Farewell Address: What George Washington said to America was "obey"

After reading a quote from our first president’s farewell address on a white extremist site, I was curious about its legitimacy. Legitimate, yes. Out of context, yes. (Well, what do you expect?)

It got me interested, though, and Washington’s address was fascinating. I thought I’d offer a few lines from the first George’s goodbye. (Be warned–the dumbing-down of America has been going on for hundreds of years. The last George wouldn’t be able to understand the first one’s words, let alone puzzle out the meaning.)

The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which at any time exists till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

-George Washington

The United States government is not a buffet, it’s a sit-down meal. If you don’t like what’s on your plate, go help the cooks or talk to the caterer. Don’t start a food fight.


The people have the right to “alter their constitutions of government”. But in the meantime, those same people have an obligation to obey the government. A sacred obligation, at that.

You see, according to President Washington, the government we have–which means the people who were elected to govern–is in charge. And if you don’t like it, work to change it from within. You see, the Father of Our Country says that until/unless it is changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people it’s valid. “Every individual” who believes they have the right to a say in our country, has the duty “to obey the established government”.

George doesn’t say you have to like it, but if you claim the right to live in the country, if you think it’s your government, than do more than talk the talk–it’s time to walk the walk.

I don’t recall anyone refusing to go to Iraq or Afghanistan because President Bush had not been elected by the people. I don’t recall a single Army officer, not one, who volunteered to command troops in combat for the express purpose of suing their Commander-in-Chief. I don’t remember any soldier who claimed that any orders given by Bush–as someone who was illegally occupying the White House and was not a Constitutionally-elected official–would be invalid and subject them to possible prosecution for international war crimes. (And looking back, isn’t that ironic?)

III. His Farewell Address by George Washington. America: I. (1761-1837). Vol. VIII. Bryan, William Jennings, ed. 1906. The World’s Famous Orations

If George Washington were to see the way the citizens of his country behave today, I believe even he would be stunned into speechlessness.

(For what it’s worth, Washington was also a supporter of taxes, and was against the US playing favorites with other countries. And, of course, he absolutely loathed political parties.)



5 thoughts on “Farewell Address: What George Washington said to America was "obey"

  1. The citizens of Gardner, KS are currently working to recall two members of their City Council. The recall is tied up in the courts at the moment, but it should go to a vote in March of 2010.

  2. Actually, I think you have the usage right. Washington was a little bit of a hypocrite than though 🙂

  3. I think you have this wrong. When he says presupposes, it means that the first part is assumed first. So it means that people do not have an obligation to obey the government if they have no right to establish it themselves.
    The right of the people to establish government is assumed before the duty to obey it. It’s like no taxation without representation. You must be represented, or you do not have to pay taxes to an entity nor obey it.

    • Right–the people don’t have an obligation to obey a government they can’t establish. The people–in this case, us–do have an obligation to obey a government they establish. He’s talking about the government the people–again, us–established. Therefore, we have an obligation to obey it.

      He also mentioned taxes–uniformly disliked but completely necessary.

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