A.J. DiCintio
Celebrating the Fourth with Washington
By A.J. DiCintio
July 4, 2010

After a number of delegates to the Continental Congress signed the Declaration on July 2, 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife that the day of the nation's birth "ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God" and "solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other from this time forward, forevermore."

Well, given humanity's track record, it's highly likely that from the days of Adams to the present, plenty of us have been negligent in thanking the Almighty for the blessing that is America.

Moreover, it's a fact that when Adams died on July 4, 1826 (the same day of Jefferson's death), celebrations of Independence Day hadn't yet reached the proportions of "pomp and parade" he had hoped for.

But the good news is that since then the nation has more than fulfilled the secular wishes of the man who served as its first vice-president and second president.

It occurs to me, however, that in addition to participating in the usual commemorations and diversions of this annual celebration, we ought to spend some time illuminating our minds by acquainting or reacquainting ourselves with the American Founders, so much the greatest political thinkers and practitioners the world has ever seen that we can alter T.S. Eliot's comment about Dante and Shakespeare to observe that "They divide the world among themselves; there is no second."

Yes, there is no better way to celebrate the Fourth than to enlighten our minds and spirits about a genius which, with no complete model to imitate, created a democratic nation based upon the principle that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

. . . a genius which gave practical meaning to that principle by devising a constitution based upon the realities of human nature.

. . . a genius which speaks truth to this day and will speak it until Adams' "forevermore."

To celebrate one part of the inestimable legacy bequeathed to us by those who breathed and bled the Spirit of '76 into life, I present here a few quotations from George Washington's Farewell Address (September, 1796), which is properly famous for advice the departing president offered the young nation in the form of fundamental truths worthy of continual meditation.

Before getting on with the task, I should say that I have added emphasis to a few words within the quotes but have otherwise refrained from commentary because to every honest citizen who is even minimally aware of history and current events, our first president's prescient brilliance ought to be, in Jefferson's words, "self-evident."

[on the fundamental principle of democracy]

The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all.

[on ignoring existing law]

All obstructions to the execution of the laws. . . are . . . of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community, [that seeks to make] the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction. . .

[on the importance of separation of powers]

It is important. . . that . . . those entrusted with [government's]administration. . . confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres. . . The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. . . [Therefore,] let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.

[on the necessity for morality among the public]

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . .Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?

(On this point, we recall Ben Franklin's words spoken at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention nearly nine years to the day before Washington bade the nation farewell:

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such because I think a general Government necessary for us. . . and believe farther that [it] is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism. . . when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.)

[on democracy and education]

Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

[on public debt]

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.

[on the citizen legislator going home to live under the laws he has created]

. . . 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.

Geo. Washington.

© A.J. DiCintio


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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A.J. DiCintio

A.J. DiCintio posts regularly at RenewAmerica and YourNews.com. He first exercised his polemical skills arguing with friends on the street corners of the working class neighborhood where he grew up. Retired from teaching, he now applies those skills, somewhat honed and polished by experience, to social/political affairs.


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