The Farewell Address Reflects Federalist Party Policy Rather than the Constitution

The Rosenkranz Debate concerned the truth of John Adams’ quotation: The Constitution is designed  for a moral and religious people and it’s wholly unfitted for the government any other.  My friend, Professor Robert George, relied primarily on George Washington’s Farewell Address for historical evidence.  There Washington, like Adams, claimed religion was important, if not essential, to sustaining the Republic.  For instance, Washington famously said,   “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

But Washington’s Farewell Address provides an uncertain guide as to whether the Framers of the Constitution thought widespread religious belief necessary to sustain it. As I noted in my opening remarks at the debate, the text of the Constitution does not support this view. It does not establish any particular religion or even require belief in a religion of one’s choice. It instead expressly prohibits all religious tests for offices under the United State Constitution.

Moreover, it is dangerous to rely too much on the words of politicians in political strife to establish much about the Constitution. And as great as George Washington was he was still a politician, and as powerfully stated is his Farewell address, it is in large measure a document reflecting the principles of the Federalist party.  His remarks on religion parallel one of key attacks of the Federalists on the Democratic Republicans–that they were deists, like the dreaded French Revolutionaries, or at least no friends of traditional religion. 

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Washington’s Farewell Address and a Possible Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement with Iran

By the end of March, 2015, it is conceivable that the members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, the so-called 5+1 group, will reach an agreement with Iran to halt its suspected nuclear weapons development program and ease the economic sanctions that have isolated Iran from much of the world’s trading system. Even before the ink is dry on the possible agreement, however, it has become the subject of partisan controversy in the United States, Israel, and Iran. Before evaluating the merits of the agreement, it may therefore be worthwhile for readers of a journal devoted to Law…

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The Lawgiver


Washington's_Farewell_AddressGeorge Washington provided explicit direction for biographers and analysts seeking to capture the substance of his public service. In his September 1796 “Farewell Address,” he wrote:

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.

As we can see, Washington identified as the term of his service to the United States, a continuous period dating from 1751 to 1796. Every Washington biographer inherits an obligation to tell the story at least with reference to that “body of work,” if not comprehensively reproducing it. To date, no one has presented that coherent account (including the present author). But Edward J. Larson has taken large strides toward compensating for the lack with The Return of George Washington. The book focuses on what is arguably the most under-appreciated period in that 45 years, the time between Washington’s resignation of his command of the Army of the Revolution and his inauguration as the first President of the United States.

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Would George Washington Mourn NATO?

Meetings of the Defence Ministers at NATO Headquarters in Brussels - North Atlantic Council Meeting

Celebrating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy was an obligatory ritual for two generations of American statesmen. As the decades passed however, mention of it and of “our European allies” has come with decreasing conviction and increasing embarrassment. Few dispute that, today, the alliance’s formalities are a pretense likelier to get its members into trouble than to pull anyone out of it. Civilizational changes have emptied it of substance. Readjusting American strategy to take account of those changes makes far more sense than talking about “revitalizing” or “rebuilding” an alliance on bases that no longer exist.

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We Are All Dangerous and We All Have Rights

melting potIn his sane and thought-provoking Liberty Forum essay about immigration, Richard Samuelson argues that “America’s very essence” may well be “at risk” because of “two challenges to our status as a nation of immigrants.” They are “the rise of the mega-state” favored by Progressives, and “the rise of a post-national ideal” that “threatens to undermine the understandings that have made assimilation a duty and an obligation.”

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Achieving America’s Peace: A Conversation with Angelo Codevilla


Angelo Codevilla comes to Liberty Law Talk to discuss his latest book To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations. Our conversation focuses on Codevilla’s main argument that American statesmen increasingly fail to understand the nature and purpose of statecraft: the achievement of peace. So what does it mean to achieve America’s peace? To do so, Codevilla insists, requires concrete evaluation of the means and ends necessary to protect American interests. This requires particular judgments about power, interests, and the practial reality we are confronted with. Our practice, for well nigh a century, has been to speak in…

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David McCulloch’s 1776

Recently, I read McCulloch’s book on the first year of the Revolutionary War and I wanted to recommend it to readers.

The book is interesting throughout, with some unexpected discussions such as that of the debate in Parliament about whether to engage in war with the colonials. The book focuses on three principal events – the siege of Boston, the New York City conflict, and the New Jersey campaign.

While the book is called 1776, it is really focused on George Washington’s 1776. It describes how Washington’s army secured a limited victory in Boston (despite Washington’s desire to pursue a different strategy that probably would have been a disaster). It shows how Washington blundered in New York – both at Brooklyn Heights and Washington Heights – and nearly lost not only his army but the support of some of his principal officers. And then it concludes with Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton.

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President Taft on “the Danger of a Third Presidential Term.”

After serving two terms in office, with some reluctance, President Theodore Roosevelt decided not to run for an unprecedented third term, keeping with the tradition started by George Washington. Though, that decision was not an easy one. He stepped aside for two main reasons: first, he had (begrudgingly) made a pledge not to run for a third term, and second, he personally selected William Howard Taft, his longtime friend and confidant, as his successor with the understanding that Taft would continue his progressive policies. Even until the Republican Convention, Teddy considered throwing his hat into the ring, but stood by his pledge.

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Publius and the NSA Surveillance Program

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two posts that will offer contrasting opinions on the NSA electronic surveillance programs. Angelo Codevilla’s essay will appear tomorrow.

On July 24th, 2013, the United States House of Representatives defeated an amendment to the Defense Department’s Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014 that called for greater restrictions on the National Security Agency’s ability to gather electronic information, including phone records of American citizens. Ninety-four Republicans and 111 House Democrats voted in favor of the amendment, while 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted against it. The amendment’s sponsors shared very little in common, other than the fact that they are both from Michigan. Republican Justin Amash, a devotee of free markets and limited government, joined forces with John Conyers, a perennial opponent of American foreign and defense policy since he was first elected to Congress in 1964.

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Are We Egyptians?

No Denial: Once Americans, now Egyptians

Was the anti-Morsi coup in Egypt justified on liberal and democratic grounds? The distinguished legal scholars Ilya Somin and Michael Rappaport agree that democracy cannot be defended on the ground of majority rule alone, and I add my voice to theirs but for different reasons. In making their respective critiques of Morsi, Rappaport emphasizes long-run majoritarianism and consensus; Somin the protection of classical liberal principles. Put them together and you get something close to the American founding but still not quite there. I would advance the arguments of Thomas Jefferson articulated in his First Inaugural Address that is crucial for understanding Egypt and, more important, our own democracy.

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