On February 24, 2017, we celebrate George Washington’s birthday at the Metropolitan Club in New York. It promises to be an outstanding event. Join us if possible.
Washington’s Farewell Address used to be a staple of American history. Delivered in 1796, it reads as if it were written for today. He warned against factions that place loyalty to party above loyalty to country, demagogues who would elevate themselves “on the ruins of public liberty,” and the “insidious wiles of foreign influence” whose “tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.” There is more. Read it for yourselves.
Within a few years, editors, writers, and even a congressman, were jailed for criticizing the administration. The naturalization period was lengthened to prevent “wild Irishmen” from voting. The President was given authority to imprison or deport aliens. Judicial review was not yet established, and the courts were packed with Federalists anyway. The nation survived, but was subjected to new trials, such as the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
The history of the American Revolution is full of relevant lessons and based on enlightenment principles. There is nothing quaint or outdated about them. It is humbling, for example, to visit Valley Forge, where my ancestor spent the winter of 1777-8, and where the Army, led by Washington, held together despite thousands dying of disease. They kept the faith, and so should we.