A Biography of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

Washington's Farewell Address (May-September 1796)

Having weathered two stormy terms in the presidential chair, George Washington looked forward to retirement much as the seasick view terra firma. Before he left, however, it was important to Washington to bestow some parting words on congress and the American people making it clear that he had no intention of running for another term. He had collaborated with James Madison on a draft "farewell address" at the end of his first term, prior to his decision to serve a second. Washington sent that draft to Hamilton, asking him to flesh it out. Eventually, Washington settled on a new draft penned by Hamilton, and together they worked it into a document which, in Hamilton's words, would be "importantly and lastingly useful . . . to embrace such reflections and sentiments as will wear well, progress in approbation with time, & redound to future reputation."

The address was a positive but cautionary appeal to the United States by "an old and affectionate friend" to remain united in the common cause of liberty. Hamilton's draft admonished the American people dedicate themselves to the union in spite of certain differences: "You have with slight shades of difference the same religion manners habits & political institutions & principles. You have in common cause fought and triumphed together." On an eerily prescient note, he warned against the "danger to be aprehended from founding our parties on Geographical discriminations." Another theme, close to both Hamilton's and Washington's hearts was the avoidance of foreign "intanglements," to have "as little political connection with them as possible," and to pursue the unique national course America's distance from Europe allows.

Washington edited and embellished Hamilton's draft, but kept the spirit intact. He delivered the address on September 19, 1796 when congress reconvened. It was the capstone of the Washington/Hamilton political collaboration, and the concluding statement on how their shared experiences evolved into a political system for the nation they had fought for and helped to solidify under the new constitution, and which they administered so capably in its first heady years of existence.