I was reading over some historical documents today and was struck by many of the things George Washington talked about in his farewell address from 1796. Think about it, America was about to undergo their very first Presidential change. It was all new to them. And yet, much of what he said then, we need to hear now.
He admonished the people to exalt the pride of patriotism for America over those locally. Saying even though there are slight differences, we, as American’s, all have the “same religion, manners, habits, and political principles.” It seems today, everyone wants their own version of these to be the American version. The beauty of America is you do not have to HOLD to these but they are there none the less. For example, in another country, you can be jailed or killed if you do not hold to the government’s choice of religion, manners, habits, or political principles. You have no rights or freedoms to practice your own in your own home. However, in America, you do have those freedoms. It doesn’t change those established for the entire country, it only changes what you can practice in your own home.
Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together. The independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.
He told the citizens the government should have their “respect for its authority, compliance with it’s law’s”. He said it was the right of the people to “alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which at any time exists till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people”. See that, the whole people. Not just a few who hold protest and riots and destroy property. There is a process for change, but just like old George said, “the duty of every individual to obey the established government” until those are changed properly.
This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which at any time exists till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.
But he also spoke to the politicians and the pious man and told them they needed to respect and cherish the people as well. And many will be shocked by the fact he basically said if the religious obligation deserts those in the courts of justice, we will have problems. Duh? Do you think? He said we can not expect “that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” What a wise man from so long ago.
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.
At this juncture, if we really explore American history, it is sad to think we are in many ways following down the same trail. But if we as American People, as American Government, as an American Nation can listen to the hallowed voices in our history, maybe we don’t have to.
America needs to hold steadfastly to her foundations. We the People need to hold steadfast to them as well.