American Prophet: George Washington

The prophets of the Bible are individuals chosen by God to speak for God.  Many mentions of prophets are made in the Bible. In fact, a section of the Old Testament is devoted to a collection of books by them. Their names, and quotes, appear all over the New Testament and are the subject of sermons to this day.

What they all had in common was a heart for God, an anointing to hear from Him, and the faithfulness to impart his message to others.

“For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Prophets speak loudly from the pages of the past, their words seem to take on greater meaning over time, are more relevant than ever and provide us with insights into the past and counsel for our present and future.

As a fan of American history, I often think of historic figures as similar to the prophets of the Bible, whose lives, experiences, achievements and words take on greater meaning over time and provide us with guidance concerning the great challenges we face today as a nation.

In my view, three such American Prophets are former Presidents George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, each of whom presented the American people with prophetic farewell messages that speak loudly today and, if we listen closely, can provide us with guidance and counsel to guide our collective future. Today, we consider Washington.

After forming and leading the Continental Army in the War for Independence, George Washington, known for generations as “The Father of Our Country,” was the unanimous selection as our nation’s first President, after America’s new Constitution was ratified in 1783.

Washington’s farewell remarks were intended to provide the public and his peers with the knowledge that he would not be seeking a third term of office.  His voluntary departure from office helped discourage the notion of an American monarchy and established the tradition of American Presidents serving no more than two terms, which was later established in the 22nd Amendment in 1947.

A sample….

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel.

See what I mean?  What I like about the paragraph above is that he positions his remarks as the honest reflections of an old friend, informed by experience, which he hopes will be considered by his fellow Americans.

Later in his remarks, Washington counsels the American people to prioritize national unity and, whether someone was born here or arrived as an immigrant, we must consider ourselves Americans first over and above any other differences.

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 from local discriminations.

Washington also warns us against factions – divisions within the body politic that will most certainly be exploited by those seeking to gain power and control the government at the expense of the people.

… associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

He further warns that such divisions can lead to animosity, violence, and foreign influence.

It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.

Washington also encourages his fellow citizens to be faithful to the Constitution and warns that violations or impromptu changes might be considered advantageous in the short term but in the long run, undermines free government.

If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.

Faith in God the Creator and in Providence, the guiding hand that inspired and shaped his career and the birth of a new nation, provided Washington constant courage and inspiration. It was his belief and the belief of most of his compatriots, that an abiding faith in the Almighty and a foundation of individual and collective morality was essential for the continued success of the new nation.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports….Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

As Great Britain and France hovered over the newly formed United States like vultures circling a young fawn, Washington believed in the principle of neutrality toward all nations, especially the great military powers.

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all…  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 and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.

Washington closes by reminding his readers that he is returning home with the hope and expectation that his successors will facilitate his private life and those of his fellow citizens by governing responsibly and protecting individual freedom.

I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

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