What was the significance of Washington's farewell address?

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Washington’s farewell address was significant because he tried to chart a course of action for the country to follow after he left office. President Washington could have run for a third term, but he felt the President should not be in office for too long of a period of time. President Washington felt two terms were enough. He was tired of public life and wanted to return to his home. He wanted to give his advice to the country before he left office.

There were several main points in his farewell address. He believed the concept of national unity was something that had to be cherished and protected. He didn't want local issues to possibly tear the country apart. President Washington could also see the country dividing along political lines. He urged the American people to avoid forming political parties. He felt if political parties formed, it would require people to put their political party ahead of the interests of the country. He also warned the country to stay neutral in foreign affairs. He felt if the United States took sides in a foreign issue, it could lead the United States into a war the country couldn’t afford to fight. George Washington knew the United States was in no position to fight a war at this time. Finally, he encouraged the government to avoid making long-term agreements. President Washington knew events could change over time. Thus, a long-term agreement might not be in the best interests of the country.

There were several ideas that President Washington emphasized in his farewell address.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Washington's farewell address was important for a number of reasons.  Often overlooked is the fact that, like many of his actions, he set the precedent for a Presidential farewell address.

Beyond that, he had two warnings for the nation in his parting speech.  First, he pleaded with his new nation to avoid the engaging in standing alliances with European powers.  American could not afford to become embroiled in a conflict unless it was in our best interest, not just for the sake of an alliance.  His second area of concern was with political parties.  Washington was highly opposed to the formation and function of such groups, and felt America would suffer at their hands. 

The United States heeded Washington's warning about entangling alliances well into the twentieth century; however, his concerns about political parties were immediately ignored as those groups would quickly shape the face of American politics.