"Cultivate Peace and Harmony with All": George Washington's Farewell to His Countrymen

With the end of the War of Independence and the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, George Washington was elected the first President of the United States in 1789. His reflections on that experience and on the future of the nation are summarized in his Farewell Address to his countrymen, delivered in 1796. The manuscript of this document is, along with Thomas Jefferson's autograph manuscript of the Declaration of Independence, one of the most revered objects in the Library's collections. In 32 heavily corrected pages, the Father of His Country painstakingly advises his fellow Americans to "observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all and among all things, to steer clear of permanent alliances, with any portion of the foreign world." It was these very pages that Washington delivered to the American Daily Advertiser in Philadelphia, and that James Lenox bought at auction in 1848, outbidding the Library of Congress.

Washington begins the address by explaining his decision not to seek reelection:

The period for a new election of a citizen, to administer the Executive government of the United States, being not far distant ... it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of a resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those, out of whom a choice is to be made. "” I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured, that this resolution has not been taken, without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation, which binds a dutiful citizen to his country "” and that, in withdrawing the tender of service which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness; and am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both ...

George Washington. Farewell Address as President to the Citizens of the United States. Autograph manuscript, signed and dated September 19, 1796.
The New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division.


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