This week, we speak with President Jefferson about George Washington's farewell address which was first published in Philadelphia's American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796, 222 years ago.
Presidents leave a little note in the desk for their successor, and the public always wants to know what's in those notes. We seldom learn that, but the tradition of giving a farewell address is no longer a big part of American life. The last one was Eisenhower, but Washington set the tone in 1796. President Jefferson tells us what he thought of that tone. We know that Jefferson was aware that Madison wrote the first draft, and Hamilton the final draft, of Washington's farewell address. Mr. Jefferson was not too happy about that. He saw that Madison had recovered his senses and had now broken with the Federalists, and he hated the fact that Hamilton played a role in the great man's life.
- Yale Law School: Washington's Farewell Address 1796
- Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
- His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis
- Patriarch: George Washington and the New American by Richard Norton Smith
- "One Last Time," Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton: "George Washington's going home / Teach 'em how to say goodbye"
What Would Jefferson Do?
The following is a rush transcript.
DS: 00:00 Good Day, Thomas Jefferson Hour podcast listeners
CSJ: 00:05 — into your fundraising voice —
DS: 00:06 — and thank you for listening. Without you we are nothing —
CSJ: 00:10 Maybe nothing anyway, if you really think about it.
DS: 00:13 I picked the show this week and I really, because it kept coming up in the news, you know that people were, there was these little hidden, hidden references to Washington's farewell address. So I read it.
CSJ: 00:23 You read like all 25 pages of it?
DS: 00:26 32 handwritten.
CSJ: 00:28 What did you learn?
DS: 00:29 That Jefferson really didn't like it too much. I think Jefferson was probably sitting at home going, you know, Washington could have had me write this instead of that Hamilton guy.
CSJ: 00:39 It would have been shorter. I can tell you that.
DS: 00:40 You can hear that in Jefferson's voice this week though. You know, there's a little bit of — I don't want to say envy because that's — beneath him
CSJ: 00:49 Not envy, but I think there was — He knew that in part the farewell address had been written against him because he was Washington's secretary of state — Washington had high respect for Jefferson — Jefferson then winds up breaking with his own administration to a certain degree and threatening to resign over and over again and finally resigning in a kind of huff and going back to Monticello and he wrote these nasty letters about Hamilton's influence and Hamilton's corruption and Hamilton's monarchism and so on. And I think Washington finally sort of thought, you know, Jefferson is more the problem than anybody, that Jefferson, for whatever reason, was a dissenter in a detractor from within my own administration.
DS: 01:30 Hamilton was a great pitch man. Jefferson was not.
CSJ: 01:33 Jefferson was more a character out of a Jane Austen novel, shy and diffident and not assertive.
DS: 01:40 Strong young man with, you know, could really speak well —
CSJ: 01:43 But I think Washington's view was, hey, you're in my administration. I want you to be a supporter of my administration and I don't want you to be a detractor. And Mr Jefferson, frankly you have been kind of disloyal in some respects.
DS: 01:54 There are so many good biographies of Washington and I am going to get into them. That Chernow one is one you really liked.
CSJ: 02:01 I like Chernow, but I'll tell you what I like even better is Joseph Ellis, His Excellency.
DS: 02:06 Oh, sure. Of course.
CSJ: 02:07 Our man Ellis.
DS: 02:08 Yes.
CSJ: 02:08 One of his many superb books. He wrote His Excellency. There's also — Richard Norton Smith has a biography I think called [Patriarch] and it's about Washington. It's outstanding. We'll post those, but there are a bunch of them. I mean Chernow's is great; Chernow's is definitive, but it's also a thousand pages. That's, as they say, that's a lot of Washington.
DS: 02:31 I really enjoyed Ellis on the show last week — that line he used about, now we're playing the race card face up.
CSJ: 02:39 Oh my. Usually it's played face down in America, but now —
DS: 02:43 If you haven't heard that show, just, it was a week ago, you can find it on the website.
CSJ: 02:47 I need to make a correction. My friend Russ Eagle was here and he was a little miffed about my saying that I dragged him up Mount Whitney.
DS: 02:57 Oh, I think I kind of defended him then.
CSJ: 02:59 You tried to defend them a little.
DS: 03:00 You'd have none of it.
CSJ: 03:01 No, because I dragged his —
DS: 03:03 Which is why he sent me that wonderful first edition Cannery Row and not you.
CSJ: 03:08 No, it's the other way around. If he — I walked — here's what happened. I walked in here and you said, Oh look, I've got a great gift from Russ Eagle. It's a first edition of cannery row.
DS: 03:22 I'm sure it sounded exactly like that —
CSJ: 03:25 That exact tone. It was all this triumphance. And so then I thought,
DS: 03:28 It was not.
CSJ: 03:28 — hey, hey, what, how do you rate? You get a first edition of cannery row. I got a lump of coal, and then I said I dragged his — and I won't use the term — up that mountain. And he thought that was an exaggeration.
DS: 03:42 I believe it probably was.
CSJ: 03:43 A little, just barely, but he was here and he said he wants equal time. So I think we should call him on a show soon. That sounds good. Let him say what he wants, you know, see who dragged whom.
DS: 03:53 We should get to the show. Um, but again, I'm really struck by Washington's show of humility and asking forgiveness for his mistakes. And you're not so much.
CSJ: 04:05 No, I think you don't want Hamilton writing your farewell address.
DS: 04:10 It is pretty clear historically that all the ideas were Washington's, he just wanted a scholar to clean it up.
CSJ: 04:17 Yeah, I guess I just wished that — in somewhat simpler prose, he had written out what — exactly how he would have put it. I think it would, and I know you, you'll probably disagree, but I think it would be a more persuasive and a more authentic document had Washington just penned it.
DS: 04:32 Well, according to what I have read, you may or may not know this or you could confirm it, but he actually did write an interim between his first, which was, as you said in the show, shelled. He did write one, but it was so bitter that he wanted somebody to soften it up and that's when he went to Hamilton.
CSJ: 04:51 Well, and Hamilton was a brilliant policy guy and he understood the great man —
DS: 04:57 Pitch man.
CSJ: 04:57 And he was also deeply loyal to Washington. I mean, truly he was a much better cabinet minister in terms of loyalty than the Secretary of State Jefferson ever was. At any rate, I hope everyone will take a look at it. It's — I wish every president actually would write a farewell address.
DS: 05:16 Or not just a secret note in the drawer.
CSJ: 05:18 Well, the secret note on the door is a private thing, but I wish, you know, that Obama would have told us, Here's how I see things as I leave and I wish GW Bush had done the same and that Reagan had done this. This is, you know, I've been reading these books about the presidency, David. It is a horrible, horrible burden no matter who's doing it and you see them graying out and you see the pressure they have. They know things you and I will never know about the —
DS: 05:47 The rewards must be immense.
CSJ: 05:50 Yes, but I do believe that when you've gone through it for for eight years, you have things that the American people need to know.
DS: 05:57 I think that's a good —
CSJ: 05:58 I think an exit of — essay —
DS: 06:01 Maybe we'll get that in his book, in Obama's book —
CSJ: 06:05 Maybe but, you know, I've read Bill Clinton's memoir with great care and I came away pretty disappointed. Most presidents —
DS: 06:13 Worrying about legacy more than —
CSJ: 06:15 Protect, self protective, not that kind of — I remember reading Ted Kennedy's memoir and you know, talk about a problematic life — and he said there has not been one day when I have not been haunted by Chappaquiddick — not one in my whole life since. I thought, right on, you know, he had, he waited till the last minute to be sure, but that was a courageous thing for him to say and I wish they would all be more courageous.
DS: 06:43 We need to go to the show or we're going to turn this into a much, much longer than it is, but —
CSJ: 06:49 Cultural tours.
DS: 06:50 Yes. Next week we are going to answer listener questions. I'm going to have you here if that's all right, sir.
CSJ: 06:57 Not, not Jefferson?
DS: 06:59 No, you. And we have a stack of letters asking about the France trip, so we'll talk about that.
CSJ: 07:05 That's perfect because my essay for next week is about the France trip and then I want to do a show the week after that on France.
DS: 07:12 Oh great. So, um, but in the meantime, you're back safe from the Lewis and Clark tour. And the next one up is:
CSJ: 07:21 Two in January, 13 through 18,
DS: 07:24 Lochsa Lodge, Right?
CSJ: 07:24 19 through , Lochsa Lodge. The first one is on water in the West and the second one is on Shakespeare. You could go to the Jefferson Hour — people are calling and — people are calling about France. And then there's the Steinbeck trip. Ross the guy I dragged up the mountain.
DS: 07:40 He's — without him, those would not happen the way they do, right?
CSJ: 07:43 He's Steinbeck more than — Well, you got the first edition. I got nothing. Uh, but that's neither here nor there.
DS: 07:50 There is justice in the world.
CSJ: 07:52 But anyway, the people should go to the website. This is the time to sign up for these winter encampments because we're getting a lot of buzz and they are —
DS: 07:59 You going to take your Ukulele and play it?
CSJ: 08:00 When Kevin sends it, and you know you — Russ, same Russ — now, a little bitter. He said he loved it when you told me to get my own Ukulele, you rebuked me and then Kevin, God bless him, is making me a Ukulele and so thank you very much. And I will play it. Oh good. I will play it at Lochsa Lodge. I might be only sunny side of the street. That's the one song that I thought —
DS: 08:27 It's a little tough.
CSJ: 08:28 Grab your coat and get your hat.
DS: 08:30 Before we go, I just want to thank you, all of those of you who have decided to support the Thomas Jefferson Hour, you can do so by going to Jeffersonhour.com. Join the 1776 Club and hear all the extras that we try to —
CSJ: 08:47 And winter encampments too. And Steinbeck.
DS: 08:55 Yeah, they heard that already.
CSJ: 08:55 Well, I want people to sign up now.
DS: 08:55 Let's go to the show.
CSJ: 08:55 Thanks for listening.
DS: 08:57 Good day citizens. And welcome to the Thomas Jefferson Hour, your weekly conversation with President Thomas Jefferson. Mr Jefferson is portrayed by the award winning humanities scholar and author Clay Jenkinson. I'm your host, David Swenson and seated across from me now is President Thomas Jefferson. Good to see you sir.
CSJ as TJ: 09:18 Good day to you citizen.
DS: 09:19 And how are you on this fine, well, I should say pre fall, day sir, coming into harvest.
CSJ as TJ: 09:25 It is that time when the crops will begin to come in. We hope for good prices because we owe money from last year's crop and the British agents that we work with both in Richmond and back in London are often unscrupulous. They have attempted to enslave us by granting us very easy credit and say don't worry much about when you pay this back, we trust you, and drawing the Virginia planters deeper and deeper into indebtedness. It's a terrible pattern. We bear some responsibility for it of course. But at this time of the year, I always am hoping for bountiful crops and high prices.
DS: 10:03 Well I wish you that Mr Jefferson.
CSJ as TJ: 10:06 Thank you.
DS: 10:06 I talked about to fall coming and I'm looking at that season and it was 222 years ago, actually on September 19th, 1796, that George Washington's farewell address was printed in Philadelphia's American daily advertiser, and it was then reprinted as you know, sir, in newspapers all over the country. In that address, George Washington spoke about his core beliefs that he hoped would continue to guide our nation into the future. You must have recollections of this, sir.
CSJ as TJ: 10:40 Of course, we all wanted him to be the first president and we wanted him to serve in that capacity as long as it suited him. Washington did not want to be president. He felt that his best years were behind him and he worried that if he accepted the role as first president, that he would be seen as an ambitious man. He had after all, formally retired after the, the success of the war and gone back to his farm at Mount Vernon. And he felt that if he came back into the public space that it would show that he had hidden ambitions and that he had never really intended to be the American Cincinnatus, the man who would prefer his farm to all of the glories and power and wealth and reputation in the world. And so we had to convince him after the constitutional convention to take a take on his role as the first president of the United States and he very hesitatingly agreed to do so. Then when he was president, he made it clear that he would like to retire certainly after a single term, maybe even before that, once he felt the government was stable. But as his first term wound down, everybody — I was one, Madison was another, Alexander Hamilton, his closest friends, Henry Knox — everybody who knew Washington and wanted this republic to succeed, pressed him to agree to a second term. This really bothered Washington greatly. He was tired and he felt that he deserved some private time after all of his public duties that stretched back to the French and Indian war. And so it was with the most extraordinary reluctance that we prevailed upon him to serve a second term as president. And then he said firmly, no third term, I insist upon retiring. Well, of course he died in 1799, so he would have died in office, probably had he agreed to a third term and to make sure that there was no turning back, he wrote a farewell address. He had some help from trusted aides, but he wrote a farewell address, which is in a sense his testament, and also his cry of warning about what can go wrong, even in a well organized republic like our own.
DS: 13:19 Mr Jefferson. It would almost seem that this document is forgotten in my time, although I have heard recent references to it. My understanding is that, as you say, several hands helped him to write this, but that the original was written — the original draft — was written in 1792 by James Madison. Is that your recollection?
CSJ as TJ: 13:42 In 1792, Madison and Washington were very close and Madison was essentially Washington's go to individual for public pronouncements. Washington always felt that he was inadequately educated, that his command of English prose, was not what it ought to be, and he always leaned on those around him to help him formulate his ideas. He was a man of great judgment. He had almost perfect judgment, but he was a little slow in the formation of his ideas and he really wanted the assurance from, from those he trusted most that his ideas were the right ones, and also wanted their help in crafting the language, the rhetoric with which he would present those to the world. And so at one point Madison, as a member of the first congress of the United States, drafted a resolution that went to Washington and then Washington asked him to draft the reply, which Madison did. And then Madison wrote the congressional reply to the reply. So Madison was involved at every level in this. That's a very rare moment in American history and even though Madison was one of the greatest men who ever lived, it's probably not altogether appropriate that a member of the legislative branch have that closer connection to the executive. But at any rate, Washington had ideas about his retirement and his farewell, his admonishments to the American people. He turned to Madison whom he then trusted greatly and Madison drafted a version of it. Then Washington was talked into a second term, so it was set aside and when Washington then finally decided he was going to insist upon retirement, by now, his relations with Madison had deteriorated. Madison broke with the Washington administration on a range of policy questions. Washington still admired James Madison. Of course everyone admires James Madison, but he had less trust. And so when he, when he did the final version of his farewell address, he turned to someone he trusted more. And indeed a brilliant policy man, Colonel Hamilton, the secretary of the treasury in Hamilton. Then put the finishing touches on the final draft based upon the one that Washington and Madison had crafted four years previously.
DS: 16:26 But it's safe to say Mr Jefferson that the core ideas for this speech all came from Washington. Is it not?
CSJ as TJ: 16:32 Yes, of course, he had extraordinary judgement. He had played a role, indeed the most significant role in helping to shape the first administration. The constitution was a remarkable document, but it wasn't meant to be a complete formulation of how the government would work. It it works by broad outlines and broad classifications of which branch does, what sort of thing and how they check and balance each other and how elections are conducted in a general way. But what the specifics are often missing from the constitution. I can give you an example. There's no executive order listed in the constitution. There's no requirement of a cabinet around the president in the constitution. The rules of the Senate are not laid down in the constitution. It was I in fact, who wrote the rules of the Senate when I was serving as vice president of the United States. The filibuster is not in the constitution. One could go on and on. There are many things which are part of the habits of American constitutional history that are not actually enumerated or written down in the constitution that was ratified in 1788. And so the first several presidencies and the first several congresses had to think through how those general instructions of the constitution would be fulfilled in actual day to day business of the government and so Washington as the pioneer at this was very cautious because he did not want to set any precedence that might come back to haunt us as a people, but he also didn't quite know as no one could have known just what the president ought to do, and so he used his extraordinary good sense cautiously to lay down a set of early precedents that have continued more or less unchanged through the course of American history. And he also saw during his tenure twice as president, how the early ideals of our founding fathers miscarried. The founding fathers who met in Philadelphia did not intend there to be political parties. There were political parties certainly by the end of Washington's first term and absolutely in his second term, they were very shadowy compared to yours, but they had begun. He thought that there was more unity in the nation than there was. It turns out there were significant sectional issues between North and South and between the agrarian and the manufacturing interests, between those who favored Britain and those who favored France, between the west and the east, et cetera. And so he realized that, and I hate to say this because I am one of the idealists of American history, but he realized that there was going to be more routine politics and more routine human disputatiousness in our system than any of us could have predicted during the highly idealistic moments in the aftermath of the success of our revolution. We all, I think, were caught up in the idea that we were doing something unprecedented in the history of humankind, which in fact we were and that we were going to be dramatically better than all of those who had gone before us. And I think John Adams would say human nature does not stop at the shores of South Hampton or Paris. That human nature followed Europeans across the Atlantic Ocean. And no matter how beautiful the system you create, human nature will still out and that it cannot be discarded. It cannot be overcome, that we can, we can ameliorate the condition of mankind, we can soften the difficulties of human nature, but we can't altogether overcome them and Washington had to preside over what I think you could say was a period of, I say this carefully, but a period of disillusionment in which we realized that we were not going to be a utopia. We were going to be better than anything that had ever come before, but there were going to be problems and there was going to be politics and we were not going to let reason be only oracle, and I think that when he discovered that it was very upsetting to him and in his farewell address, he wanted to warn us about some of the dangerous tendencies that he had seen in reading history and dangerous tendencies that he had even seen in observing the young America.
DS: 21:13 Thank you very much Mr Jefferson. We need to take a short break. We'll be back in just a moment. You're listening to the Thomas Jefferson Hour.
DS: 21:26 Welcome back to the Thomas Jefferson Hour, your weekly conversation with President Thomas Jefferson, and this week we're discussing George Washington's farewell address with Mr Jefferson. Now President Jefferson, in my time people take the peaceful transition of power pretty much for granted. That was not the way it was during your time. You've taught me that and my understanding is, the thought of the United States without George Washington as its president caused concern among many Americans.
CSJ as TJ: 21:59 Well, we certainly felt that then. I wonder if historians looking back would say that Washington was as central and indispensable as we believe, but there's no question that we regarded as the one unanimous American, the most important exemplar of our national purposes. Part of this was gratitude for all that he had done in the course of his military career, including waging a successful war against the most powerful nation on Earth, but secondly, he was above politics. He was a stiff man, somewhat of an aloof man, perfect in his integrity and virtue, no pettiness in his character and never self aggrandizing, that no one could ever point the conflict of interest in the life and work of George Washington and so he was as close to a perfect human being as we believed existed on Earth. In fact, George III, when he heard that Washington had resigned his commission and return to his farm after the war said, if this is true, he's the greatest man who ever lived, because normally a revolutions end in dictatorships of the Napoleonic sort. So we all trusted him and we felt that if a person of his character and bearing served as the first president, that all factions, all sections, all regions and parts of the American system would come together behind him. That he would — He was not only a symbol of our national purposes, but he would have a serious unifying effect and the things that might have spilled into political disputatiousness without him, would actually be much more harmonious under his highly respected leadership. So we counted on him and we all worried, of course, about what will happen next — even if he had served until his death, that would have been in 1799, so fewer than three terms, we knew there had to be a post-Washington time in American life and although there were extraordinary men, to take their role as president, Adams being one of them, but there were many others, Madison and Monroe, and you could go on a long list. There was one and only one George Washington, and nobody else — I mean, nobody — enjoyed the reputation that Washington did going in. What we discovered and what he discovered to his horror, is that his reputation going out was not as high as it had been coming in, that he had been pulled, whether he liked it or not, into politics. I felt that he had unnecessarily allowed himself to be drawn into political faction and that he had allowed Colonel Hamilton in particular to distort his character somewhat and distort his purity of purpose. But whatever it is, the case, by the time he left, there was a certain George Washington fatigue and he had ceased to be a kind of saint and had become something a little bit closer to an actual human being. I think this hurt him and I think that his farewell address is in part a cry of the heart in response to what he took to be the disillusionment of actually presiding over a country that wasn't quite as virtuous and idealistic as we all might have hoped.
DS: 25:36 I'd like to take a look at his actual words, Mr Jefferson, before we do that, I mean it's well known that you and Mr Washington had your disagreements about political matters. Would you like to address that or shall we go to Washington's words?
CSJ as TJ: 25:53 I'll only say this much. I believe that he will be remembered as long as liberty has advocates in the world. He was the greatest horseman of his age. His judgment, as I have said at least twice already was perfect, slow to come to a decision, but perfect. He had a volcanic temper, but he had worked hard all of his life to overcome it and almost always did. He was a person who commanded a room — when he walked into a room, there was a hush and people turned and he was like the sun and everything else was a minor satellite of Washington. And so — in addition to which we felt just almost unbelievable gratitude for what he — sacrifices he had made to make us a free and independent people. So having said all of that, which is my central view of George Washington, let me say that in his second term, I think largely at the hands of Colonel Hamilton, he had allowed himself to be manipulated a little, I believe, and became more of a partisan figure than I think he would have wanted. I also think, and I say this with even greater caution, that his age had begun to catch up a little bit with him. His health was not as vigorous. And frankly, his mind had lost some of its elasticity and he was, he was not as sharp and not as independent of thought in 1795 as he had been in 1785. While I suppose none of us is as we have advanced in age, but I felt that he, not that he betrayed the revolution, certainly not, but I felt that he knew people who wanted to betray the revolution and he had too much trust in them and he particularly had too much trust in Colonel Hamilton who was a monarchist. There's no question about that. And I think that if there had been no Hamilton, if Madison had continued to be the principal advisor to George Washington, he would have maintained a greater reputation in his second term than he was able to do given Hamilton's Machiavellian instincts.
DS: 28:17 When one reads president Washington's speech, it's 32 pages, hand written — in part, it's a series of warnings to the American people. In fact, he begins by stressing the importance of unity. He writes, the unity of government, which constitutes you, one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prized.
CSJ as TJ: 28:54 Right. So you can hear Hamilton's voice a little bit there. It's certainly the 18th century, not the 21st century.
DS: 29:00 But wouldn't you agree, sir, that the unity of government is central to Americans?
CSJ as TJ: 29:05 Yes. And here's the problem. What he's saying essentially is, there needs to be good faith on all sides. We need to try to act as one. We need to work hard at consensus and when there is not consensus that doesn't license us to do backbiting and undermining and Machiavellian maneuvering and to go into political faction and to distort other people's points of view and to read them in the worst possible way. Whatever actions they might undertake. And I think that that's true of course, but there's another way of looking at it, unfortunately. And that is that when someone has power, he tends to think that he is the sum total of virtue and that any criticism, any opposition is a betrayal or an undermining of our national purpose rather than maybe an honest disagreement about policy and Washington felt this. He was bewildered and angered by dissent. I felt this. I know that in a sense the federalists never gave me a chance to prove to them what I would do as president. I think my Republicans, I'm sorry to say, never gave John Adams a chance to prove what he would be as president. I think Washington is saying that an administration is not a random collection of citizens. It's people that have been chosen through a distilling process that looks for character and looks for leadership and when they reached these positions, they're entitled to a fairly broad grant of trust. And if we always distrust whatever they try to do and are impatient when they're trying to buy for time or to move things slowly through the worlds or the domestic arena, than it makes it almost impossible to govern, that if there's no grant of goodwill and trust, that it makes it very difficult for any leader to make rational, reasonable decisions instead of ones that are responsive and reactive to whatever restlessness and impatience there is and the opposition or in the public. And I know I felt that in the case of my presidency and I'm certain that John Adams felt that in the case of his. So I understand this. On the other hand, I think there are things that the Washington administration did that were just plain wrong. I know there were things that the Adams administration did that were wrong. And I suppose my enemies would say the same is true of mine and that we need others, either others as a loose coalition of patriots or others with a capital O, a party to serve as a watchdog or to check — to be vigilant against what it takes to be wrongheaded decisions by the executives. So finding that balance between honest vigilance, skepticism on the one hand and then enough trust that enables an administration to actually try to accomplish what it set out to accomplish in the world after it was duly elected by the people. I think that is the whole art of government and I think that Washington was frustrated and I think he saw the beginnings of what would become partisan wrangling and he was trying to nip that in the bud in this statement.
DS: 32:35 A large part of his address, Mr Jefferson is devoted to his concerns about the danger of permanent alliances with foreign nations or as you've called them, Mr Jefferson, foreign entanglements.
CSJ as TJ: 32:48 Yes. The phrase avoid international and foreign entanglements is actually mine. It comes from my own inaugural addresses and a letter that I wrote to Elbridge Gerry.
DS: 33:00 Yes, Mr Washington called for quote, steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world. He was pretty strict about that.
CSJ as TJ: 33:10 I agree with that. I could not agree more with that. You know, it sounds selfish, but I believe that any president's duty is to promote America's interests and America's interests are different. We're — I believe in American exceptionalism. I'm in a sense of the author of the idea of American exceptionalism. We're not the same as Britain, we're not the same as France. We're not the same as Portugal or Finland or Iceland or Norway, that we're uniquely enlightened because of the circumstances of our national birth, the high educational status of the people who created this country in the near perfection of our constitution and frankly the long distance we have between us and the havoc of the old world. And so I believe that we should always look after ourselves first. That doesn't make us indifferent to what's going on in the world, but it should make us skeptical of what's going on in the world.
DS: 34:13 No. In fact, Mr Washington writes, observe good faith and justice towards all nations, cultivate peace and harmony with all religion and morality, enjoying this conduct.
CSJ as TJ: 34:25 And so what are you going to do when you have a treaty of Amity and Commerce with France that was created in 1778 and helped us to win our independence from Britain. It's essentially a perpetual treaty of friendship and then suddenly the French revolution comes along and the very people that we made the treaty with are gone. In fact, the king has been beheaded. There's a revolutionary guard that's now in power. Their purposes are very different from those of the monarchy and the old constitutional settlement under Louis the 16th. Now, what? Is that treaty still useful? Is — maybe it's counter productive now, maybe we suddenly find ourselves in a close proximity with a rogue nation or a nation that is a menace to Europe as Napoleon's France certainly was. The same is true of Britain. So we have the peace treaty of 1783. Neither side lived up to every provision of it, but it was still an important treaty, but we were very saddened to learn that while winning the principle of independence we had not really made ourselves completely independent of Britain. We were still utterly dependent upon Britain, economically dependent upon their navy and the world's waters and that we weren't a free actor, and we weren't a free actor with respect to France. We weren't a free actor with respect to England. And so I think both Washington and I felt the fewer of these alliances that you enter into the better because these other countries could drag you into wars that you don't want to be involved in. They can compromise you in the world's arena. They can insist upon trading arrangements that in the end are not useful to your farmers or your merchants or your shipping industry. And so if we can get by with no alliances or certainly no permanent alliances in the world, we should try to do so. And every time you connect yourself to another country, you are connecting yourself to an entity whose behavior you can't fully control, and sometimes their behavior will really erode the highest principles of American life.
DS: 36:42 As you mentioned earlier, Mr Jefferson, Mr Washington worried about political factions and geographic distinctions. It was as if he was warning us that they may destroy the unity of the nation, which he felt was paramount.
CSJ as TJ: 36:58 And did, and after my time, the civil war which came a generation after my death in 1826, showed how fundamental the divisions were. And so this is something that's not often thought about when you look back on the founding generation, but we barely cobbled this system together. New England is not Alabama and the slave-ocracy of the south was appalling and morally repugnant to the people of Vermont. And to a certain degree, Pennsylvania and New York. The agrarian interests of the south were not well taken care of by the mercantile interests of the north. The West was an entirely different entity that wanted to stay connected to the union if possible, but the West regard to keeping the Mississippi River opened as the sine qua non without which there is none of national union and so these different regions, different states, different economic entities, different approaches to social life, different institutions like Calvinism in New England, and kind of a cavalier Anglicanism in Virginia or for that matter, the baptists and the Anabaptists of the West. These actually turned out to be quite distinct Americas and we had hoped that they would all hang together, as Benjamin Franklin famously said, but early on we discovered how fundamentally different their approaches to life were. The constitution barely survived the regional differences between north and south and big states and little states and east and west. And those tensions continued to percolate. And I think Washington saw this and he thought, You could pull this solar system apart quite easily. It's going to take an enormous amount of discipline and commitment to the common wheel to hold this solar system of American confederacy together. And that we have to work at it. It's not something that will happen just because we wish it would happen. It will only happen if we all discipline ourselves and realize that there are common interests and common sacrifices that must be made to hold the United States together as as one nation.
DS: 39:27 Mr Washington ends his address by showing his humility and he actually asks forgiveness.
CSJ as TJ: 39:33 He's the last man who should have asked for forgiveness. You know, when I think of the greatest Americans I think of two. I think of Benjamin Franklin and the other one is George Washington, and if you take George Washington out of the equation, it is not clear to me that we win the revolutionary war in a timely fashion, it's not clear to me that we avoid becoming a military dictatorship. And so I think we have to say that George Washington is the indispensable man and we are very fortunate to have had him and we should listen to his words with the most extraordinary discernment and respect because he didn't use them lightly.
DS: 40:12 Thank you very much, Mr Jefferson.
CSJ as TJ: 40:14 You are welcome, sir.
DS: 40:15 We need to take a short break, but we'll be back in just a moment. You're listening to the Thomas Jefferson Hour.
DS: 40:27 Welcome back to the Thomas Jefferson Hour, your weekly conversation with President Thomas Jefferson, and now our weekly conversation with the gentleman who portrays Mr Jefferson when he's here, Mr Clay Jenkinson.
CSJ: 40:41 Washington's farewell address, one of the most important documents in American history, now almost entirely ignored. Some of it is outdated and the language certainly is hard for us to get our brains around in the 21st century. But here was this man who had done everything for this country. I mean, I can't emphasize how often he had just said, 'can I just go home? Can I just go to my farm? Can I just be quiet? Can I just have quiet little dinner parties and raise cattle and raise wheat and maybe help build a canal into the American west? But I've done my job. I gave you what you asked for. I'm really tired and I pride myself on being a person who doesn't stay too long in the arena and I don't ever want to be considered as someone who had a lot of ambition and you're making me seem like one by drafting me over and over and over again.' So finally in 1796, he said that's it, and he sat down and did one last great thing for this country. He wrote out his recipe for success and also his warning about things that could go wrong in this country and it's a brilliant document. I urge every — we'll post it — but I urge everyone who's listening to have a go at it.
DS: 42:01 What drew me to this this week is that it has come up, people have referenced it lately, and it is somewhat of a forgotten document.
CSJ: 42:11 It is. And the references lately have been largely about overly severe partisanship. And of course we know we're there. When Obama was president, you know, Mitch McConnell says, my job is to, is to make him a one term president and now that Trump is president, the Democrats are doing essentially the same thing. You can say what you want about the levels of virtue in each one and so on, but the fact is that Washington was saying, don't let that happen. Don't let — you know. We used to say foreign policy is such that we check our politics at the shore — that's largely gone now, and there used to be a broad level of general consensus about government and about what Congress should do — that's gone. And you asked the question, and I've been hearing it from everyone that I know is how do you come back from this? How do you — okay. We know we're here. How do we step back? How do we return to something more in keeping with what the founding fathers and George Washington had in mind?
DS: 43:10 Well, it's happened in American history, it has usually taken a world war to do it, but it's happened.
CSJ: 43:16 So something that unifies the nation in a big way, a depression, a world war, 9/11. I don't know what it all means, David. I mean, there are people that bring different lenses to this. So I know people would say, well, it's all about money. The super rich have bought power. They own Congress, they —
DS: 43:35 It's too complex for a simple —
CSJ: 43:37 Some people would say that, others would say that the fringes of the parties — the far left for the Democrats and the Alt Right for the Republicans — are loud, well organized, well funded and they distort the fact that most Americans are actually in the center somewhere. Some people say that, you know, social media and 24/7 365 cable, and now cable that makes no attempt to be objective but just says we're the mouthpiece of this group and we're the mouthpiece of that group.
DS: 44:13 Now that's a bit of an overgeneralization, but I take your point.
CSJ: 44:16 That destabilizes the system. Some people say that the indifference of the American people, I mean basically I've said this many times, the American people's basic view is, keep the stuff coming and tax me as little as possible and leave me out of it if you can, and assure that this is a democracy from time to time.
DS: 44:32 You have your cynic button on today, I believe.
CSJ: 44:35 Well, I mean I'm not meaning to be cynical, I'm trying to offer different lenses on why this is so, but the question is how do you pull back and nobody can want a cataclysm, nobody can want a famine or an assault much greater than 9/11 or a world war or a massive drought and depression.
DS: 44:52 Don't you sometimes think that there's a fragility to American society and government that people don't see or do you think that we're real solid and we can endure all these things without the hard work that they deserve?
CSJ: 45:07 Well, I think unlike some, I believe that the great mass of civil servants in this country — state, local, and national — are good people trying to do the right thing, and they go show up for work every day. There are processes by which they do their job of regulating the culture. On the whole, I think they're very good people, so I think there is what sometimes is called a deep state. There is a permanent government of the assistant deputy of the EPA and the junior assistant deputy of the Justice Department and these careerists who are often extremely talented people keep the country moving forward and someone comes along like Donald Trump, or Obama for that matter and says, I'm going to change everything. It's a new era, and the country kind of perks up at that. But the fact is that there is this kind of gulf stream or this titanic out there that is the deep state.
DS: 46:12 Well, I think that's really normal. It's just how long does the honeymoon last? Right.
CSJ as TJ: 46:16 But I think that's good that we have this deep state — that we have — I think that, you know —
DS: 46:22 That's kind of a dangerous term to use.
CSJ: 46:23 I'm using their term. It's not a term I like, but the — let's see, let's say the permanent government of — I mean people in the NSA, people in the CIA, people in the FBI, people in the Department of Agriculture, people in the Department of Interior, good people —
DS: 46:40 As you say, a lot of smart folks, right.
CSJ: 46:40 And they believe in this country and they want to do the right thing. They're often frustrated by their own departments in their own hierarchies, but I have a lot of faith in them. I don't share the view that they're all just at the public trough.
DS: 46:56 Yeah. I'm completely in agreement. I, you know, the institutions of government that are so easy to criticize are the ones that have made us survive.
CSJ: 47:05 Right — and so this — call it what you like — the permanent government, the deep state, the establishment, whatever term you choose — it's not going to change overnight. So the country likes it's — we like this country. We like having stores that are absolutely full of stuff. We like having plenty of gas in the gas stations. We like having a very substantial amount of and freedom.
DS: 47:29 Okay, can we just say we're spoiled and move on,
CSJ: 47:32 But we liked it.
DS: 47:33 'Cause we are.
CSJ: 47:33 We like this.
DS: 47:34 Yeah.
CSJ: 47:34 I mean most Americans —
DS: 47:35 How could you not?
CSJ: 47:36 Most Americans actually really like our system. Now there's fear because things are changing, the demographics are changing. The technology of how things get produced is changing dramatically, almost in a revolutionary fashion. So the nature of work is changing. The nature of public education is changing, our demographics are changing, our place in the world is changing. We've come down a little in the world, whatever we say, we're no longer quite the hegemon that we were 25 years ago. Donald Trump seems to be hastening that, but things are changing and when there's change, there's fear and then we lash out. Who's responsible? Who, why is this happening? And I think that what we're going through now, David, I would say is the product of two things particularly. I know this is over simplification, but one is the ongoing post-traumatic stress syndrome of 9/11 and the other one is a radically changing world economic and demographic situation, which is really troubling to — in a low level kind of intuitive way — to literally tens of millions of people. And so we're saying, save us. So Obama comes along and says, I represent hope and change in the future in a post racial America. A lot of us were taken in by that, you weren't. Then Trump comes along and says, no, I know how to fix this country, we'll go back to 1952 and we will not succumb to any political correctness, we'll be white Anglo Saxon America. And if people don't like it, they can lump it. And a lot of people perk up at that. Nobody can bring this about David. This is, these are changes that are way, way deeper than politics.
DS: 49:12 I want to go back to Washington's address.
CSJ: 49:14 Okay.
DS: 49:15 And in passing I would say it was very interesting to listen to Mr Jefferson talk about it and it became quite obvious to me that Mr Jefferson may speak highly about Washington, but he left Washington's administration with, how should we say, a chip on his shoulder.
CSJ: 49:32 Both directions.
DS: 49:33 Yes.
CSJ: 49:33 Both men.
DS: 49:35 But you know, what can we learn from Washington? Well, if you go to the end of his address, he apologizes. He says, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of an intentional error. He goes on to say, you know, I know I made mistakes and I'm sorry. I'm not perfect. Boy, that's a pretty good lesson. Isn't it?
CSJ: 49:58 And that's Jefferson's view of his administration too. It's a great lesson in humility.
DS: 50:02 Yeah. Could we have a little of that perhaps in 2018, 2020. Probably not, right?
CSJ: 50:07 I guess my view, David, is that if you were the governor of let's say Texas, and every time you did anything, there was an outcry and maybe outcries in every direction and that became your life, that there's almost nothing that you can do that will not be misjudged, distorted, and you personally attacked. That's wearying. And I think Washington is basically saying, folks, you elect these people, you have to give them a chance to govern. You have to give them a grant of trust. You're not always going to agree with them, but if you're just going to be that way, outcry all the time. It's impossible to govern this country.
DS: 50:53 It sounds like dinners at the White House, a la Jefferson are not going to happen anymore.
CSJ: 50:58 But they should though.
DS: 50:59 We have to close this conversation because it's time for your essay this week and we will post this, Washington's farewell address. You can find it at Jeffersonhour.com. You can support the show there. You can ask President Jefferson a question and we love to hear from you.
CSJ: 51:17 And we need people to start considering coming to the winter encampments at Lochsa lodge west to Missoula. They're all on the website, Jeffersonhour.com. We'll post the farewell address also on Jeffersonhour.com.
DS: 51:29 But right now sir, it is time for this week's Jefferson Watch.
CSJ: 51:34 Thank you David.