With Hamilton's help, Washington wrote a farewell address to the American people. He never actually delivered the speech, but he published it in a Philadelphia newspaper instead. In it he warned Americans against political parties, affirming his belief that a devotion to duty and country could and should rise above party spirit. He also warned Americans to stay out of foreign wars: America was too weak to look out for any interests other than its own. With this advice, Washington quietly left office.


Washington spent much of his time as president deeply frustrated. He couldn't understand why honorable, reasonable, intelligent men couldn't agree. He hated partisanship; he was a social man who believed that everyone could and should get along. Yet while he genuinely liked people, he was often very formal and distant as president. He would not allow his advisors to form personal relationships with him, and he limited who was allowed to see him. This behavior led many to attack him as arrogant. These attacks hurt Washington deeply. Jefferson noted that at one point Washington swore that "by God he had rather be in his grave than in his present situation; he had rather be on his farm than be made Emperor of the World; and yet they were charging him with wanting to be a King."

Washington felt he had to behave in a formal way in order for the office of president to have prestige. In stark contrast to today, Washington did not believe that the president should mingle with the people; the president should remain a distant and authoritative figure. This wasn't the result of arrogance or lust for power. It was the opposite. Washington believed in a government of laws, not of people. In other words, he believed that it was the duty of leaders to follow the will of the people as expressed by the laws; they did this through their offices as senators, representatives, judges, and presidents. The individual who held office was less important than the office itself.

The constant attacks and bickering among Congress and his cabinet slowly wore Washington down. He grew increasingly paranoid, both of his own people and of foreigners–especially the French. While Jefferson welcomed the French Revolution as a triumph for democracy, Washington worried that it would end in bloodshed and tyranny. History proved Washington correct: France suffered civil unrest until it was conquered by Napoleon.

Washington felt his time as president, especially his second term, was a failure. In some ways he was right. He had lost Jefferson, one of his most intelligent advisors, and was forced to replace him with a less capable man. He failed to keep the divisions in America–between North and South, farmer and merchant, pro-France and pro-Britain–from deepening. Jay's Treaty, though now seen as a diplomatic victory for the United States, was considered a failure at the time. Just about the only bright spot was Pinckney's Treaty, which went far to opening the West. Yet even here, Washington sacrificed some of his own well being for his country. With the Mississippi open to American ships, there was no need to build a canal between the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. Washington's land would still be valuable, but not as valuable as it could have been.

Against all of these failures must be weighed one overriding success: the United States of America continued to exist, against all odds. Even more amazingly, the man who did so much to keep it together now intended to go quietly once again into private life. Most Americans assumed he would remain president for life. (There was no term limit on how many terms a president could serve until the twentieth century.) Upon his death, the Vice President would succeed him. Washington knew he didn't have long to live and worried that if he died in office, all following presidents might follow his example and remain in office until their deaths. He was determined to keep the presidency an elected office just like any other. So he retired.

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