Per longstanding United States Senate tradition, on Monday afternoon a senator — this year Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) — will read President George Washington’s farewell address on the Senate floor. The Senate website declares that no Senate tradition “has been more steadfastly maintained,” noting the first reading of the speech on the Senate floor occurred in 1862 and that “[e]very year since 1896, the Senate has observed Washington's Birthday by selecting one of its members, alternating parties, to read the 7,641-word statement in legislative session.”
With the Senate for so many years promoting, financing, and allowing the executive branch to unilaterally pursue overt and covert interventions across the globe, one question comes to mind: Will the reading of Washington’s farewell address, with its hard-hitting noninterventionist foreign policy admonitions, have any influence on the many warmongers and war facilitators in the Senate?
We can hope that the words will resonate with at least one of these senators. Maybe the speech will lead a senator or two to rethink imposing sanctions, funding foreign governments, supporting coups, waging wars, or feeding the military-industrial complex. Certainly, though, even a senator who reads the speech aloud does not automatically transform thereby into a noninterventionist. Uber interventionist Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), for example, delivered the speech on the Senate floor in 1987 — his first year in the Senate.
If the annual reading of Washington’s farewell address is just a well-trodden farce for the Senators, it still may yield some benefit. Some people watching the delivery of the speech on C-SPAN 2 may be prompted to thought and further research when they hear Hoeven repeat the following foreign policy observations of George Washington:
Observe good faith & justice towds all Nations. Cultivate peace & harmony with all--Religion & 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 & benevolence. Who can doubt that in the course of time and things the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages wch might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human Nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?Read Washington’s complete farewell address here.
In the execution of such a plan 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 & amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one Nation against another--disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate envenomed and bloody contests. The Nation, prompted by ill will & resentment sometimes impels to War the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the Nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition and other sinister & pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the Liberty, of Nations has been the victim.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favourite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels & Wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification: It leads also to concessions to the favourite Nation of priviledges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions--by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained--& by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom eql priviledges are withheld: And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favourite Nation) facility to betray, or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition corruption or infatuation.
As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent Patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public Councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak, towards a great & powerful Nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
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. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defence against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real Patriots, who may resist the intriegues of the favourite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause & confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.
The Great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign Nations is in extending our comercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled, with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.
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