By the time he delivered his Farewell Address to his cabinet in Philadelphia on this day in 1796, George Washington had already served two terms and did not wish to serve a third. His once immense popularity had dwindled dramatically due to his fiercely partisan "Federalism" and his simultaneously paradoxical opposition to the formation of political parties—which were emerging nonetheless. In addition, he was tired of being lampooned in the political press.
He had his most trusted aide, Alexander Hamilton, to draft a kind of manifesto for his greatest concerns and deepest convictions. He considered its message so important that he had the full text published in newspapers around the country two days later so that it would reach a much wider audience. The address warned against foreign involvements, political factions, and sectionalism in the strongest possible terms.
It sounded a distinctly conservative tone, “Toward the preservation of your government and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts.”
But perhaps most remarkably, the address promoted the cultural benefits of the Christian faith, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.” Indeed, the addressed warned, “The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
The Farewell Address was a sober message from the "Father of the Nation," all too often quoted yet almost never heeded.