On President’s Day, it is important to remember the words of our founders. Almost 225 years ago, George Washington spoke to the nation as he departed from office. More than anything, he urged America to remain united. The America of 1796 was different in many ways, except for its politics. There was significant ideological, economic, and geographic strife. There was even fear of foreign influence (by the French) in the upcoming election. It was in this context that our nation’s first president offered some words of advice. He reminded us, in the face of division, that unity is our greatest strength. He said, “It is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness.”
For what is America but a people united in search of freedom and prosperity? A nation of people made stronger and better through the combination of their strengths and efforts. A combination, embodied in a government, that creates a place better than any could build on their own. He called this federal government “a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence.” To threaten it was to threaten our freedom. However, Washington cautioned that, “much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed.”
It is at this moment that we must ask ourselves, will we heed his words? Are we able to see through the divisions that threaten one of the most important sources of our peace, prosperity, and freedom? While we may rightly question the actions and role of the federal government, to threaten it is to threaten our nation. Once in our history, we have already seen the chaos that results when our union dissolves. It is of infinite moment that we once again appreciate the value of our bonds as Americans, and the institutions in which those bonds are embodied. For if our unity dies, what else is next?
(Seventh great-nephew of George Washington)