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Washington’s Farewell Address [2]

National Unity and the Hazards of Partisanship

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Washington’s political testament begins with the end in mind: forging a nation through unity, expressing our identity as Americans.

The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize.

The power and possibility unleashed by this union ensures that “batteries of internal and external enemies” will take aim at “the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity.”

Washington urges that Americans tend to their shared national identity, placing it above the plethora of individual identities subsumed within it:

Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism, more than any appellation derived of local discriminations.

That surpassing national identity yields a solidarity of action. Where other nations through history were defined by the exclusion of others, the United States would be distinguished by its unprecedented, ongoing process of inclusion. Matters that have long divided other peoples would become “slight shades of difference.” Citizens envisioned and earned the title, American, through “the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.” This proudly asserted claim was yet another act of defiance against the British, for whom the term “American” was a dismissive epithet.

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