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Should George Washington's farewell speech be a guiding principle for modern governance?


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You should probably read the speech if you want to do this debate, here is a summary of the speech/address:

Round 1

Point 1 :The dangers of factionalism :In his speech, he warned about the rise of political parties and the potential for division among citizens. If you take a look at how our government is doing and the extreme actions of the party's. Such as the Stop Cop City riot. People need to turn away from their own problems and start looking at the country as a whole. As everyone is arguing about division, we are getting more divided.

Point 2 , National Defense and Foreign Relations: Washington stressed the importance of maintaining a strong national defense and avoiding entangling alliances. This is very important in the modern world, where we see complex global challenges and the potential for military involvement in foreign conflicts (such as Russia-Ukraine conflict). Having a cautious approach to foreign relations ensures that our nation's resources are primarily directed towards safeguarding our citizens, borders, and national interests. If we get tangled up in foreign relations it could lead to world war because of our ties with NATO.

Point 3, Preserving the Constitution: Washington's call to respect and uphold the Constitution serves as a constant reminder to prioritize the rights of citizens over expanding government powers (as I'm sure you know what the British did to the colonists before the war). The Constitution is timeless, and as such should be upheld in the highest position. 

Point 4, avoiding excessive debt:  This point in Washingtons speech has already been going way too far. If you stack up 1 dollar bills to the amount of our debt, it will go to the moon and back 8 times, which is equivalent to 2.1 Million miles.(Or 31 trillion dollars.). Modern governance should prioritize avoiding accumulating unsustainable debt and get responsible budgeting to secure the economic well-being of the nation.

conclusion: George Washington's Farewell Address should be a guiding principle in modern governance. Emphasizing unity, caution in foreign affairs, adherence to the Constitution, debt control, and protecting democratic institutions will lead to a more stable and prosperous nation, showing the timeless wisdom of America's first president.

The Resolution::  Should George Washington's farewell speech be a guiding principle for modern governance?

Answer:  No.

I will not be addressing my counterparts opening argument until the next round.


The concept of modern governance refers to the systems, structures, and processes by which societies are governed in the contemporary era. It encompasses the principles, practices, and institutions that regulate and manage public affairs.  Adding to that it deals with the interactions between the government, its citizens and residents.. For the purposes of this debate, I will assume that modern governance systems are based on democratic principles, where power is derived from the people through free and fair elections, with full public participation.   We also include the concepts of the rule of law, the separation of powers, and accountability to the concepts of modern governance.

While the above sounds inclusive, it is not from a modern perspective there are a few key elements that need to be taken into consideration.  In particular we have global challenges, international economies, technology integrations, evolving social values,  pandemics,  terrorism, and constitutional/legal adaptations.

When we look at what George Washington said, as it relates to the above, you will see a significant gap, so much so that the farewell address is littered with examples of an insular international view, a centralized government approach that did not respect local or state governments, a push against international economics/trade, and a focus on tradition over growth.

The word principal is defined as   MOST IMPORTANT, CONSEQUENTIAL, or INFLUENTIAL.

The Speech

The farewell speech was given in 1796, and the political and social landscape at that time was vastly different from the complexities of the modern world. As implied above, the challenges, issues, and global context have changed significantly since then. While some principles may still hold partial relevance, blindly adhering to an 18th-century speech without considering contemporary realities is not only problematic, it is inconsistent with the phrase “modern governance”


At a high level the speech was very focused on domestic affairs, and concerns related to the United States'  young years as a nation. Now during Washington's era, there was extensive  limits on suffrage and lack of representation for certain groups, such as women, non-white citizens, and the poor. We can all agree that modern governance must consider principles of inclusivity, equality, and civil rights, none of which were talked about in the speech.  In fact he says something that flies in the face of modern governance theories,

"In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions."

That quote there shows a complete resistance to changing and adapting.  Civil rights (as GW was a slave owner), woman rights, bodily autonomy, LGBTQ+, etc. would all suffer or be stifled in the modern era if we use GW farewells speech as a guiding principle to modern governance.

International Isolation

There are two parts of the speech that show a clear disregard for the modern elements of international co-operation and trade.  GW did not want foreign entanglement.  His speech states:

"Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all."  


 "Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world."

This quote emphasizes non-entanglement and avoiding permanent alliances. In today's interconnected world, international cooperation and alliances are seen as essential for addressing global challenges effectively, such as climate change, terrorism, and pandemics.  This includes the UN, NATO, NAFTA,  International standards for measurements, and trade.  Technical standards, such as the IEEE, and the principals of international law.  GW did not want any part of that.

From an economic perspective, GW states

"The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible."

In the modern era, political and economic connections are the cornerstone to US hegemony, the US dollar, energy supplies, access to minerals, foods, goods and services. These are essential aspect to the principal of modern governance, and cannot be ignored.  Yet GW clearly states he wants nothing to do with it.

Republic vs Confederation of States

GW states:

"The unity of government... is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence."

Washington emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong central government for the nation's unity. However, we know, even from SCOTUS decisions that there is an immense importance in individual State governments, as well as First Nations autonomies, and the importance of regional and local governments.  GW plays a very aggressive, central first approach, which is not consistent with modern governance.

Obligation to Obey

GW Says:

"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."

That principal flies in the face of public discourse, or protest where civil disobedience is seen as an essential element to communicate the electorates concerns over government policies.   GW was of the belief the the government had a mandate and could do what they wanted, within the walls of the constitution, despite civil concerns. In a modern world, there is not a duty to obey the government.  There is a duty to operate in accordance with the laws, until such time that those laws need to be broken to achieve a higher objective.    It is the principal of a union strike.    With no fundamental willingness for redress, you have no voice, and no voice, means no democracy.  


GW’s speech was made to support tradition, isolationism,  and   over central governments.  His speech con tracts many modern governance principals, specifically on addressing the needs of marginalized groups, international economics, trade, and cooperation.  Regardless of if there are a few contextual elements that may have validity, as an overall speech, it should not be guiding principal.  As we see from the definition of principal, while there may be valid elements, it is not the most important narrative for modern governance. 

Those gaps make the speech, while interesting in context for the era, not applicable as a guiding principal to modern governance.   The resolution is therefore flawed, and not supportable.  


Round 2

While it is true that George Washington's Farewell Address was in a different political and social landscape, and some parts of his speech may not directly align with the modern world, it is important to understand the principles he advocated for and their lasting relevance to modern governance.

Point 1:Timeless Principles: George Washington's Farewell Address contains foundational principles that transcend time. His emphasis on unity, caution in foreign affairs, adherence to the Constitution, and fiscal responsibility touches with values that prioritize stability, individual freedoms, and limited government intervention. While the specific challenges and issues have evolved, the core principles of good governance remain constant.

Point 2 Limited Government: The idea of a strong central government expressed in the Farewell Address should be used in the context of the time when the United States was a young nation. For us, a strong central government means one that is efficient and effective in fulfilling its core responsibilities, while leaving individual rights and decisions to the states and citizens.

Point 3 Sovereignty and Non-Entanglement: While the modern world demands international cooperation, we need to believe in safeguarding the sovereignty of the nation and be cautious about permanent entanglements. This doesn't mean isolationism but rather prioritizing national interests while engaging in strategic international partnerships.

Point 4 Adaptation through the Constitution: George Washington's emphasis on time and habit in fixing the character of governments aligns with the view that constitutional changes should be deliberate and thoughtful, not hastily driven by the changing tides of public opinion. The Constitution, as a living document, can be adapted through the amendment process to address modern challenges while preserving its core principles.

point 5 Individual Responsibility and the Rule of Law: George Washington's call for individuals to obey the established government is consistent with the belief in the rule of law. While civil disobedience may be necessary in extreme circumstances, we need to emphasize that the rule of law should be upheld, and legitimate concerns can be addressed through established democratic processes.

Point 6, Inclusivity: While George Washington's era had limitations on representation, the principles of liberty and equality embedded in the Constitution allowed for progress over time. We should acknowledge the importance of inclusivity in modern governance, promoting equal opportunities and protecting civil rights, all while sticking to the constitutional framework.

In conclusion, George Washington's Farewell Address may not fully align with the complexities of the modern world, but its principles are still relevant and valuable for guiding modern governance. The speech's emphasis on unity, limited government, sovereignty, and the Constitution can provide a foundation for addressing contemporary challenges while preserving the enduring values that have made the United States a beacon of liberty and democracy.


Answer to Point 1: Pro states that George Washington foretold the problems with a focus on parties, rather than issues.  George Washington is not the first to say this, nor the last.  Every politician has "working together" and "focus on the issues" as a cornerstone to their stump speech.  George Washington stating this  adds no unique value to his farewell speech.  You can see this represented by this article.

Answer to Point 2: Pro's comments about unentangled foreign relations, is already contested in my opening.  If the George Washington farewell position would be taken, the US would not be a member of International Organizations.  Here is a list of a few and the consequences to the US if not a member. to the international community.

  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO) -  and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)  The US not being a member would render manufacturing in the US unmarketable internationally.
  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU) - The US would not be accessible via phone, or be able to phone internationally.
  • World Trade Organization (WTO) - You need an international currency, or access to one in order to trade internationally. An isolated approach would render international trade null for the US.
  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - The US would be an international target, because if they are not a member of the international community, the safety concerns for other nations would be high.  See North Korea and Iran, and they are members of the international community.
  • International Maritime Organization (IMO)  and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) would render US marine and airspace unaccessible fo other countries, and US boats and planes domestic only.
Question to Pro:  Please tell us how the US would be better off following George Washingtons words as it relates to international alliances?

Answer to Point 3:  Pro says 
The Constitution is timeless, and as such should be upheld in the highest position. 
 This is absurd.  The Constitution has amendment mechanisms .  Article V as an example.   In addition the Supreme Court determined in Marbury v. Madison it had the authority and established its power to interpret the Constitution and declare acts of Congress or the executive branch unconstitutional. 

Answer to Point 4:  Pro brings up debt as an issues, and I understand the point.  While I think that the debt is excessive, modern economics have changed how currencies are valued, and how debt is accrued and traded.  The views of GW on debt are taken in totality to his other views.  And while I agree that the debt level is not ideal, because I agree with that point, does not mean I agree with his other points.  

Response to Pros Retort:

Pro States:

..some parts of his speech may not directly align with the modern world, it is important to understand the principles he advocated for and their lasting relevance to modern governance.
That sentence makes no sense.  It says that some parts do NOT align to the modern world, and then states  "their lasting relevance to modern governance"

Pro conceded parts of the speech do not align with the modern world

Pro  argues that GW speech is timeless to good governance.   However Pro ignores the concept of MODERN.  That is the essence of this debate.  Pro appears to paste a ChatGPT style response that has no quotes to the original address, and glosses over the concepts.  

Pro does not challenge the definition of the resolution I set.
Pro concedes that parts of the speech do not align with the modern world
Pro has not responded to any of the quotes I listed, or evidence that the speech is NOT a good principle for modern governance.

I extend all other arguments.

The sources embedded as links above.
Round 3
Round 4
Round 5