Home  |  Frequently Asked Questions  |  Donate  |  About Me  |  Extras  |  Forum  |  Contact  
 
 

ORIGINAL ADDRESS   I   RETURN


A quick preface: I wanted to try to bring this speech up to date so that it would be easier to read. I looked around to see if anyone else had already attempted it and I came across this modern, slang, translation which I wound up using as a foundation for doing my own translation below. I've retained some words and phrases from this "unknown author" and would like to give that credit, but have made a great many changes that I felt were better in line with Washington's original text. This represents how I feel George Washington would sound if he was talking to me today; on my level.

While the unknown authors slang version was fun and easy to read, I felt that it lost some of the respect and detail that I hoped to preserve. I welcome any insight as to how I can further improve any phrases or paragraphs.

You'll find that I've tried to keep the same structure, beginning and ending each paragraph in unison with the original, for easy comparison.


 

George Washington's Farewell Address Translated Into Modern English
Translation provided by:
Joshua Frazier aided by an Unknown Author

September 17, 1796

To the People of the United States

Friends and fellow citizens,

1)  Elections are coming up, and itís time for you to decide who is to be trusted with the position of President of the United States of America. It also seems to be a good time to let you know that Iím not going to be one of the ones that you will be choosing from.

2)  Please be assured that this has not been an easy decision for me. I have weighed my choice against the duty each person has for their country. Now, donít get me wrong.  I thank you for your trust so far. I just think me quitting is a good idea on all counts.

3)  Iíve been president twice now, and I didnít want to do it either time. I tried to quit the first time, but the country was in trouble and everyone around was begging me to abandon the idea of quitting.

4)  Iím glad to report that the state of this nation's affairs are fairly well in order. Things are running smoothly enough right now that I feel no one can complain or disapprove of my determination to retire.

5)  I am excited just thinking about my last day in office, but I feel a deep sense of gratitude to my dear country for all the honors it has bestowed upon me. I feel even more gratitude for the confidence that you have all had in me. All Iím going to say is that I did my best to set up the government right, but the more I do this the more I realize how human I am. Retirement calls and I welcome it. I find comfort in knowing that common sense allows me to leave politics, but that my patriotism is not weakened by the choice.

6)  Before I go I have to thank everyone for the awards, honors and so forth, but more importantly for your supporting my projects to try to make everything right, even if they didnít always turn out quite as well as I hoped. Remember, itís hard to tell how things will turn out when people get all fired up, so thanks for sticking by me even when things appeared to be discouraging. You all get the credit for anything good that came out of it, and by God youíd better keep taking good care of the Constitution and the lives of the folks who live here. As long as you do, weíll be a great country and other nations will turn their heads and take notice.

7)  I probably should stop talking right about now, but I care about you in a way that will never end, except with my life. I sense a danger which compels me to offer you some advice to which I hope you listen to and review frequently. I give this council as the warnings of a parting friend who can not possibly hope to gain from such council, nor have any personal bias in giving it. I remember, and am encouraged by, how you have indulged me in my councils on similar occasions in the past.

8)  Because the love of liberty is woven into every fiber of your hearts, nothing that I say should be needed to strengthen it further.

9)  This new government is dear to you and rightly so, for it is a representation of your real independence, your peace at home and abroad; your safety and your prosperity.  In fact it represents that very liberty which you so highly prize. But it's not always going to be this way. Enemies, both internal and external, will make every effort, go through any pain, and use every form of leverage conceivable (often covert or by secret combination) to try and divide this nation or make you lose faith in it. It is of infinite importance that you unify as one nation, indivisible, cherishing a patriotic attachment that is immovable. Preserve your nation, make her your top priority, watch for her preservation with a jealous anxiety. Jump to defend her, even at the first suspicion of foul play. Frown upon any attempt that one portion of the country try to alienate itself from the body, or that, from within, we weaken ourselves from the sacred ties which hold us all together.

10)  Whether by birth, or by choice you have to be Americans before all else. The very name American must arouse patriotism more than any other name or group. You are all, for the most part, similar in religion and culture, and you have the same goals. The only reason  you have your liberty and freedom is from working together as one.

11)  As important as that is, your individual patriotism is even greater. Every portion of our country should individually guard and preserve this, the union of the group.

12)  The North and the South, as equals, help each other. The South gets machines and such from the North, the North gets crops from the South. Also, the South has a Navy which help to protect a coast which can provide many useful things. You have a similar situation with the East and the West. The East sends supplies to a growing West, which will in turn grow to provide needed items as well as a strong Pacific defense.

13)  So, we all need each other and weíre all stronger when weíre together. Being a family also means we can get along a little better, unlike certain countries I might name who arenít so well unified. This makes us stronger and protects our freedom, and if you want to keep protecting it you had better get along!

14)  A virtuous mind can easily see that patriotism leads to unity. Is there any doubt that a common government can span the distance of this vast nation? Let that question be proven by experience, not speculation. We can hope that a proper federal organization of this nation, with auxiliary agencies of governments over cities and states, is worth a full and fair experiment. Since itís obvious how much we have to gain from keeping ourselves together, we can safely say that anyone, anywhere, who tries to divide us, should not be trusted.

15)  Letís think about where those splits could come from. A serious concern is the idea that groups should be categorized by their geography. North and South, Atlantic and Pacific, people are going to try to emphasize the differences. Theyíre going to lie about what the other side wants, and theyíll try to make you hate each other when you should all be brothers. You saw just a bit ago how some folks were trying to stir up suspicion out West that we were trying to pull one over on them with the whole Mississippi thing. But, thanks to Congress dealing with Spain and England, they got everything they wanted in the end. So perhaps next time people will turn a deaf ear on those so-called "advisers" who would urge anyone to abandon ship or seek alliance with another.

16)  Government is indispensable to keeping a nation unified. No other alliance, no matter how strong can substitute, (as we have just experienced with a previous alliance.)  Abandoning the crown we have arrived at the product of our desires, The Constitution. We went over it carefully, scrutinized all the details, and itís definitely something we can have confidence in. We have even reserved the right to amend it if necessary. Give it a chance and live by it. If you disagree with it then change it ó but donít just disobey it. That just messes things up. Remember, the very right which we have to create government, demands that we obey that government which we establish.

17)  Getting in the way of the law for the sake of power plays will only mess things up. Playing that game creates groups who look out for themselves. It turns crazy splinter groups into a powerful force. Left unchecked, youíll have the country tossed back and forth wildly by various small, but crafty, parties fighting for power over their pet issues, rather than for good, consensual, unified government.

18)  Groups or parties like those, may occasionally accomplish a few popular short term agendas, but in the long run, they will grow into powerful, cunning engines, wielding power to unprincipled, ambitious men who care only to acquire power for themselves, at any cost. Once power is achieved, they will burn the bridges behind them and destroy the very engines which gave them their unjust power.

19)  Preserve your government, quit fighting against it and be careful with letting folks weaken the Constitution through amendments. Alterations will impair the energy of the system and thus undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. Use patience and good habits to fix government rather than hypothetical theories and quick fixes. Itís a big country and we canít keep everyone safe without a little centralization. Liberty will be the guardian to keep things in check. But government is weak indeed if it cant maintain its law and provide the enjoyment of rights and property.

20)  I just said that small parties are no good, particularly regional ones. But let me go a step further and soundly warn you that ALL parties are a bad idea.

21)  Unfortunately, itís pretty much human nature to gather into separate little groups. All governments have this problem in one way or another, but they usually get stomped out in their infancy. Freedom gives factions room to grow to the most rank and stinky size, which become our worst enemy.

22)  Control goes back and forth between one party to the next, each seeking revenge on the previous. This gets the people more angry and so they get behind one party leader or another, perpetuating the problem ever onward until one group finally has power enough to remove freedom from the people. Such behavior has created the most awful situations, and grown the most fearful and controlling governments.

23)  Iím not talking about anyone in particular here, but this isnít necessarily too far off. The mischief that political parties are prone to create will always make them a threat, so keep an eye out to discourage and restrain them.

24)  This division distracts us, enfeebles the government, gets everyone riled up with jealousy and false alarms, pits us against each other, and creates riots and invites corruption. It also opens the door to other countries getting a hand in our system, since they can reach in through the party structure, and then we just become their puppets.

25)  Now, there is this idea that political parties provide a useful check and balance system in government to serve in keeping alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true. But it is a spirit not to be encouraged, for their natural tendency is in excess, a fire not to be quenched. There demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame lest instead of warming, it consumes.

26)  Likewise, it is important that politicians, entrusted with their office, respect freedom by confining themselves to their respective office, never encroaching upon the constitutional sphere of another department. Thereís this tendency to let all the power shift into one office, which inevitably creates tyranny (just look at human nature and how much we love power). Divide up the power, and get everyone to watch everyone else. Experience, both ancient and modern, show the wisdom in dividing up power. If you find a need to amend the Constitution, do so with caution. But let there be no change by usurpation, because even though such change might prove good in one instance, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. Don't welcome change, just for the sake of change, without knowing full well what that change actually means.

27)  Now, religion and morality are vital here, and itís silly to say that patriotism could ever be more important than these. Politicians, as well as the common man, need to be pious and respectful. An entire book could not list all the ways that being a good politician is tied to being moral and religious. All you need to do is ask this: Where is the security for property, reputation, or life, if religious obligation cannot help a person to keep an oath? Oaths being the instruments of investigation in the courts of Justice. Be cautious to believe the notion that we can be moral without religion. Whatever may be conceded philosophically, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

28)  So, virtue is the root of good Government. This rule extends to the foundation of free government, to which no true friend would ever attempt to shake the fabric.

29)  Promote knowledge and institutions of its distribution as a high priority. Because the government will only be as smart as the average person.

30)  Public credit is also important. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible. Prevent the need to spend, by cultivating peace, but remember that timely expenses in preparation for danger can prevent the need for much greater spending to repel it. Avoid debt as you would the plague. In time of peace vigorously discharge the debts (which war may have unavoidably incurred) lest we thrust onto our children the debts which were ours to bear. This is the job of the politicians, but the public should play their part to keep them in line. Remember, in order to pay back debts, there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be created which are convenient or pleasant.  Selecting how and when to tax is no easy answer. The government should be decisive and careful in the creation of taxes, the public weighing in its opinion, all with a spirit giving in order to obtain the revenue in which to pay the debts.

31)  Try to stay at peace with everyone. Religion and basic decency both say to do this. And isn't it good policy to do so? A great, and enlightened, nation would set the example, imparting to mankind its blessings, being guided from on high by its God. Who can doubt that such behavior could greatly outweigh any advantage which might be taken by force? It is probable that providence has connected a nations happiness with its virtue.  Experimentation with the idea is at least recommended as proof to the nature of it. That is, unless vice prevents you from even trying!

32)  Itíll help a lot if you can avoid permanent rivalries and permanent alliances. Just try to get along with everyone when you can. Otherwise, youíre a slave to your policy, which may take you somewhere bad when the situation changes. Constantly being enemies with a particular country makes you reactive, and can even lead you to war when you really donít need to, it makes you a slave to them, anxious for any kind of feedback, good or ill. A nation under these influences may impel its government to war based on passion which good reason would reject. At times bullying, just because you can, leads you to lose peace, or even your liberty.

33)  Likewise, a passionate alliance with another nation produces all kinds of problems. Sympathy for a favorite nation creates an illusion of common interests which may not actually exist and invite into one the enemies of the other. It leads to give special favors denied to other nations, which cause double injury. First, by parting with what ought to have been retained, and Second creating ill-will and resentment towards any nation where such gifts were withheld. Such alliances create an atmosphere to tempt ambitious, corrupt or deluded citizens to sacrifice the interests of their own country in the act of defecting to the other. Besides, out of a sense of obligation, you may cling to an ally long after the relationship has actually ended.

34)  The idea of this kind of alliance should scare any real American because it lets foreign countries meddle with us. And remember, if a weak little nation (us) gets too attached to a big strong nation (anyone else) you know weíll be stuck in that arrangement forever.

35)  Now, foreign meddling, I plead with you, fellow citizens, to believe me when I say, is one of the worst threats around, and you should be constantly paranoid about it. The jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since time and experience have proven that foreign influence is one of the worst enemies of republican government. The only way that jealousy can be useful is if it is impartial, lest it become the very thing which it hoped to defending against! Too much hate for one nation, or too much love for another are blinders. If you are a flake or a bully you lose respect in your own home and become a puppet to be manipulated by others.

36)  The most important thing about commercial trade is to avoid getting politically tangled. We obviously must keep the promises weíve made, but in the future let us not to make new ones. Europe has a whole lot of issues that donít mean a thing to us. So theyíre going to be fighting, and we need to make sure not to get involved with the folks on either side. We might make some nasty enemies we donít need to.

37)  Since weíre out here across the Atlantic, we get to do our own thing. And if we just keep it together for a little while, we might be strong enough to stand up for ourselves. And if weíre tough enough, other countries wonít want to start anything, so the choice of whether to go to war or keep the peace will be ours, guided by the council of justice.

38)  And why give up this great situation? Why give up our country just so we can live in someone elseís? Why interweave our destiny with that of European ambition, rivalry, interest, humor or impulse?

39)  We need to avoid permanent alliances, but we canít break the promises weíve already made. I hold to the maxim that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat myself, let us be honest in fulfilling our current obligations, but we donít need to make more and we donít need to actively make the current ones longer.

40)  Now, as long as we keep a respectable defensive posture, we may form an alliance, but only in extreme emergencies.

41)  Harmony, trade, commerce and good interaction with all nations is good policy and is in our good interest to do so, but never forcing anything. Just let things run their natural course without manipulating the markets. Keep the law and enforce compliance to the law. Constantly remember that it is foolish to expect special treatment or favors from another and that by so doing you'll piddle away your independence chasing any prize you hope to gain under such terms.  You will later provide what otherwise would've been a fair trade, yet be challenged for being ungrateful and not having given more yourself. Providing favors are an illusion. Each party expecting the greater portion when only 100% is available for dividing up amongst the parties. Only sad experience can cure such behavior.

42)  I offer you this council as a friend, I fear that my remarks may fail to make any lasting impression. I wish that these words could control the usual flow of passions, or prevent our nation from making the same mistakes which have proven the downfall of many a nation.  If I may even flatter myself that these words could be of some partial benefit, render a bit of good; moderate, now and again, the fury of partisan behavior; warn against the mischief's of foreign entanglements, or expose the imposters posing as patriots, then my hope will have not been in vain, but shall serve in favor of your own welfare, which was my intent.

43)  My record will serve as a witness to you, and to the world, that my conduct, and the discharge of my official duties have been guided by these principles. As for myself, my conscience is clean that I have done my best to live by them.

44)  Oh, and about the war still going on in Europe; As you know,  I laid out the details of my plan back on April, 22 1793. That plan was sanctioned by your approving voice and by the representatives in both houses of Congress. The spirit of which has continued to guide me. I have not been persuaded by any of the attempts to divert me from it.

45)  I've given it a lot of thought, cast the most light that I could upon it, and was well satisfied that our country, under the circumstances, had a right, and was duty bound, to take a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined to steadfastly maintain that position.

46)  This is hardly the time or place to lay out all the details as to why. But I will simply state that everyone, with the exception of a few belligerent critics, have agreed that we have the right to remain neutral in this.

47)  A nation is free to choose for itself whether or not neutrality is the right choice. It retains the right to maintain a distance that will keep it free from the injury of others and/or prevent itself from being directly involved in hostility towards other nations.

48)  It stands to reason that neutrality is a good idea. As to any other reasons, you can probably come up with a few of your own. For me, a major deciding factor has been to give our young nation some time to settle down and mature without any more interruption than is absolutely prudent.  Speaking honestly, to the command of its own welfare. 

49)  In reviewing the events of my administration, I am unaware of any harm that I have intentionally caused. I am nonetheless smart enough to know that I am human and therefore have most likely committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend.  I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never indulge themselves in seeking after my mistakes; and that, after 45 years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, my faults and my shortcomings will be consigned to oblivion, as my age must soon render me to the mansions of my rest.

50)  Speaking of being gone, I am really looking forward to this retirement. And Iím especially looking forward to the sweet enjoyment of mutually residing amongst friends and neighbors with good laws and under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward of hard work, mutual respect and love.

RETURN

Home  |  Frequently Asked Questions  |  Donate  |  About Me  |  Extras  |  Forum  |  Contact