George Washington’s Farewell Address is read in the United States Senate annually in observation of the birthday of our nation’s first president, who led our country during the American Revolutionary War and helped form our government as a Founding Father. This annual reflection on President Washington’s observations provides not only a time to celebrate the longevity of our Constitution that has withstood the test of time, but also an opportunity to reflect on the challenges of the past as they weigh on the challenges of the present.
Alexander Hamilton and James Madison helped President George Washington with the development of his Farwell Address. The United States Senate Historical Office provides context for the address informing that, “In September 1796, worn out by burdens of the presidency and attacks of political foes, George Washington announced his decision not to seek a third term.” Further, the Senate Historical Office reports that his principal concern was for the survival of the eight-year-old Constitution, and he believed that the stability of the new republic was threatened by the forces of geographical sectionalism, political factionalism and interference by foreign powers in the nation’s domestic affairs.
George Washington aspired for our resilience as a nation of individuals who seek a common strength. He wrote, “You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together. The independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts—common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”
Senators have maintained the custom of reading President Washington’s address in the Senate for more than 100 years. The Senate Historical Office details the tradition, “Since 1893 the Senate has observed Washington’s birthday by selecting one of its members to read the Farewell Address. The assignment alternates between members of each political party. At the conclusion of each reading, the appointed senator inscribes his or her name and brief remarks in a black, leather-bound book maintained by the secretary of the Senate.”
It is fitting that a monument to our first president is so visible from our nation’s Capitol Building. Like President Washington’s observations, it sits as a guidepost and reminder of the struggle at the core of our nation’s foundation and the costs shouldered by many Americans to maintain our constitutionally-protected freedoms. This devotion to freedom and American ideals are all of our duty, as Americans, to maintain. As we reflect on our national history and our country’s foundation and tackle our national challenges, we cannot lose sight of this precious responsibility.
When closing out his address, President Washington wrote about looking forward to “sweet enjoyment of partaking in the midst of my fellow citizens the benign influence of good laws under a free government—the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors and dangers.” Let us work together as Americans to strengthen our extraordinary nation entrusted in each of our care.