on this point, were confined
to private conversation or society, and with the admission
that the paper spoke Washington's Avell-known sentiments,
and was not above the high intellectual capacity he had
uniformly exhibited ; but the doubt was excused by sugges-
tions, that the paper wanted the presence of Wasliington's
characteristic forms of expression and construction, and that
it manifested more systematic arrangement and connection,
with fidler argumental supports, than were usual in his

This language was confined, also, to comparatively few
persons, as only a few were, at that time, familiar with
Washington's writings. But in subsequent years, as this
famiharity was enlarged, and as rival or unfi-iendly sentiments
towards Washington and some of his confidential friends,
were more disposed to reveal themselves, the doubts grew
stronger; and, as special facts bearing upon the question


came out from time to time, they became more general.
At length tlicrc arose a popular repugnance to the opinion,
whicli in some degree suppressed further curiosity and
inquiry. 'Hie deep and undivided reverence of the people
for Washington, was unwilling to learn, that, even on an
occasion of ceremony, he had worn any vesture but his own.
It was, perhaps, a prejudice ; but it was a natural one, in
sucli a country as ours was, and some of it may still remain.
The lapse of more years, however, and the express mention
of Alexander Hamilton's name as an assistant in the work,
opened the inquiry again, — always in the most deferential
manner towards Washington, but with new features, tend-
ing to diversify opinions upon the matter, and in a certain
degree to embitter them ; until finally three varieties of
opinion were found to prevail, none of them strictly ac-
cordant mth the absolute truth, yet all of them professing
the most elevated respect for Washington. They probably
diWde the country at the present time. It has been a re-
markable test of the universal admiration and love of
Wasliington among us, that no one of these opinions has
ever disclosed or involved the least abatement in the love of
any of his countrymen towards this immortal man, whose
priority in all hearts has become the established heritage of
his name forever.

One of these varieties of opinion, existing perhaps as
early as any, among persons in immediate proximity to
Washington, but not then revealed to any extent, and
which had no special basis of fact whatever for it, was, that
the Farewell Address was a transcript by Washington of
Hamilton's thoughts as well as language. Those who en-
tertained this opinion, derived it, probably, from 'vvhat they


erroneously thought was Washmgton's frequent practice in
his pubHc writings.*

Another variety, with more, but still incomplete, know-
ledge of the facts to sustain it, and with a natural partiahty
to incline it to assign the largest contribution of every
ingredient to Washington, though without undervaluing
either the talents or the direct contributions of Hamilton,
regarded the Address as the joint work of both, but the
preponderant work of AVashington in all respects — Wash-
ington's style in its language, as much as his judgment in
the plan, or his sentiments in the principles. It conceded
to Hamilton a considerable share, but left the contributing
shares of each of the parties perfectly indefinite.

The third variety of opinion was that of a very eminent
and excellent man, from whom it passed to others, with a
result as erroneous as the opinion first noticed, and more
erroneous than the second, being at the same time more
definite in the wrong direction.!

This eminent man, perfectly acquainted with one impor-
tant fact in the case, bearing upon Hamilton's connection
with the Address, and entirely unacquainted with all the
rest, reasoned froni this fact as if it had been the only fact
in the case, and closely restricted the bearing of it, by an
opinion of his own, which certainly was not Washington's,
that the Farewell Address was in some emphatic way, " a
"• ^personal act — of choice, not of ofiicial duty — and was so

* This thought may be seen in a remarkable letter by the elder President Adams, to
Dr. Benjamin Rush, dated 28th August, 1811. "Works of John Adams," vol. ix,p. 639.

t John Jay. Letter to the Hon. Richard Peters, 29th March, 1811. Life and
Writings of John Jay, vol. ii, p. 336.

12 MR. jay's abstract opinion.

" connected witli otlicr obvious considerations, that he
" ("Washington) ouly^ could with propriety write it."

This positive and expHcit opinion, w^hich resulted in the
conclusion, not directly expressed, but necessarily implied
by the whole letter from which the above extract is taken,
that Washington was the only waiter of the Farewell Ad-
dress, and Hamilton no more than the corrector or emen-
dator of Washington's original draught, has had decisive
wTight with a great many persons ; and from the character
of the writer, and the solemnity with which he expressed
his opinion, and gave the details of his personal knowledge,
could not but have such weight. It inclined the scale,
before the opposing evidence could be fairly weighed against
it ; and it will incline it, until that evidence is exhibited and
deliberately weighed.

From the time that this letter was published, in 1833,
and, in only a less extensive degree, from the time of its
date, in 1811, the question assumed an invidious bearing
towards Alexander Hamilton, and on the other hand, towards
the principal party also ; and has at length become almost a
moral question, involving a breach of faith or honor on
Hamilton's part, and of some assumption of another's merit
on the part of Washington, without the countenance of any
other circumstance in their respective Hves to justify or
excuse an imputation of this nature.

In a certain state of opinion respecting the authorship of
the Farewell Address, it would have been agreeable to concur
in a part of INIr. Sparks's remarks on this subject, in the
twelfth volume of Washington's W^ritings, of which he was
the editor ; " that the manner in which that Address origi-
" nated is one of small moment, since its real importance


" consists in its being known to contain the sentiments of
" Washington, nttered on a solemn occasion, and designed
"for the benefit of his countrymen." There is no reason
to question the propriety of this remark ; nor would there
be any indisposition to stop there, if Mr. Sparks and others
had stopped there. But Mr. Sparks has proceeded in the
same place to examine the question of origin to some extent,
and has expressed his opinions upon the whole subject,
generally with candor, and always with a fair estimate of
Hamilton's intellectual powers, and of his special aid in the
preparation of this Address ; but without making all the
discriminations which the evidence supports, and with rather
a measurable valuation of the Address itself as a literary com-
position, so as to leave the merits of it on a less elevated grade
than they ought to occupy, and tlie relative contributions of
both Washington and Hamilton to the work, in greater ob-
scurity than, now at least, there is any necessity for. Mr.
Sparks also has explained, or excused, this obscurity, by an
implication that in some degree tarnishes the honor of
Hamilton ; for, as Hamilton did preserve^ that is to say, did
not destroy, the original draught of the address he had pre-
pared for Washington, and did likewise preserve the original
letters of Washington upon that subject, as well as upon
others, it is certainly a tacit reflection upon Hamilton's
honor, for having done this, to say, " that in a case of so
'' confidential a nature, and in which his honor was so much
" concerned, it may be supposed that Hamilton icould not
" preserve every communication that he received." All this
on the part of Mr. Sparks has been, perhaps inadvertently
and unconsciously, colored or promoted, by reflections from
another paper previously published, to which he refers, the


letter of ^Ir. J:iv to Juds^o Peters ; which oui2:ht to have had
no siicli effect, and can have none at all at this day, when
tlie facts arc more accurately known. It is not reasonable,
tli(>refore, in tliis state of Mr. Sparks's impressions, to abide
by the general proposition he seems to espouse, though it is
not "\ery clearly stated, that Washington himself was the
composer or writer of the paper, though with important
assistance from Hamilton. It might have been left there,
but for this reflection upon Hamilton's name ; for the ques-
tion is really of no moral importance, however interesting it
mav be as a matter of historical or literarv curiosity: and
Hamilton's reputation as a writer and thinker, on questions of
public policy, requires nothing to be added to it, and can
gain nothing by a decision on this point in his favor, which
it may not very safely do without. But those who honor
Hamilton's patriotism and pure integrity, and liis elevated
character in all respects, cannot be contented to let any
obscimty rest upon the point, which there is light enough
in the evidence to remove ; especially under an hypothesis,
that Hamilton, from motives of honor, did not preserve, that
is to say, did destroy, papers which would have made the
point clear, while at the same time he did not destroy, that
is to say, did preserve, the principal paper by. which his
claims, whatever they may be, are to be determined. This
is an uneasy state of the question to many persons. It
is quite possible that Mr. Sparks did not perceive the
fiill bearing of his remark ; and it is possible, also,
that the friends of Hamilton have seen more point in
the remark than ]\[r. Sparks intended to give it. But
it has by this, and like causes, become a duty, both
to Hamilton and Wasliington, to go over the whole matter


upon original grounds, which is the direct object of this

It need not be said — for this will become obvious by the
whole cast of these remarks — that my reverence for Wash-
ington, my admiration of him, my interest in his true glory,
even in his honor in aU that regards the Farewell Address,
are not, and never have been, inferior to those of any person
I have known ; and at the same time, that none of these
sentiments impair those I have always entertained in the
like respects for Hamilton. It will only be necessary for
me to follow the greater interests of truth, to show my per-
sonal admiration of both, and to do justice to each in the
matter of this celebrated paper.

I shall endeavor to make these statements as plain and
clear as possible ; abating none of their plainness and clear-
ness by a vain effort for literary effect. This may, perhaps,
take more space than may be agreeable to all; but those
who have an interest in the question, will not be unwil-
ling, perhaps, to give the necessary time and attention to
it, if they shall perceive that the examination is conducted
in a calm and impartial spirit, with an orderly arrangement
and an ample citation of proofs, a careful deduction of infer-
ences, and a fidl concentration of all these influences upon
the published Farewell Address of Washington.

I shall be under a necessity, in order to avoid a hea\'y
mass of quotations, of asking the reader to refer to the
printed and published works I shall name, if he desires
more full information than my extracts will give him, or
wishes to test my accuracy in making them ; and when I
shall offer a comparison between the original draught of an
address by Hamilton, and the Farewell Address signed and


dated hy AVashinn;ton, on the 17th Soptcmber, 1796, and
pnl)Hsliod by liini to tho country, I sliall ask the reader to
Hiak(\ with the exception of two or three clauses collated in
the hupiiry, tlie entire colhition or comparison himself,
witli tlie two papers under his eye, to save me from exliibit-
ing, what some persons might deem an invidious parallel, if
they were placed side by side, in oy)posite colunms or pages.

It seems worthy of particular remark at the outset, that
Wasliington does not appear to have intended, at any time,
to be the unassisted composer or writer of tlie Farewell
Address. Though it was not, strictly speaking, an official
paper, nor a state paper, appertaining to the regular duties
of his political office, and for which he might, and usually
did, refer to his official ministers and advisers, and some-
times to approved friends, for thoughts and clauses, that he
might consider and apply, or modify or reject, at his plea-
sure, — it was a paper, in his regard, of a higher grade, and
calling for even more consideration, as it was to be in the
nature of a testamentary declaration of his political prin-
ciples, as well as to impart his counsels, and to express his
personal thanks and valediction to the whole people of the
United States.

The original conception, the fundamental tliought, pur-
pose, or design of this paper, was Washington's ; liis first,
and it would seem his only, upon separate consideration
and deliberation, until the purpose was matured, W'hen he
communicated it to another, who approved it. That design
comprehended, in addition to his cordial and thankful fore-
well, upon retiring from ci^il life, a recommendation of
various patriotic counsels and admonitions to his country-

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Online LibraryHorace BinneyAn inquiry into the formation of Washington's Farewell address .. → online text (page 1 of 20)