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26 Jun 2014 - 05:38:06 pm


I'd never been to an auction in my life, let alone participated in one,
until I took the plunge at the village of Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare. And in a short time I became the proud owner of George Washington's resignation speech.

The Times of Londondated Wednesday, November 9th1796, was mine with one flick of my numbered card. For the sum of four and a half pence, the reader was bombarded on the front page with advertisements for hair tonics, cures for nervous ailments, 'health and longevity' pills, notice of the 'English and Irish State Lotteries' (with a top prize of £10,000, a fortune then and enough in today's money to bail out a bank) notice of new fashions in ladies' hats, 'The Minerva Hat' being much trumpeted; Finchett's Kitchen Furniture lamps, antiscorbutic drops and 'MR EDWARD'S GLOBULAR HERBAL NIPPLE CASES' (sic.) Lest I think times have changed much, there was 'AN ASYLUM OF GENIUS (where complete Justice will be done to Literary Works and Money occasionally advanced to the Authors themselves to advertise them') just opened in Fleet-Street. The back page was given over to property auctions, and the sale of goods such as ginger, cloves, pepper from Antigua, Montserrat and St Kitts. Unfortunate persons found
themselves on a bankruptcy list on page two; page three was adorned with news of vessels captured and recaptured at sea. Then came the Big Story:

We are forry to announce the RESIGNATION OF GEORGE WASHINGTON, Efq. Of his fituation of PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. This event was made known yefterday by the arrival of the Belvidere,from New York, letters from thence of the 27thof September. Notwithstanding the intention of General WASHINGTON had been long announced, it was expected that the folicitations of his friends would have prevailed upon him to continue in office, for the peace of America. He has however declained all further public bufinefs, and, in refigning his ftation, has concluded a life of honour and glory. His Addrefs
in resigning his office, is a very mafterly performance; and we fhall give it at length. It is expected that Mr Adams will be chofen his fucceffor.”

There follows Washington's address but, as with all good newspapers, an entire section is to be 'Concluded Tomorrow.' Washington laments that he had been already in retirement 'from which I had been reluctantly withdrawn' and speaks fervently of his wishes for the new country of America – the 'revolutionary war' had ended only thirteen years previously – and how resonant today are his warnings that though freedoms had been fought for and won, nothing could be taken for
granted as a result. “Liberty,” Washington maintains, “is indeed little else than a name, where the Government is too feeble to the enterprizes of factions . . . .” 

The main thrust of his address is to the citizenry to maintain unity in the new-born country, and he warns that factionalism, of the absolute rule of one party over another, can lead to despotism, where “the minds of men . . . . seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.” Sooner or later, he warns, “. . . . the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns his disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”

In amongst notices of patent cure-alls and even offers to mug aspiring writers, Washington's remarks stand out starkly in their contemporary force. Money, one might argue, makes US presidents now, not mere patriotism. Were he still among us, Washington, described by an English prime minister of the day as 'the purest man in history,' might well concede that the America to which he aspired, and urged his fellow citizens to aspire, has not come to pass. What would he make of the impositions of The Patriot Act, a dogma that perverts Washington's notions of true patriotic duty into a national paranoia?Tucked away in the yellowing pages of a newspaper made flimsy and fragile with the passage of almost two and a half centuries was one of the most memorable and evocative resignation speeches ever penned. Three years after The Times reported Washington's address he was dead, most likely of a chill, having spent time in freezing hail and rain inspecting his farm land. Presidential duties and squabbling had, perhaps, worn him out. Certainly, he longed with a passion to be retired of it all. Bought at auction; the dreams of a modest farmer-president who died of a cold and whose last words upon his death-bed were “Tis well!” 

- George Washington headed back to the farm, a worried man.

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