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EDITORIAL: Wise Words Today's elected leaders could learn a lot from George Washington's farewell address

September 18, 2023 at 10:00 p.m.

As President George Washington prepared to leave office after his first term was winding down, he asked his friend James Madison, himself a future president, to help him write a farewell address to the American people.

But things didn't go quite as planned. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were feuding. each had his supporters and Washington feared those deep political divisions might wreck this fragile new nation/

So he stayed on for another term and in 1796 saw John Adams selected to succeed him in March of the following year.

The farewell address was revised -- Hamilton helped this time -- and released to the public on Sept. 19, 1796 -- 227 years ago today.

In the address, our first president talks about many things. He speaks on the unity of the nation and how all Americans, whether by birth or choice, owe their first allegiance to this republic.

He recognizes that organizing political parties are a natural reaction of man, but remains skeptical of their influence. He gives his support to the Constitution and reminds his fellow citizens of its importance. He also reminds them that the document can change to suit changing needs -- but only by amendment, not by popular opinion or whim.

He discusses faith and morality and the importance of each. And he talks about foreign relations and trade between nations.

All these things are as important today as they were back then.

One of the most striking passages in the letter is Washington's comments on national credit and debt.

"As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate."

Our first president advises our nation to use credit sparingly and pay our debt's promptly. And that restrained spending along with revenue -- taxes, however unpleasant they may be -- are essential to keep this country on sound economic ground.

Has anyone in his namesake city read Washington's Farewell Address? They should. And fast.

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