Wow, I had never read Washington's farewell address. Thanks for the spark to do so.
It is long, but emphasizes his concern about factions within the states who make convincing arguments for change in government that would benefit that faction, but weaken the remainder of the nation. He relates his concern over how this direction could harm the nation as a whole.
"Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts."
"It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property"
He frames his concerns within the perspective that different regions of the US have differing needs and desires, which temps those regions to object to certain laws that, while benefiting the country as a whole, are not helpful to that particular region.faction.
Washington is asking the citizens to observe patience and work within the Constitution to make changes. He observes that it takes time for a new system to prove itself and adopt necessary changes. Don't react too quickly, and keep your mind open.
Washington then makes a prediction that one faction may rise to a "formal despotism" in which absolute power is declared "on the ruins of public liberty." Whoa, that sounds oddly familiar. . .
"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty."
" . . .the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. 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."
"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."
This passage will not go down in history as an example of conciseness, but it does document a thoughtful, and patriotic, leader who is truly concerned about the future of the new government.
He asks the citizens to be aware and fight against several threats. I've extracted portions:
1) “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.”
2) “As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit.”
3) “Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.”
4) . . . nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated.”
5) “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”
Each of these could be rephrased as an instruction Washington is giving to the American People. They seem to be very prophetic, in light of recent political turmoil.