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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Washington's Farewell Address Part: Closing and Epilogue

From The Founders, Religion and Government:

Washington's Farewell Address
Part 13 of 13
Closing and Epilogue 

Our Founders were not perfect, and they knew it. But that did not stop them from trying to be better men and women. George Washington copied the rules he thought a gentleman should follow in a notebook. It became known as “Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” Thomas Jefferson, overseeing the education of his nephew Peter Carr, wrote “A Decalogue of Canons for Observation in Practical Life.” Benjamin Franklin listed in his autobiography the 13 virtues which he worked on continually. One of these was humility. It appears that this is one virtue that George Washington possessed in great quantity for his closing of the Farewell Address is possibly the humblest words ever spoken by any president.

Printed in Philadelphia’s American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796:

“Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

“Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the 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.”


Washington was not to enjoy his well-deserved retreat and retirement for long. After leaving office in March of 1797, he returned to his beloved Mount Vernon where he saw a continual flow of guests and well-wishers at his table. By 1798 our relations with France had so deteriorated that war loomed on the horizon. President John Adams asked the Father of His Country to once more leave his peace and serve his nation. Reluctantly Washington accepted, giving another 18 months of his life to the country he so loved, though we were fortunately able to avoid war.

Then on December 13, 1799, back home at Mount Vernon, Washington awoke with a sore throat which became progressively worse. In the wee hours of Saturday, December 14th, he awoke Martha to say he felt ill. His personal physician and friend, Dr. James Craik, was sent for along with other doctors. The best medical treatments of the day were administered to no avail.

At one point Washington called over his secretary Tobias Lear and told him, "I find I am going, my breath can not last long. I believed from the first that the disorder would prove fatal. Do you arrange and record all my late military letters and papers. Arrange my accounts and settle my books, as you know more about them than any one else, and let Mr. Rawlins [an overseer] finish recording my other letters which he has begun."

Around 6 pm Washington addressed Craik, "Doctor, I die hard; but I am not afraid to go; I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it; my breath can not last long."

Between 10 and 11 pm that night Washington passed into immortality. It is rumored his last words were, “’Tis well.”

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