Pam gave me this book for Valentines Day. And yes, leather bound, gold leaf classic books are very sexy. This one is a collection of every important speech given by anyone in this country's history, which is why it's so thick. It starts with John Hancock's On the Boston Massacre, and ends with Barack Obama's first innaugural address. For a history geek such as myself, this thing is like finding the Holy Grail, it's like a 12 year old boy stumbling across an issue of Playboy, it's like Megan Kelly...beautiful and informative!
Anyway, I've been making my way through this thing slowly, savoring every detail. There's the combative stem winder from Patrick Henry, Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death, and believe me...the dude meant it! There's Samuel Adams' bomb throwing classic, American Independence. You read enough of these founding father Patriots and you'll be ready to gather up all your Downton Abbey DVDs and feed them through a shredder!
Then I ran into the brick wall of George Washington's Farewell Address to the People of the United States. I feel like I had read this once before back in college when I was too ignorant to appreciate it, too clever to understand. Every word is a treasure. Every warning contained in it has proved prescient, each observation wise beyond comprehension.
The great man starts by voluntarily relinquishing power, something unheard of in the age of kings. After demonstating for us the cornerstone of republican governance, he sets about saying good-bye to the nation he loves and has faithfully served for 45 years of his life. To read his words is to be humbled that such a man as this ever existed, to read his words is to be reminded of how far we have fallen.
After a couple of pages of genuine humility where he begs the indulgence of his listeners for his many flaws, he sets out with warnings of what he sees as potential pitfalls for the American experiment in self government. First, he warns against anyone or anything that might come against the union. Regional and sectarian interests should be sacrificed for the greater good of unity. Then he rails against the danger of parties, that despicable notion of federalist and republicans, Whigs, and whatever other factions within government that had arisen in his time. Then, out of nowhere I read this:
"This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetuated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public Liberty."
Donald Trump, call your office.
--to be continued--