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Documents in Detail: Washington’s Farewell Address

 

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The last Documents in Detail webinar for the 16-17 school year took place on Wednesday, 17 May, and focused on George Washington’s Farewell Address. A good question that kicked off the discussion was simply why? That is, why is Washington’s Farewell Address so popular, so often read, and considered by so many over the last 200+ years to be so important. What’s so special about it? Scholars brought up the point that Washington, while very popular at the outset of his first term, experienced the first presidential controversies – the Jay Treaty, the problems within his own cabinet between Jefferson and Hamilton, to name but two – and many Americans questioned his decisions and leadership by 1796.

Also discussed were the various drafts of Washington’s address, the first of which was written mostly by James Madison at the end of Washington’s first term, when he seriously considered stepping down; and the one written by Alexander Hamilton in 1796. Both were based solidly on Washington’s ideas, however.

Additional suggested reading is from Ellis’s Founding Brothers, specifically chapter 4, “The Farewell.”

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