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Dr. Harold Pease

It is the normal course of things to read in both houses of Congress every February, somewhere near his birthday of February 22, President George Washington’s Farewell Address. Until the last two decades it has always been seen as a guidepost for the future, and reverenced as such. It was given, in fact, for this very purpose just prior to his leaving the presidency. In it he warned posterity of possible pitfalls that could undermine or destroy this great experiment in liberty. His warnings may be more timely 217 years later as we near his birthday February 22. Although read, we have not adhered to it for at least the last four presidents.

In strong terms Washington asked that we avoid debt. He said: “As a very important source of strength and security cherish public credit… use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasion of expense… [Use the] time of peace, to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.”

Today our national debt sits at over $16.5 trillion—the highest in our history—increased by about four billion a day. To put this in perspective if we laid dollar bills on top of each other a trillion dollars would take us upward 68,000 miles into the sky—a third of the way to the moon. Three trillion would take us all the way. Sixteen and a half trillion dollars stacked on top of one another would take us to the moon and back twice, then to the moon and half the way back. Obviously today neither party has taken Washington’s advice. Presently the debt per taxpayer is $146,193. We are spending our way into oblivion (See

Washington pleaded with the nation to keep religion and morality strong. He said: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…. Let it simply be 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? Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” The Founding Fathers never supported the notion of separation of religion and government—only the separation of an organization of religion from government. What would Washington say of the immorality that prevails today?

Our first president also had advice with respect to how we should deal with foreign nations. He advised that our commercial policy “should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences…diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce but forcing nothing.” This is a far cry from the bullying tactics we’ve too often employed the last 100 years. Today we have troops in 32 nations in over 1200 military bases.

But the warning about foreign aid was especially good. He basically told us that gift giving in foreign affairs is a good way to be universally hated. He said it placed us “in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more.” Today there is hardly a nation in the world that does not have its hand out and when, after once giving, the amount is reduce or terminated we are hated all the more for it. Even potential enemies line up for favors. The Muslim Brotherhood state of Egypt received 1.8 billion dollars last year in foreign aid and is to receive, in addition, sixteen F-16 fighter jets and 200 Abrams tanks this year. Israel is their only likely target.

He warned against the origin of “combinations and associations” whose intent was to suppress the desires of the majority in favor of the minority. He called them artificial power factions. We call them special interest groups. What would he say upon learning that a third of the cabinet of every president since Herbert Hoover belonged to the semi-secret Council on Foreign Relations as does either the President or Vice President of every administration including Barack Obama’s?

Such factions, he said, “May answer popular ends and 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….” The antidote for this, Washington explained, was “to resist with care the spirit of innovation” upon basic constitutional principles or premises no matter how flowery, appealing or “specious the pretext.”

Washington worried about posterity not holding their elected officials strictly to the limits imposed by the Constitution. He knew many would seek to undermine that document by twisting it to gain power they could not acquire without the distortion. Sound familiar? He said: “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.” Today much of what the federal government does is not even mentioned in the Constitution and therefore, as interpreted for most of 200 years, unconstitutional.

But freedom fighters are not likely to be popular, he said: “Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.” One need not look far for the “tools and dupes,” they seem to be everywhere and in both major political parties.

Dr. Harold Pease is an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 25 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, please visit