George Washington’s Final Warning About The Loss Of American Exceptionalism

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Posted: Mar 27, 2018 9:42 AM
George Washington’s Final Warning About The Loss Of American Exceptionalism

Washington, in his Farewell Address, also set the expectations and foretold the qualities of the Great Experiment’s leadership.  “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.”[1]  Washington established the standard for American Exceptionalism and for patriotism. As Thomas Jefferson said, “He sincerely wished the people to have as much self-government as they were competent to exercise themselves…and that in support of [the Great Experiment] he would spend the last drop of his blood.”[2]

In a letter to Dr. Walter Jones, Jefferson describes Washington’s character in this manner:

"His mind was great and powerful….no judgment was ever sounder….He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern….Perhaps the strongest feature of his character was prudence….His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known….He was indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man….and it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him…in an everlasting remembrance.[3]  These are my opinions of General Washington, which would vouch at the judgment seat of God."[4]

George Washington standard lives on through today.  Washington, in a letter to the thirteen States, acknowledged that “Heaven has crowned all its other blessings” to the happiness of America moreso “than any other Nation has ever been favored with.”[5]

Washington’s character and valor was second-to-none and he was viewed by all, regardless of their political factions, as a man of the highest honor and respect.  He was providential.   Eliza Stiles, president of Yale College and a theologian, described Washington and Gods’ intervention into the Revolution, in a sermon given to the Governor and General Assembly of Connecticut on May 8, 1783:

"Whereupon Congress put at the head of this spirited army the only man on whom the eyes of all Israel were placed…this American Joshua was raised up by God, and divinely formed, by a peculiar influence of the Sovereign of the universe, for the great work of leading the armies of this American Joseph…when the die was cast irrevocable in the glorious act of Independence.  This was sealed and confirmed by God Almighty in the victory of General Washington at Trenton…And who does not see the indubitable interposition and energetic influence of Divine Providence in these great and illustrious events?  Who but a Washington, inspired by Heaven, could have struck out the great movement and maneuver at Princeton?...Thus God "turned the battle to the gate," and this gave a finishing to the foundation of the American Republic… the United States are under peculiar obligations to become a holy people unto the Lord our God, on account of the late eminent deliverance, salvation, peace, and glory with which he has now crowned our new sovereignty."[6]

Alexis Tocqueville, from his early 1830s visit to the United States eloquently described what he found in America.  He wrote,

“Religion is no less the companion of liberty in all its battles and triumphs; the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims.  The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom.”[7]

And at his First Inauguration Address, Washington placed his hand on a Masonic Bible while standing on the balcony of the Senate Chamber at Federal Hall in New York City.  Washington reverently invoked God to watch over the United States of America, stating in his address:

"Such being the impressions under which I have in, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be particularly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the of the United States a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge.  In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow citizens at large less than either.  No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States."[8]

Washington is establishing that the United States is the Shining City upon the Hill, but in order to keep the Blessings given by God, as told in Deuteronomy 28,[9] we must maintain our obedience to Him.  Washington explains “that it is in [America’s] choice, and depends upon their conduct, whether they will be respectable and prosperous, or contemptible and miserable as a Nation.”[10]  Even Thomas Jefferson, considered to be one of the least religious of the Founding Fathers,[11] wrote that religious faith [Christian principles and values] of the nation was a cornerstone to establish and maintain liberty.  “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?  That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?”[12]  Alexis de Tocqueville recognized the same underlying necessity writing, “There is no country in the world in which everything can be provided for by the laws, or in which political institutions can prove a substitute for common sense and public morality.”[13]

In his Farewell Address, considered to be one of the most profound and accurate articulations of the character of United States, George Washington asked,

“Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice?  And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion…forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”[14]

[1] George Washington, September 17, 1796, “Presidential Farewell Address.”

[2] Saul K. Padover, ed., 1939, Democracy by Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to John Melish, 1813,” (New York, NY: D. Appleton-Century Company), p. 90.

[3] Saul K. Padover, ed., 1939, Democracy by Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Dr. Walter Jones, 1814,” (New York, NY: D. Appleton-Century Company), pp. 280-281.

[4]Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Dr. Walter Jones, 1814,” [http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=JefLett.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=224&division=div1].

[5] George Washington, June 8, 1783, “Circular to the States,” in W.W. Abbot et al., ed., 1976-present, The Papers of George Washington, 1748-1799, Vol. 26, (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press), pp. 483-496.

[6] Ezra Stiles, May 8, 1783, “The United States Elevated to Glory and Honor,” A Sermon Preached before his Excellency Jonathan Trumbull, ESQ L.L.D., Governor and Commander in Chief, and the Honorable General Assembly of the State of Connecticut, Hartford Connecticut at the Anniversary Election, (New Haven, CT: Thomas & Samuel Green), [http://www.belcherfoundation.org/united_states_elevated.htm].  Also see William J. Federer, 1999, America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations, (St. Louis, MO: Amerisearch, Inc.), p. 572.

[7] Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835 and 1840, Democracy in America, Vol. I and II, (London, England: Oxford University Press), p. 42.

[8] John Gabriel Hunt (Ed.), 1997, “George Washington: First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789,” The Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents: From George Washington to George W. Bush, (New York, NY: Gramercy Books), p. 4.

[9] Guideposts, The Guideposts Parallel Bible (Carmel, NY: Guideposts), New International, Deuteronomy 28, pp. 524-530.Deuteronomy 28:1-2, “If YOU fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God.”

[10] George Washington, June 8, 1783, “Circular to the States,” in W.W. Abbot et al., ed., 1976-present, The Papers of George Washington, 1748-1799, Vol. 26, (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press), pp. 483-496.

[11] In reading Jefferson’s writings, you quickly understand that while Jefferson was not an overly religious man, in a traditional sense, due mostly to his skepticism of the bureaucracy of religion, he was a strong man of Faith.  He was a non-traditional Christian, an unorthodox Christian, not fond of any constraints imposed on him by specific tenants of doctrine by any denomination, nor does it appear that he believed Jesus was divine.  But he did passionately revered Jesus’ teachings and philosophy.  His writings and actions absolutely imply this.  Jefferson also referred to himself as a Christian – see Paul L. Ford (ed.), The Works for Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 9, 1905, “Letter to Benjamin Rush,” April 21, 1803, [http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/jefferson-the-works-vol-9-1799-1803#lf0054-09_head_200], and Paul L. Ford (ed.), The Works for Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 11, 1905, “Letter to Charles Thomson,” January 9, 1816, [http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/jefferson-the-works-vol-11-correspondence-and-papers-1808-1816#lf0054-11_head_161].

[12] Thomas Jefferson, 2010, (Originally published in 1785), Notes on the State of Virginia, (ReadaClassic.com: Lexington, KY), p. 193.Also referenced in Dinesh D’Souza, 2007, What’s So Great About Christianity, (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc.), p. 52.

[13] Alexis de Tocqueville, 2007 (originally published in 1835 and 1840), Democracy in America, Volumes 1 and 2, Unabridged, (Stilwell, KS: Digireads.com Publishing), p. 94.

[14] George Washington, September 17, 1796, “Presidential Farewell Address.