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George Washington’s Birthday, February 22

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732.

When the first president left office he prepared a farewell address which is read annually
by a member of the United States Senate, a tradition begun in 1862, 130 years after his birth.

Washington’s Farewell Address

(Prepared by the United States Senate Historical Office)

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. With the assistance of Alexander Hamilton and James
Madison, Washington composed in a “Farewell Address” his political
testament to the nation. Designed to inspire and guide future generations,
the address also set forth Washington’s defense of his administration’s
record and embodied a classic statement of Federalist doctrine.
Washington’s principal concern was for the safety of the eight-year-old
Constitution. He believed that the stability of the Republic was
threatened by the forces of geographical sectionalism, political factionalism,
and interference by foreign powers in the nation’s domestic affairs.
He urged Americans to subordinate sectional jealousies to common
national interests. Writing at a time before political parties had
become accepted as vital extra-constitutional, opinion-focusing agencies,
Washington feared that they carried the seeds of the nation’s destruction
through petty factionalism. Although Washington was in no
sense the father of American isolationism, since he recognized the necessity
of temporary associations for “extraordinary emergencies,” he
did counsel against the establishment of “permanent alliances with
other countries,” connections that he warned would inevitably be subversive
of America’s national interest.

Washington did not publicly deliver his Farewell Address. It first appeared
on September 19, 1796, in the Philadelphia Daily American
Advertiser and then in papers around the country.
In January 1862, with the Constitution endangered by civil war, a thousand
citizens of Philadelphia petitioned Congress to commemorate the
forthcoming 130th anniversary of George Washington’s birth by providing
that “the Farewell Address of Washington be read aloud on the morning
of that day in one or the other of the Houses of Congress.” Both
houses agreed and assembled in the House of Representatives’ chamber
on February 22, 1862, where Secretary of the Senate John W. Forney “rendered
‘The Farewell Address’ very effectively,” as one observer recalled.

The practice of reading the Farewell Address did not immediately become
a tradition. The address was first read in regular legislative sessions
of the Senate in 1888 and the House in 1899. (The House continued
the practice until 1984.) 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, leatherbound
book maintained by the secretary of the Senate.

The version of the address printed here is taken from the original of
the final manuscript in the New York Public Library provided courtesy
of The Papers of George Washington. The only changes have been to
modernize spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
To read the full text of Washington’s Farewell Address go here.

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