George Washington’s 285th birthday is two days away, my how the time flies, but today marks the federal holiday in his honor. Close to half of these United States extends the holiday to all presidents, but I live in one of the many states that sticks with the federal designation of “Washington’s Birthday” in honor of the man known as the father of this country.
Washington served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, a position he notably resigned after its stunning victory to retire to his farm in Virginia, but public service called again when he was elected as the new nation’s first president. Washington never joined a particular political party, however, and warned against “the spirit of party” in his famous Farewell Address—an interesting admonition given today’s polarized society.
Washington argued that the party spirit is natural and pervasive and produces desires for (and acts of) revenge that lead a nation away from liberty and eventually toward despotism. As a result, Washington argued that it is the “duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain” the party spirit.
“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”
Now it’s funny, I can picture readers from various political viewpoints reading much more into this than I intend. My critique is of all and my point is simple: Encourage coming together, and discourage choosing up sides. Unity good. Polarization bad. That would be my party platform should I have one, but ironically, a Unity Party is a contradiction in terms.
President Washington concluded his remarks on the party spirit with the following dire warning: “A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”
Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. General President Washington. And happy birthday.