Washington was a Federalist, he strongly rooted himself in the beliefs of centralized government, but not everyone in early America was on board. In seeing his country grow more and more divided by the end of his second term, his beliefs in federalism and party neutrality were only solidified more. Washington believed in a fiscally responsible and centralized governing power over America, Jefferson on the other hand felt otherwise about these ideals. However, Washington believed in political neutrality and wouldn’t fight Jefferson head on regarding these issues.
“He (Washington) was very frustrated that Jefferson’s people and Hamilton’s people were fighting like cats and dogs. And even in the 18th century, the media was very unkind to George Washington, in many cases. And he was fed up with that. He let it be known that he thought he would not run for even a second term. And at that point both Jefferson and Hamilton rushed to the scene and said, you’ve got to run. You’re the only one that can keep this thing together.” (“Whatever Happened to George Washington?”)
It’s interesting to see the early role of the media in American history. Much like today, the media was ruthless to their current leaders and this only put more stress on Washington. Washington may have been a battle-hardened hero and leader in the war, but after the fog of war had subsided, his military reputation, foreign policy ideas, and republican ideology, all came in to question by the media. Many accused him of his administration’s “European” style of leadership and blasted him for being neutral in the 1793 disputes between France and Britain. Washington was caught in the media crossfire of ridicule and slander, and as his age increased, the burden of guiding America became an ever-growing burden.
Washington was ready to leave, the stress of office and political atmosphere was too much for him to bear for a third term, his farewell address is evidence of this. While he may have been finished with his role as the nation’s leader, Washington’s parting words would continue to guide the young country for many years to come. One of his final wishes, was for the US to stay out of foreign conflict for as long as possible and to not join permanent military alliances. “My ardent desire is, and my aim has been . . . to comply strictly with all our engagements foreign and domestic, but to keep the United States free from political connections with every other Country. To see that they may be independent of all, and under the influence of none.
In a word, I want an American character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves and not for others; this, in my judgment, is the only way to be respected abroad and happy at home.’ (Washington’s Farewell Address to the People of the United States and, the Constitution of the United States). Despite having been thrashed in the media years before on his foreign policy ideas, the American people saw the benefits of remaining neutral in foreign conflict and instead focusing on growing as a nation. These ideas were upheld by the US and prevented them from joining a handful of wars that could have been detrimental to the growth of the US.
‘But often intellect and judgment are inversely related to politics. We know of instances in which that has been true. Washington made judgments. He made the judgment for neutrality, for example, when the Napoleonic wars began. And that was a vital decision, which neither Jefferson nor Hamilton nor perhaps– well Adams later made a similar judgment– but that was a very important step in the development of the young country.’ (“Whatever Happened to George Washington?”)
The nation heeded Washington’s advice until 1949 when the US joined NATO in the wake of WWII. The fact that the US adhered to a suggestion that a former president made over 200 years ago, just goes to show the reach and effect that Washington had in the country. What was thought to be one of Washington’s weaker stances in his time allowed America to become the power that it is today
Washington’s farewell address is considered to be one of single the most treasured and profound writings to come out of early American history. Washington set a standard for the nation and future US presidents, and in 30 pages published in a Philadelphia newspaper, he gave a guiding light for generations. Washington is a figure we should all look to as a voice of wisdom and a neutral ground in a country that has been divided by political devices since its inception. His hope to do what’s best for our nation is something that we should all hold dear and should be in the heart of every American.