For almost 150 years, the address that George Washington delivered to announce that he would step down after two terms as president served as a pillar of American politics and civic identity. Schoolchildren were given prizes for memorizing and reciting it, celebrations of Washington’s birthday featured public readings of it, and patriotic orators referred to it endlessly. All of that is lost today. Avlon’s timely book makes a strong case for bringing Washington’s final public message back into the national consciousness as a way of strengthening the frayed political fabric of the aging republic. With input from both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s Farewell Address called for amity between native-born and immigrant citizens, counseled constant vigilance against the dangers of foreign meddling in the U.S. political process, and warned against the corrosive effects of habitual partisan rancor on the institutions that make democracy work. Avlon hopes that a rediscovery of such wisdom might strengthen the union to which Washington dedicated his life; many readers of this powerful and well-argued book will hope the author is right.
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