Washington's Farewell Address  1796

Page 6: On International Relations

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. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is
sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each
more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable,
when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and
bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government,
contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and
adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient
to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often,
sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the
favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest
exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and
wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of
privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily
parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the
parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who
devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without
odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a
commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of
ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly
enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to
practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils.  Such an
attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.


Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free
people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most
baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the
instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign
nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve
to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. 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.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with
them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled
with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very
remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign
to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary
vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people
under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance;
when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously
respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard
the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by
interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of
European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?  It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances
with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood
as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to
private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in
their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may
safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our
commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or
preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of
commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to
define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of
intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be
from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view
that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its
independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the
condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not
giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is
an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make
the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent
our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter
myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then
recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the
impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which
they have been dictated.

How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the
public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance
of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the twenty-second of April, I793, is the index of
my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of Congress, the
spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country,
under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral
position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation,
perseverance, and firmness.

The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will
only observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the
belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice
and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace
and amity towards other nations. The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to
your own reflections and experience. With me a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our
country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of
strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless
too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I
fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the
hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty five years of my life
dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as
myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to
a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, 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.
Geo. Washington.
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