On September 19, 1796, the American Daily Advertiser, also known as the Pennsylvania Packet, published a letter most people refer to as George Washington’s Farewell Address. In this letter, President Washington announced his retirement from public office after two terms (and set a noteworthy precedent) and outlined the core beliefs and principles he hoped his nascent nation would abide by in the future.
As historian François Furstenberg (2006) notes in his book, In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation, the Farewell Address quickly became an enduring statement of America’s “inviolable political principles” and was hastily included in virtually every American newspaper . . . [and] schoolbook” (p.39).
One of Washington’s most salient pieces of advice was that America should strive to remain a cohesive nation, free from factions, parties, and divisive politics. Moreover, he argued that “every part of our country . . . must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments” (Washington, 1796).
Unfortunately, these words fell upon deaf words, for less than five years later, Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican) and John Adams (Federalist) leveled deeply personal attacks against each other as they competed in the election of 1800. This video shows some of the earliest examples of mudslinging and negative, divisive rhetoric in our nation’s political history.
Today is November 8, 2016, and it is Election Day in America. Because it is our duty and privilege as citizens of a democratic republic, millions of Americans are heading to the polls even though many of them may be quite disillusioned by the election process. The messages of this year’s election campaign were particularly vicious and divisive, and more often than not, departed from anything of actual political substance. After talking with current U.S. history and government teachers, I can tell you that many educators are struggling to figure out how to best explain and utilize this election cycle in their classrooms. Even foreign newspapers are lamenting how negative these past two years have been.
Anyway, I have three wishes for today, and they are listed below in no particular order.
- I hope every single citizen in the United States feels compelled to vote, and is able to do so.
- I hope that every single citizen in the United States will respect each other, respect the core tenets of democracy, and respect every vote, irrespective of the political party that it supports.
- I hope that if history is made today, the other presidential candidate will respect the peaceful transfer of power, one of the most fundamental, important concepts in our Constitution, instead of continuing to tear apart a nation that has been deeply divided.
Note: This is not a reflection of my political views. This is merely a statement in favor of respecting and honoring the U.S. Constitution.