“In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me;
still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal.
If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected.
Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue;
that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.”
Debt of Gratitude
Gratefulness is an incredible thing. It transforms the way in which we live our lives. After years of leading the Continental Army, overseeing the creation of the Constitution, and serving as the first President of the United States, it cannot be doubted that Washington saw his share of criticism, backbiting, and hate.
He very easily could have focussed on the trails at Valley Forge and the lack of support while there. He could have focussed on the deserters who abandoned the cause. He could have focussed on the betrayal of Benedict Arnold. He could have complained about the infighting that occurred during the Constitutional Convention.
But he didn’t. Instead, Washington ended his career with a list of things he was grateful for. First, he mentions the honors that the country had bestowed on him. A proud man in Washington’s shoes would have probably felt that he was doing the people a favor by leading in that capacity. But Washington, being the humble leader that he was, saw it in a totally different light.
The next thing on Washington’s gratefulness list is the confidence that the people placed in him. Anyone who has ever been in a position of leadership knows that the challenges are a hundred fold if you have followers who are not confident in your abilities. But when you have people following you who believe in your abilities, that can be all the difference in the world.
And finally, Washington talks about the support he received from the people. Like I mentioned before, this was definitely Washington looking on the bright side. A grateful heart will search for the best in people.
Despite misleading passions, dubious appearances, discouragement, lack of success, criticism, Washington pressed on. He did not think his ability to serve was equal to the task at hand, but he pressed on. What he lacked in skill, he made up with in faithfulness and perseverance.
Zeal is a quality that is sadly lacking in many of today’s leaders. The seeming inability to truly enact change brings discouragement, despondency, and ultimately apathy. Washington knew better than most how hard and seemingly useless leading could be. Yet his zeal for the cause of liberty made him press on.
A Father’s Prayer
When you invest time and effort into something, you become naturally vested in its success. Just like a parent wants to see their child succeed, Washington, as the father of this new country, wanted to see America succeed.
In his Farewell Address, he lays out exactly what that success should look like:
-Perpetual brotherly affection
-Sacredly maintaining the free Constitution
-Wisdom and virtue in the government
-Happiness under liberty made complete through freedom’s preservation
Washington believed that if America lived out her promise of true liberty under the law, then every other country who saw it would emulate and do the same. The fire of liberty would spread across the world.
Was Washington’s prayer answered? Looking back at over 200 years of American history, the answer has to be ‘yes’…and ‘no’.
Yes, Washington’s prayer has been answered throughout our time as a country. The blessing of God on America cannot be denied. The freedom and prosperity is unprecedented in the history of civilization.
And no, Washington’s prayer is yet to be answered during other times of our time as a country. This country has had its share of dark days, made its share of wrong decisions. However, I believe the arc of America’s story, though long, bends toward liberty, toward the answer to Washington’s prayer.
We have experienced Heaven’s blessings countless times. Our union, though once broken, yet remains. But right now, that same union is being tested, as is the love for our fellow Americans. Our free Constitution is being threatened. Wisdom and virtue in the administration of our government is getting harder and harder to find.
There is still hope for Washington’s prayer to be answered today. In future chapters, Washington will explain exactly how. But for now, just consider how this prayer has and hasn’t been answered throughout America’s history. And while you think about that, consider why.