George Washington’s Farewell Address is an essential document for the Republic. Its message, a “warning from a parting friend,” remains starkly relevant to a modern audience. By the end of his second term, President Washington was viciously attacked in the press and alarmed by intense partisan bitterness. Determined to avoid the mistakes that had doomed past republics, he summoned James Madison and Alexander Hamilton to help him write his warning to his fellow citizens and future generations. The president called for unity among “citizens by birth or choice,” advocated moderation, defended religious pluralism, argued that education is essential to democracy and proposed a foreign policy of independence—not isolation—all while establishing the precedent for the peaceful transfer of power. Washington’s wisdom has endured. Washington’s Farewell Address was adopted by Jefferson after years of opposition and quoted by Lincoln in defense of the Union. Woodrow Wilson invoked the Farewell for nation-building; Eisenhower for the Cold War; Reagan for religion. John Avlon argues that George Washington’s message must inspire us to recenter our politics and reunite our divided nation through the lessons rooted in his life.
About the Speaker
John Avlon is an American journalist and political commentator. He is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics (2004), Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America (2010) and Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations (2017), the subject of this lecture.