Copyright
Horace Binney.

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

. (page 2 of 20)
Online LibraryHorace BinneyAn inquiry into the formation of Washington's Farewell address .. → online text (page 2 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


men, wdiicli should bring before them the blessings of their



WRITER : BUT TUE DESIGN, HIS. 17

union under a federal government, the perfect adaptation of
their diversified soil and climate to such a union, the advan-
tages of their mutual dependence and intercommunity, their
common relation to foreign nations, and the dangers of either
local or foreign partialities and antipathies, and of party
spirit in all its shapes, whether of combinations to control or
obstruct the action of regular authority, or of pervading
jealousy to weaken its effects, or of virulent opposition and
censure, to discourage and drive from public office the
faithful servants who had been selected to administer it.
In a Avord, the advantages and the dangers of the whole
country, and the maintenance of the Union, under a wise
and equal administration, as the best security and defence
of the public happiness, were to be his theme ; and no man
ever suggested a nobler theme,, or was more worthy by his
patriotism, or so well entitled by his services, to make it the
subject of his final discourse and instruction. It was a
paper far above all ordinary official or state papers, was re-
lated to topics as high or higher, involving equal or greater
responsibility, addressed to greater numbers, and asking a
perpetual remembrance by the people, as they should tender
their political existence.

That Washington ought to ha^'e thought that such an
address was so personal, or " so connected wdth other obvious
" considerations," that he onhj " could with propriety write
"it," is a pure fancy, if we take in the whole of ^yash-
ington's thought. Instead of such considerations being
" obvious," they are not even discoverable. No satisfactory
reason can be given for the proposition, that would not have
made it his duty to write everything that purported to

express his personal sentiments, whether official or unoffi-

2



18 WASIIINnTOX's LI'TTMK TO MADISOX.

cial — his speeches to (.'onfi^ress, and everything emanating
from liis pubhc position. No reason of any kind was given
for it by Mr. Jay, in the place where it was first announced.
Upon tlie same h^-pothcsis, wliatever it may have been, he
ought not to have asked for thoughts, or revision and cor-
rection for his own drauglit of this paper, or for any assist-
ance wliatever, which was the very thing tliat was asked of
him who has made the criticism ; and this would bring the
Address to a schoolboy exercise, that was to try Washing-
ton's progress in composition, and to bring dishonor upon
him, if lie borrowed a feather, or a feather's weight, from
anybody else.

It is sufficient, however, to know that this thought w^as
not Washington's thought, upon this or any other occasion
of public concern. He thought the contrary, clearly and
constantly, in regard to the Farewell Address. He thought
it a year or more before the end of his first term of office as
President ; and he thought it till the matter was consimi-
matcd, about six months before the end of his last term.
By a letter dated the 20th May, 1792, he first opened the
subject freely to Mr. Madison.

His letter, and Mr. Madison's reply, and the draught of a
Farewell Address prepared by Madison, at Washington's
request, appear in the twelfth volume of " The Writings of
George W^ashington," edited by Jared Sparks, in pages 382
to 390. I will present a summary of Washington's letter,
and some extracts from it, in this place.

After saying that he was unable to dispose his mind to a
longer continuation in the office he held, and that he looked
forward with the fondest and most ardent wishes to spend
the remainder of his days, which he could not expect to be



wasiiixgton's letter to madisox. 19

long, in case and tranquillity, — and saying further, that
nothing, but a conviction that by declining the chair of
government, it would involve the coimtry in serious disputes
respecting the Chief Magistrate, could induce him to relin-
quish the determination he had formed, Washington pro-
ceeded to say as follows : —

" Under these impressions, then, permit me to reiterate the
" request I made to you at our last meeting, namely, to think of
" the proper time and best mode of announcing the intention ; and
"that you woukl prepare the latter." . . . "I would fain carry my
" request to you farther than is asked above, although I am sensible
" that your compliance with it must add to your trouble ; but as
" the recess may afford you leisure, and I flatter myself you have
" dispositions to oblige me, I will, without apology, desire (if the
" measure in itself should strike you as proper, or likely to produce
" public good, or private honor) that you would turn your thoughts
"to a valedictory address from me to the public, expressing, in
" plain and modest terms, that, having been honored with the Presi-
" dential chair, and to the best of my abilities contributed to the
" organization and administration of the government — that having
" arrived at a period of life when the private walks of it, in the
" shades of retirement, become necessary, and will be most pleasing
" to me ; — (and as the spirit of the government may render a rota-
" tion in the elective officers of it more congenial with the ideas [the
" people have] of liberty and safety*) — that I take my leave of them



* I possess a/flc simile of Washington's letter of 20th May, 1792, to Mr. Madison, to
which, in this place, the copy in Mr. Sparks's Appendix does not literally conform. I
do not vouch for this fac simile, though the resemblance to Washington's handwriting,
which is familiar to me, is perfect; and the copy in ^]r. Sparks's Appendix, in other
respects, conforms to it. The clause, in the /ac si/nue to which I refer, is as follows,
without marks of parenthesis, but beginning where the first mark of parenthesis in Mr.
Sparks's copy, which I follow, begins, after the words " pleasing to me ;'' — "and the spirit
" of the government may render a rotation in the elective officers of it more congenial with



20 Washington's letteu to madisox.

'' as a public man, and, in bidding tlicin adieu, retaining no other
"concern than siicli as will arise from fervent Avishes for the pros-
" perity of my country, I take the liberty of my departure from
"civil [life], as I formerly did at my military exit, to invoke a
" continuation of the blessings of Providence upon it, and upon all
" those who are the supporters of its interests, and the promoters
"of harmony, order, and good government." . . . "That, to im-
" press these things, it might, among other topics, be observed" —

and then the letter proceeds to state, and very briefly de-
velope, four topics, which, witli very little variation of
Washington's words, may, in his own order, be represented
as follows: 1.. That we are all children of the same country,
great and rich in itself, and capable and promising to be as
prosperous and happy as any which the annals of history have
brought to view ; and that our interest, however diversified
in local or smaller matters, is the same in all the great and
essential concerns of the nation. 2. That the extent of our
country, the diversity of our climate and soil, and the various
productions of the States, are such as to make one part not only
convenient, but indispensable to other parts, and may render
the whole one of tlie most independent nations in the world,
o. That the government, being the work of our hands, with
the seeds of amendment engrafted in the Constitution, may,
by wisdom, good dispositions, and mutual allowances, aided



*' their ideas of liberty and safety, that I take my leave of tliem as a piiLilic man," &c.
I have heard, and have no reason to doubt, that the fac simile was made from the ori-
ginal letter, which came from a member of Mr. Madison's family, after Mr. Madison's
death. The word [life] within brackets is subject to my preceding remark; it is not
in the /(ic simile. Indeed, this manner of bracketing words in a copy, is understood, 1
believe, to be an intimation that the original does not contain the bracketed word or
words.



Washington's letter to madison. 21

by experience, be brought as near to perfection as any
human institution has ever been ; and, therefore, that the
only stiife should be, who should be foremost in facilitating:,
and finally accomplishing, such great objects, by giving every
possible support and cement to the Union, 4. And here
Washington's full words are extracted : " that liowever
" necessary it may be to keep a watchful eye over public
" servants and public measures, yet there ought to be limits
"to it; for suspicions imfounded, and jealousies too lively,
" are irritating to honest feelings, and oftentimes are pro-
" ductive of more evil than good."

Then coming more generally to the office Madison Avas
asked to perform, the letter says : —

" To enumerate the various subjects -which might be introduced
" into such an address, would require thought, and to mention them
" to you -Nvouhl be unnecessary, as your own judgment will conipre-
" hend all that will be proper. Whether to touch specifically any
" of the exceptionable parts of the Constitution, may be doubted.
" All that I shall add, therefore, at present, is, to beg the favor of
" you to consider, first, the propriety of such an address ; secondly,
" if approved, the several matters which ought to be contained in
" it ; thirdly, the time it should appear, that is, whether at the
" declaration of my intention to withdraw from the service of the
" public, or to let it be the closing act of my administration, which
"will end Avith the next session of Cono;ress."



o



There is one more clause in the letter, the final clause, a
part of which will be adverted to presently ; but, by what is
already shown, it is manifest that Washington asked ^Madi-
son both to write for him and to think for him in this
behalf; and that he guided Madison in regard only to ccr-



22 WAsinM;Tox's i,i:tti;u tu madisox.

tain topics, leaving to him an unlimited range as to others,
sul)j(>ft, of course, to his own revision and judgment, in
which he appears, at all times, to have possessed the fullest
confidenc(\ whether in deciding upon his own capacity and
language, or upon the capacity and language of another.
And it is made further manifest, that, so far from regarding
the Address as a merely personal paper, it was to be, in
one contingency of time, wdiat ^Washington called " tlie
'■''closiixj act of Ins administration ;^^ thus bringing it at
once into the category of public and official papers.

This, however, is not all that is made plain by the letter,
as plain by what it does not say, as by what it does. Cer-
tainly, it was a letter that showed confidence and trust, and
so it must have been understood by the parties ; and it de-
manded reserve and silence at the time on the part of Madi-
son, from the uncertainty wdiether Washington -vvoidd retire,
as he wished to do, and from the consequences tliat would have
resulted from bruiting his purpose prematurely to the world.
This motive for silence and reserve continued to the time of
Washington's final determination, in the beginning of 1796,
and even later than that, as will hereafter be seen. But
there is not a word about secrecv in the letter. It is not
headed " confidential," nor described as confidential, to re-
strict the knowledge of it to the parties only ; and the last
clause of the letter proves, that in Washington's mind, the
confidence, as to the Farewell Address, stood upon the same
footing as if the subject had been the President's speech at
the opening of Congress ; for in precisely the same condition
of confidence as in the matter of the Farewell Address,
Washington adverted to the approaching session of Con-
gress, and said : —



NO SPECIAL IMPLICATION OF SECRECY. 23

" I beg leave to draw your attention, also, to such things as you
" shall conceive fit subjects for communication on that occasion;
" and, noting them as they occur, that you would be so good as to
" provide me with them in time to be prepared and engrafted with
"the others for the opening of the session."

Since the death of both Washington and Hamilton, a
notion of some special honorary secrecy and confidence, in
this reference for advice and assistance in the matter of the
Farewell Address, has been blended with the consideration
of the whole snbject, and has led to both misconceptions
and misrepresentations. If the thought is analyzed with
any care, it will be found to contain, if I may follow ]Mr.
Jefferson's authority for a word, that sort of heUttllng appeal
to honor, which one lady of fashion makes to another,
"when she borrows her diamonds to show off in. There is
no trace or implication of the feeling in this first letter to
Mr. Madison; and those who have suggested it, in some
disparagement of Hamilton, do not appear to have con-
sidered how equally it casts back upon the party by
wdiom the appeal was made, if it was made or intended.
A motive for the honorary secrecy must be imputed to
Washington, before the preservation of papers which reveal
its object, can be imputed to Madison or to Hamilton. If
the preservation of such papers involves Madison or Hamil-
ton in the indehcacy of violating secrecy for his own advan-
tage, against the understanding and wdsh of Washington,
that understanding and wish must involve Washington in
the vanity of desiring to pass as the unassisted author of
every part of the Address. There is not a circumstance in
the life of either Washington or Hamilton, that justifies the
one imputation or the other ; and a body of proofs will be



24 Mil. Madison's draigiit.

h(uvaft{>r sul)iiiitt(>(l, wliich, if ;my tliinjj^ can prove a negative,
will ]»V()vr that tlir purpose and thought, in the particular
case, were equally absent from both.

It is unnecessary to say much, in tliis place, about Mr.
jNIadison's draught of a Farewell Address. It is printed at
length in ]Mr. Sparks's edition of Washington's Writings.
It is a rather curt paper, not occupying in the whole three
full pages of Mr. Sparks's Appendix, even with an alternative
clause, which was to be omitted, if the notification of Wash-
ington's purpose to retire, and the expression of his counsels
and cautions, sliould make but one paper. It is not unrea-
sonable to suppose that Mr. Madison, at that time, may have
known himself to be drawn further away from the policy of
Washino-ton, than Washing-ton was aware of. His feelinjrs
of delicacy in the transaction may have been heightened by
the circumstance. The fact is historically true ; and Madi-
son's draught foreshadowed the proof of it. Madison confined
himself, in his draught, mainly to a repetition of Washington's
suggestions, developing them to a very moderate extent
only, and not using at all the power delegated to liim, to
comprehend other topics. He aimed, as his reply to Wash-
ington imports, at that plainness and modesty of language
which W^ashington had in view, to the extent, as Washing-
ton's copy of 'this paper in his own original draught, will
show, of making him speak of his own " ven/ fdUibJe juchj-
" inenf" of which Washington had not spoken in his letter,
and of his '•'■ inferior qualificaf ions for ihc trust^'—ii dis-
claimer of what the unprejudiced part of the world knew
him to possess in a remarkable degree ; and did little more,
and says himself that he "had little more. to do, as to the
" matter, than to follow the just and comprehensive outline



MR. Madison's draught. 25

" which Washington had sketched." In one particular, and it
was an awakening one, Mr. Madison fell short of c\'cn this.

It may be observed, that Washington's language, in the
fourth of the topics expressly suggested by him to Madison,
is very explicit. In that paragraph the principle assumed
is, that, " however necessary it may be to keep a watchful
" eye over public servants and public measures," — and
Washington affirms nothing in regard to this necessity, —
he does affirm distinctly, that " there ought to be limits to
" it ; for unfounded suspicions and jealousies too lively, are
" irritating to honest feelings, and oftentimes are more pro-
" ductive of evil than good."

Every one knows that Washington had been stung and
irritated by the party arrows that were shot at him person-
ally, as well as at certain members of his administration ;
but the breadth and depth of this irritation, and the direc-
tion in which it spread, are not so well known. Some of
his papers reveal it with little disguise. He therefore
meant to assert, in the paragraph referred to, that a liberal
confidence in public servants was, in such a government as
ours, the true 2:>r2»c/p?e, and a watchful eye only a qualifica-
tion of that principle. Madison's draught, on the contrary,
places among the vows which AVashington would carry to
his retirement and to his grave, " that its administration, in
" every department, may be stamped with wisdom and virtue,
" and that this character may he insured to it, by that watch-
" fulness which, on one hand, loiU he necessary to prevent or
" correct a degeneracy, and that forbearance, on the other,
"from unfounded or indiscriminate jealousies, which would
"deprive the public of the best services, by depriving a
" conscious integrity of the noblest incitements to perform
" them."



26 -Mil. MADISOX'S DRAUGHT.

This socnis to liavc been rather an inversion of Wash-
ington's meaning, tlian even a dihition of it ; for by posi-
tion, as AV(>11 as by force of the terms, it affirms watch-
fuhic'ss to be the principle, and forbearance the quaUfication.
Tliongli Wasliington may liave observed this, he retained
tliis form of statement, in so much of tlie paper lie after-
wards prepared as was taken from Madison's draught, re-
stating, however, in the initial and final paragraphs of his
own section of that paper, the vital part of the same senti-
ment, which he had thus emphasized in his letter to Madi-
son. Hamilton certainlv observed it, and Washington
finally held to a less questionable expression of his views,
as will be seen hereafter ; and it will also be seen that
Hamilton brings forward in his original draught, modified by
himself or Washington afterwards, the substance of W^ash-
ington's principle, and philosophically supports it by a dis-
tinction between " governments of a monarchical character
" or bias," and governments of a merely elective and popular
kind.

The proposition of Washington, in his letter to Madison,
might be regarded as true in the abstract, supposing a
democracy to possess virtue, the " one spring more," which
Montesquieu thinks is necessary to it. But the past expe-
rience of our own institutions, compels us to regard it prac-
tically as Utopian. If it was not applied in our first and
purest administration of government, it is not likely to be
applied in any. Mr. Madison must have known, from the
res (jestce of times then shortly past and passing before him,
that he could not safely commit himself, even as a represen-
tative pen, to the plain enunciation of Washington's prin-
ciple. Hamilton also, perhaps, saw that it was impracticable ;



THE AUTHORITIES CITED IN THIS INQUIRY. 27

but he knew it to be Washington's pure and noble thought,
and therefore clothed it in the safest terms in his draught of
an Address.

As Washington surrendered his wish to retire at the end
of his first term of office, the use of Madison's draught was
postponed, until the subject recurred, in the course of
Washington's second term, Avhen his determination to retire
became absolute, and he proceeded to the preparation of
another Farewell Address.

Hie purpose of this Inquiry calls for some precision in
the reference to proofs or authorities, to show the course of
Washington in this second preparation. All of these proofs
have been for several years before the public, in authentic
printed volumes, with the exception of Hamilton's replies
to Washington's letters, and parts of Washington's original
or preparatory draught. The case might have been better
miderstood than it seems to have been, even without the
publication of these excepted parts ; but, as there appears to
be now but a single link of the chain wanting, and that not
an indispensable one, namely, the copy of Hamilton's ori-
ginal draught which he sent to AVashington, amending con-
siderably the original draught, which he retained, and is now
printed in his works, it may assist the reader to have before
him, in one view, a statement of all the proofs I shall have
occasion to refer, to in the course of this Inquiry. They are
as follows : —

1. The Appendix to the twelfth volume of Mr. Sparks's
" Writings of George Washington," No. Ill ; " Washing-
ton's Farewell Address," pages 382 to 398, inclusive. This
paper contains copies of the letters betw^een Washington
and Madison, on the subject of the Address — a copy of



28 Till-: writkr's authorities.

Madison's drauu^lit — and two portions of Washington's pre-
paratory drauii^lit, made before he consulted Hamilton. These
portions consisted, 1st, of Madison's draught, and, 2d, of an
original paper by Washington, bearing in Mr. Sparks's Ap-
pendix tli(> title or heading of Hints or Heads of Topics.

2. The letters from Washington to Hamilton, on the sub-
ject of tlie Farewell Address, the originals of which are now
in the Department of State, and the printed copies are to
be found in the sixth volume of " The Worhs of Alexander
''^Hamilton, comprising his Correspondence, and his Political
" and Official Writings, exclusive of the Federalist, Civil and
" Military^ jmblished from the Original Manuscripits in the
^'Department of State, hij Order of the Joint Library Com-
" mittee of Congress. Edited by Johji C Hamilton, author of
" a Life (f Hamilton.''^ The letters in that work are printed
in the order of date, and the date of the particular letter
referred to in this Inquiry, will be a guide to the volume
and place where it may be found.

3. Hamilton's letters to Washington on the same subject.
An extract from the first of these in point of date (10th
May, 1796), is printed in the Appendix to the twelfth
volume of Washington's Writings, page 391, in the paper
of Mr. Sparks, headed " Washington's Farewell Address."
The originals of all the other letters of Hamilton on this
subject, as well as the first, were at one time in the posses-
sion of Mr. Sparks ; and copies of them, supplied by him
as I understand, are now in my possession. They will be
either copied at large, or quoted in every material part, if
the letter refers to other matters. The originals, it is un-
derstood, WTre finally deposited in the Department of State.
^^'lletllcr they are all now tliere, is, I understand, uncer-
tain.



AL'TIIORITIES OF THE INQUIRY. 29

4. Washington's original draught of an Address, sent by
him to Hamilton, on the 15th May, 1796, for the purposes
described in Washington's letter of that date. I give this
title to a paper left by Washington at his death, and which
subsequently was in Mr. Sparks's possession, for the pur-
poses of his edition of Washington's Writings. Mr. Sparks
has supplied a copy of the beginning and conclusion of this
paper to INIr. Hamilton, the author of Hamilton's life, by
whose permission I use them. The two middle parts are
printed in Mr. Sparks's Appendix. One of them is Madi-
son's draught ; the other is the paper entitled " Hints or Heads
" of Topics." Together they constitute the entire draught,
as it appears in the Appendix to this Inquiry. The lines
which Washington altered, by drawing a line through them,
though perfectly legible in the paper, are not material, and
are supplied by asterisks. The words he interlined, to con-
nect what is disjoined by the erasure, are printed in italics
on the body of the page in the Appendix.

5. Hamilton's " Abstract of points to form an Address ;"
printed in Hamilton's Works, vol. vii, p. 570.

6. Hamilton's original draught of the Farewell Address ;
printed in the same volume, page 575.

7. Mr. Jay's letter to Judge Peters, dated 29th March,
1811 ; in the second volume of the Life of John Jay, by his
son William Jay, at page 336.

8. The Farewell Address to the People of the United
States, by Washington, dated 17th September, 1796; in the
twelfth volume of Washington's Writings, edited by Jared
Sparks, at page 214.

9. The reprint of the autograph copy of Washington's
Farewell Address, with certain clauses and words wliich had


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryHorace BinneyAn inquiry into the formation of Washington's Farewell address .. → online text (page 2 of 20)