A History of the Presidential Farewell Address

A History of the Presidential Farewell Address

Undoubtedly the most famous of all presidential farewells was also the first: George Washington’s address to the American people announcing his intention to step down from the presidency after two terms in office. The 32-page address, originally published in the American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796, opened by explaining his rationale for leaving the presidency, despite pressure from the public and others in government to seek a third term in office. Washington went on to express some principles he believed should guide the growing nation in the future, including unity, patriotism and neutrality.

James Madison had drafted an earlier version of the address four years earlier, when Washington considered stepping down after his first term. It was Alexander Hamilton who wrote the majority of the final version, however, Washington adjusted it making sure to express his own ideas. He warned against the influence of foreign powers, cautioning the United States “to steer clear of permanent Alliances” that might not serve its interests. In effect, this strict neutrality stance amounted to an anti-French position, as it contradicted an earlier treaty of mutual support between the United States and France. Washington also memorably warned of the dangers of sectionalism and factionalism, the divisions based on party politics that even then were growing more and more bitter within the new nation’s government and among its people. His fears of increasing partisan divisions would come to pass (and then some) in the centuries to come, ensuring that his parting words to the nation continue to resonate today.

READ MORE: The Founding Fathers Feared Political Factions Would Tear the Nation Apart

Washington’s shadow loomed so large that no succeeding chief executive dared to follow his example and deliver a formal farewell address to the nation—until Andrew Jackson. At some 8,247 words, Jackson’s message stands as the longest presidential farewell in history. Despite the fact that “our country has improved and is flourishing beyond any former example in the history of nations,” Jackson warned of the growing dangers of sectionalism and of a shadowy “money power,” represented by banks and corporations, that threatened the liberties of ordinary citizens.

In the modern era, as radio and television made it possible for the president to address the nation more directly and immediately, the frequency of the farewell address increased greatly. Harry Truman, who revived the tradition, was the first president whose remarks were broadcast from the Oval Office. On January 15, 1953, Truman spoke about some of the controversial decisions he made while in office—particularly dropping the atomic bomb on Japan—and asked the nation to imagine themselves in the president’s shoes when faced with such a momentous decision. Truman also invoked the horrors of a potential third world war, this time with nuclear weapons: “Starting an atomic war is totally unthinkable for rational men.”

Among the post-World War II presidential farewells, arguably the most famous has been that of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who delivered his remarks from the Oval Office on January 17, 1961. At the time, Eisenhower’s farewell was overshadowed by the subsequent inauguration of the youthful, dynamic John F. Kennedy, with his call for a new era of American leadership on the world stage. (“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”) But over the years, it is the former general’s famous warning to look inward, at the rise of the “military-industrial complex” designed to gird the nation against the Soviet Union, that may offer the more meaningful lessons today.

Despite stressing the importance of the military establishment to keep the peace at home and abroad, Eisenhower urged caution: “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience… Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.” The outgoing president also argued for the central importance of balance in government, and the resistance of the idea that “some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties.”

Since Eisenhower, it’s tough to say that any president has made as much of an impact with his farewell remarks, but there have certainly been some memorable moments. Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace in 1974 after the Watergate scandal, didn’t neglect to make a farewell speech—two of them, in fact. His resignation announcement on August 8, 1974, is often considered to be his farewell to the nation, but he also delivered farewell remarks to his White House staff the following day, which were broadcast to the nation.

Ronald Reagan, speaking to the nation from the Oval Office on January 11, 1989, voiced his pride in the nation’s economic recovery during his presidency and stressed the importance of patriotism. “People ask how I feel about leaving. And the fact is, ‘parting is such sweet sorrow,’” Reagan said. “The sweet part is California and the ranch and freedom. The sorrow—the goodbyes, of course, and leaving this beautiful place.”

In his farewell from the Oval Office in January 2001, Bill Clinton stressed the accomplishments of his presidency (chief among them a booming U.S. economy) and urged the nation to treat its diverse population with “fairness and dignity, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation and regardless of when they arrived in our country, always moving toward the more perfect union of our founders’ dreams.”

George W. Bush opened his farewell address on January 15, 2009, by calling the election of his successor, Barack Obama, “a moment of hope and pride for our whole nation.” He referred back to the first time he addressed the nation from the White House, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the years since, Bush said, he had always acted with the best interests of the country in mind, and had followed his conscience. “You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.”

Washington, a three-night miniseries event, premieres Feb 16 at 8/7c on HISTORY. Watch a preview now.

The President's Farewell Address to the American People

I am happy to have this opportunity to talk to you once more before I leave the White House.

Next Tuesday, General Eisenhower will be inaugurated as President of the United States. A short time after the new President takes his oath of office, I will be on the train going back home to Independence, Missouri. I will once again be a plain, private citizen of this great Republic.

That is as it should be. Inauguration Day will be a great demonstration of our democratic process. I am glad to be a part of it-glad to wish General Eisenhower all possible success, as he begins his term--glad the whole world will have a chance to see how simply and how peacefully our American system transfers the vast power of the Presidency from my hands to his. It is a good object lesson in democracy. I am very proud of it. And I know you are, too.

During the last 2 months I have done my best to make this transfer an orderly one. I have talked with my successor on the affairs of the country, both foreign and domestic, and my Cabinet officers have talked with their successors. I want to say that General Eisenhower and his associates have cooperated fully in this effort. Such an orderly transfer from one party to another has never taken place before in our history. I think a real precedent has been set.

In speaking to you tonight, I have no new revelations to make--no political statements-no policy announcements. There are simply a few things in my heart that I want to say to you. I want to say "goodby" and "thanks for your help." [See APP note.] And I want to talk to you a little while about what has happened since I became your President.

I am speaking to you from the room where I have worked since April 12, 1945. This is the President's office in the West Wing of the White House. This is the desk where I have signed most of the papers that embodied the decisions I have made as President. It has been the desk of many Presidents, and will be the desk of many more.

Since I became President, I have been to Europe, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands--Wake Island and Hawaii. I have visited almost every State in the Union. I have traveled 135,000 miles by air, 77,000 by rail, and 17,000 by ship. But the mail always followed me, and wherever I happened to be, that's where the office of the President was.

The greatest part of the President's job is to make decisions--big ones and small ones, dozens of them almost every day. The papers may circulate around the Government for a while but they finally reach this desk. And then, there's no place else for them to go. The President--whoever he is--has to decide. He can't pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That's his job.

That's what I've been doing here in this room, for almost 8 years. And over in the main part of the White House, there's a study on the second floor--a room much like this one--where I have worked at night and early in the morning on the papers I couldn't get to at the office.

Of course, for more than 3 years Mrs. Truman and I were not living in the White House. We were across the street in the Blair House. That was when the White House almost fell down on us and had to be rebuilt. I had a study over at the Blair House, too, but living in the Blair House was not as convenient as living in the White House. The Secret Service wouldn't let me walk across the street, so I had to get in a car every morning to cross the street to the White House office, again at noon to go to the Blair House for lunch, again to go back to the office after lunch, and finally take an automobile at night to return to the Blair House. Fantastic, isn't it? But necessary, so my guards thought--and they are the bosses on such matters as that.

Now, of course, we're back in the White House. It is in very good condition, and General Eisenhower will be able to take up his residence in the house and work right here. That will be much more convenient for him, and I'm very glad the renovation job was all completed before his term began.

Your new President is taking office in quite different circumstances than when I became President 8 years ago. On April 1945, I had been presiding over the Senate in my capacity as Vice President. When the Senate recessed about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, I walked over to the office of the Speaker of the House, Mr. Rayburn, to discuss pending legislation. As soon as I arrived, I was told that Mr. Early, one of President Roosevelt's secretaries, wanted me to call. I reached Mr. Early, and he told me to come to the White House as quickly as possible, to enter by way of the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance, and to come to Mrs. Roosevelt's study.

When I arrived, Mrs. Roosevelt told me the tragic news, and I felt the shock that all of you felt a little later--when the word came over the radio and appeared in the newspapers. President Roosevelt had died. I offered to do anything I could for Mrs. Roosevelt, and then I asked the Secretary of State to call the Cabinet together.

At 7:09 p.m. I was sworn in as President by Chief Justice Stone in the Cabinet Room.
Things were happening fast in those days. The San Francisco conference to organize the United Nations had been called for April 25th. I was asked if that meeting would go forward. I announced that it would. That was my first decision.

After attending President Roosevelt's funeral, I went to the Hall of the House of Representatives and told a joint session of the Congress that I would carry on President Roosevelt's policies.

On May 7th, Germany surrendered. The announcement was made on May 8th, my 61st birthday.

Mr. Churchill called me shortly after that and wanted a meeting with me and Prime Minister Stalin of Russia. Later on, a meeting was agreed upon, and Churchill, Stalin, and I met at Potsdam in Germany.

Meanwhile, the first atomic explosion took place out in the New Mexico desert.

The war against Japan was still going on. I made the decision that the atomic bomb had to be used to end it. I made that decision in the conviction it would save hundreds of thousands of lives--Japanese as well as American. Japan surrendered, and we were faced with the huge problems of bringing the troops home and reconverting the economy from war to peace.

All these things happened within just a little over 4 months--from April to August 1945. I tell you this to illustrate the tremendous scope of the work your President has to do.

And all these emergencies and all the developments to meet them have required the President to put in long hours--usually 17 hours a day, with no payment for overtime. I sign my name, on the average, 600 times a day, see and talk to hundreds of people every month, shake hands with thousands every year, and still carry on the business of the largest going concern in the whole world. There is no job like it on the face of the earth--in the power which is concentrated here at this desk, and in the responsibility and difficulty of the decisions.

I want all of you to realize how big a job, how hard a job, it is--not for my sake, because I am stepping out of it--but for the sake of my successor. He needs the understanding and the help of every citizen. It is not enough for you to come out once every 4 years and vote for a candidate, and then go back home and say, "Well, I've done my part, now let the new President do the worrying." He can't do the job alone.

Regardless of your politics, whether you are Republican or Democrat, your fate is tied up with what is done here in this room. The President is President of the whole country. We must give him our support as citizens of the United States. He will have mine, and I want you to give him yours.

I suppose that history will remember my term in office as the years when the "cold war" began to overshadow our lives. I have had hardly a day in office that has not been dominated by this all-embracing struggle-this conflict between those who love freedom and those who would lead the world back into slavery and darkness. And always in the background there has been the atomic bomb.

But when history says that my term of office saw the beginning of the cold war, it will also say that in those 8 years we have set the course that can win it. We have succeeded in carving out a new set of policies to attain peace--positive policies, policies of world leadership, policies that express faith in other free people. We have averted world war III up to now, and we may already have succeeded in establishing conditions which can keep that war from happening as far ahead as man can see.

These are great and historic achievements that we can all be proud of. Think of the difference between our course now and our course 30 years ago. After the First World War we withdrew from world affairs--we failed to act in concert with other peoples against aggression--we helped to kill the League of Nations--and we built up tariff barriers that strangled world trade. This time, we avoided those mistakes. We helped to found and sustain the United Nations. We have welded alliances that include the greater part of the free world. And we have gone ahead with other free countries to help build their economies and link us all together in a healthy world trade.

Think back for a moment to the 1930's and you will see the difference. The Japanese moved into Manchuria, and free men did not act. The Fascists moved into Ethiopia, and we did not act. The Nazis marched into the Rhineland, into Austria, into Czechoslovakia, and free men were paralyzed for lack of strength and unity and will.

Think about those years of weakness and indecision, and the World War II which was their evil result. Then think about the speed and courage and decisiveness with which we have moved against the Communist threat since World War II.

The first crisis came in 1945 and 1946, when the Soviet Union refused to honor its agreement to remove its troops from Iran. Members of my Cabinet came to me and asked if we were ready to take the risk that a firm stand involved. I replied that we were. So we took our stand--we made it clear to the Soviet Union that we expected them to honor their agreement--and the Soviet troops were withdrawn from Iran.

Then, in early 1947, the Soviet Union threatened Greece and Turkey. The British sent me a message saying they could no longer keep their forces in that area. Something had to be done at once, or the eastern Mediterranean would be taken over by the Communists. On March 12th, I went before the Congress and stated our determination to help the people of Greece and Turkey maintain their independence. Today, Greece is still free and independent and Turkey is a bulwark of strength at a strategic corner of the world.

Then came the Marshall plan which saved Europe, the heroic Berlin airlift, and our military aid programs.

We inaugurated the North Atlantic Pact, the Rio Pact binding the Western Hemisphere together, and the defense pacts with countries of the Far Pacific.
Most important of all, we acted in Korea. I was in Independence, Missouri, in June 1950, when Secretary Acheson telephoned me and gave me the news about the invasion of Korea. I told the Secretary to lay the matter at once before the United Nations, and I came on back to Washington.

Flying back over the flatlands of the Middle West and over the Appalachians that summer afternoon, I had a lot of time to think. I turned the problem over in my mind in many ways, but my thoughts kept coming back to the 1930's--to Manchuria, to Ethiopia, the Rhineland, Austria, and finally to Munich.

Here was history repeating itself. Here was another probing action, another testing action. If we let the Republic of Korea go under, some other country would be next, and then another. And all the time, the courage and confidence of the free world would be ebbing away, just as it did in the 1930's. And the United Nations would go the way of the League of Nations.

When I reached Washington, I met immediately with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and General Bradley, and the other civilian and military officials who had information and advice to help me decide on what to do. We talked about the problems long and hard. We considered those problems very carefully.

It was not easy to make the decision to send American boys again into battle. I was a soldier in the First World War, and I know what a soldier goes through. I know well the anguish that mothers and fathers and families go through. So I knew what was ahead if we acted in Korea.

But after all this was said, we realized that the issue was whether there would be fighting in a limited area now or on a much larger scale later on--whether there would be some casualties now or many more casualties later.
So a decision was reached--the decision I believe was the most important in my time as President of the United States.

In the days that followed, the most heartening fact was that the American people clearly agreed with the decision.

And in Korea, our men are fighting as valiantly as Americans have ever fought-because they know they are fighting in the same cause of freedom in which Americans have stood ever since the beginning of the Republic.

Where free men had failed the test before, this time we met the test.

We met it firmly. We met it successfully. The aggression has been repelled. The Communists have seen their hopes of easy conquest go down the drain. The determination of free people to defend themselves has been made clear to the Kremlin.

As I have thought about our worldwide struggle with the Communists these past 8 years--day in and day out--I have never once doubted that you, the people of our country, have the will to do what is necessary to win this terrible fight against communism. I know the people of this country have that will and determination, and I have always depended on it. Because I have been sure of that, I have been able to make necessary decisions even though they called for sacrifices by all of us. And I have not been wrong in my judgment of the American people.

That same assurance of our people's determination will be General Eisenhower's greatest source of strength in carrying on this struggle.

Now, once in a while, I get a letter from some impatient person asking, why don't we get it over with? Why don't we issue an ultimatum, make all-out war, drop the atomic bomb?

For most Americans, the answer is quite simple: We are not made that way. We are a moral people. Peace is our goal, with justice and freedom. We cannot, of our own free will, violate the very principles that we are striving to defend. The whole purpose of what we are doing is to prevent world war III. Starting a war is no way to make peace.

But if anyone still thinks that just this once, bad means can bring good ends, then let me remind you of this: We are living in the 8th year of the atomic age. We are not the only nation that is learning to unleash the power of the atom. A third world war might dig the grave not only of our Communist opponents but also of our own society, our world as well as theirs.

Starting an atomic war is totally unthinkable for rational men.

Then, some of you may ask, when and how will the cold war end? I think I can answer that simply. The Communist world has great resources, and it looks strong. But there is a fatal flaw in their society. Theirs is a godless system, a system of slavery there is no freedom in it, no consent. The Iron Curtain, the secret police, the constant purges, all these are symptoms of a great basic weakness--the rulers' fear of their own people.

In the long run the strength of our free society, and our ideals, will prevail over a system that has respect for neither God nor man.

Last week, in my State of the Union Message to the Congress--and I hope you will all take the time to read it--I explained how I think we will finally win through.

As the free world grows stronger, more united, more attractive to men on both sides of the Iron Curtain--and as the Soviet hopes for easy expansion are blocked--then there will have to come a time of change in the Soviet world. Nobody can say for sure when that is going to be, or exactly how it will come about, whether by revolution, or trouble in the satellite states, or by a change inside the Kremlin.

Whether the Communist rulers shift their policies of their own free will--or whether the change comes about in some other way-I have not a doubt in the world that a change will occur.
I have a deep and abiding faith in the destiny of free men. With patience and courage, we shall some day move on into a new era--a wonderful golden age--an age when we can use the peaceful tools that science has forged for us to do away with poverty and human misery everywhere on earth.

Think what can be done, once our capital, our skills, our science--most of all atomic energy--can be released from the tasks of defense and turned wholly to peaceful purposes all around the world.
There is no end to what can be done.

I can't help but dream out loud just a little here.

The Tigris and Euphrates Valley can be made to bloom as it did in the times of Babylon and Nineveh. Israel can be made the country of milk and honey as it was in the time of Joshua.

There is a plateau in Ethiopia some 6,000 to 8,000 feet high, that has 65,000 square miles of land just exactly like the corn belt in northern Illinois. Enough food can be raised there to feed a hundred million people.

There are places in South America--places in Colombia and Venezuela and Brazil-just like that plateau in Ethiopia--places where food could be raised for millions of people.

These things can be done, and they are self-liquidating projects. If we can get peace and safety in the world under the United Nations, the developments will come so fast we will not recognize the world in which we now live.

This is our dream of the future--our picture of the world we hope to have when the Communist threat is overcome.

I've talked a lot tonight about the menace of communism--and our fight against it-because that is the overriding issue of our time. But there are some other things we've done that history will record. One of them is that we in America have learned how to attain real prosperity for our people.

We have 62 1/2 million people at work. Businessmen, farmers, laborers, white-collar people, all have better incomes and more of the good things of life than ever before in the history of the world.

There hasn't been a failure of an insured bank in nearly 9 years. No depositor has lost a cent in that period.

And the income of our people has been fairly distributed, perhaps more so than at any other time in recent history.

We have made progress in spreading the blessings of American life to all of our people. There has been a tremendous awakening of the American conscience on the great issues of civil rights--equal economic opportunities, equal rights of citizenship, and equal educational opportunities for all our people, whatever their race or religion or status of birth.

So, as I empty the drawers of this desk, and as Mrs. Truman and I leave the White House, we have no regret. We feel we have done our best in the public service. I hope and believe we have contributed to the welfare of this Nation and to the peace of the world.

When Franklin Roosevelt died, I felt there must be a million men better qualified than I, to take up the Presidential task. But the work was mine to do, and I had to do it. And I have tried to give it everything that was in me.

Through all of it, through all the years that I have worked here in this room, I have been well aware I did not really work alone-that you were working with me.

No President could ever hope to lead our country, or to sustain the burdens of this office, save as the people helped with their support. I have had that help--you have given me that support--on all our great essential undertakings to build the free world's strength and keep the peace.

Those are the big things. Those are the things we have done together.
For that I shall be grateful, always.

And now, the time has come for me to say good night--and God bless you all.

Broadcast from the President's office in the White House at 10:30 p.m.

APP Note: The version of this speech published in the Public Papers of the Presidents used the spelling "goodby" rather than "goodbye." The spelling used is not obviously an error although it is relatively uncommon.

Farewell Address

President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address, famed for its reference to the "military-industrial complex," is one of the most famous speeches in American history. Its meaning has been analyzed and debated by historians ever since. President Eisenhower delivered the speech on January 17, 1961.

Reading copy of the speech [DDE’s Papers as President, Speech Series, Box 38, Final TV Talk (1) NAID #594599]

Memo for the record regarding last speech, May 20, 1959 [Arthur Larson and Malcolm Moos Records, Box 16, Farewell Address (1) NAID #12004765]

Outline of subjects for presidential talks, May 22, 1959 [Arthur Larson and Malcolm Moos Records, Box 17, Presidential Speech Planning NAID #12611960]

Letter from the President to Dr. Milton Eisenhower regarding farewell address, May 25, 1959 [Arthur Larson and Malcolm Moos Records, Box 17, Presidential Speech Planning NAID #12614784]

Memo regarding George Washington’s farewell address, April 5, 1960 [Arthur Larson and Malcolm Moos Records, Box 16, Farewell Address (1) NAID #12615069]

Memo to Malcolm Moos regarding address topics, no date [Arthur Larson and Malcolm Moos Records, Box 16, Farewell Address (2) NAID #12611750]

Typescript speech draft labeled "Commencement," no date [Arthur Larson and Malcolm Moos Records, Box 16, Farewell Address (2) NAID #12615023]

Speech draft, December 21, 1960 [Arthur Larson and Malcolm Moos Records, Box 16, Farewell Address (4) NAID #16972110]

January 7, 1961 Draft of the speech with handwritten editing by Milton Eisenhower [DDE’s Papers as President, Speech Series, Box 38, Final TV Talk (3) NAID #16972223]

January 17, 1961 Press release containing the text of the address [DDE’s Papers as President, Speech Series, Box 38, Final TV Talk (1) NAID #16972219]

June 13, 1967 Letter from Professor Theodore R. Kennedy to Dwight D. Eisenhower [DDE’s Post-Presidential Papers, 1967 Principal File, Box 5, BE (Business Economics) (6) NAID #16972245]

June 21, 1967 Reply from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Professor Theodore R. Kennedy [DDE’s Post-Presidential Papers, 1967 Principal File, Box 5, BE (Business Economics) (6) NAID #16972246]

Important Presidential Farewell Addresses Warned Against the Very Troubles We Face

It's remarkable. There is a fundamental shift in America. There's a great article today in National Review about how we should have heeded the words Ronald Reagan delivered in his farewell speech. Throughout history, presidents have used their farewell addresses to warn future presidents and generations about threats they see to, among other things, the American way. There are three farewell addresses that I personally believe could have helped us avoid the trouble we're in now. I was so happy to see the National Review choose the same three.

George Washington

The first came from George Washington. In Washington's Farewell Address, he warned about political parties and having loyalty to them above country. He said that would kill us in the end, as well as foreign entanglements.

George Washington wrote his remarks, but he never actually delivered them personally. Instead, he sent his Farewell Address to the newspapers for publication.

Once upon a time, Americans had to study his Farewell Address, memorize it. There were three documents that students had to study --- the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and George Washington's Farewell Address. Up until about 1920, his Farewell Address was studied by every generation. You couldn't pass the eighth grade unless you knew it.

Nowadays, most people have never even read Washington's Farewell Address, let alone heard of it. It's one of the best documents in American history, and it shows where we've gone wrong.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The second was Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Radio and Television Address to the American People. Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex. He warned that if we don't watch what's happening with the Pentagon and the military, they would get us involved in everything and spend us into oblivion, causing all kinds of foreign entanglements. I think this was the most risky, yet totally honest warning any president has ever given us.

Eisenhower was the winning general of World War II, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. He grew up in the military, was a fan of the military, and he saw a change in the 1950s because of the Cold War. He realized we weren't going to descale or de-escalate.

Up until World War II and then Korea in the 1950s, we would call an army together to go fight. Our army before World War II was literally training with broomsticks. We didn't even have enough guns. People would bring their own guns from home to train. We had a civilian army. That's the way we always were: Hey, there's a war coming. Let's all get together and train.

In the 1950s, the world changed because of nuclear war. Everyone realized we could all be dead in 12 minutes. With nuclear weapons at the ready, we had to have to have a standing army. We had to have a military-industrial complex that was building and researching the latest technology for war.

In his Farewell Address, Eisenhower warned America we would no longer be sending these people home to the private sector. They were now permanent, professional fixtures within the military. And as with everything, unless they were monitored, they would grow in power and lead us around on a leash.

Here was a general saying beware the military-industrial complex, beware the collusion between the military and the capitalist companies that are going to get rich off of those military sales. That was extraordinarily brave.

And what happened? Mostly kooks listened to it. The vast military-industrial complex became a joke, a conspiracy theory. I don't think that was by happenstance. I think it was people in the military-industrial complex turning it into a joke. "Oh, I know you got to be careful of the black helicopters." Well, yeah, you kind of do. It could get out of control, as George Washington said.

Only those with a healthy respect for fire and what it is and what it does and how out of control it could be should be tending the fire. That's all that Eisenhower was saying. If you don't have a healthy respect for what capitalism and the military can do, you shouldn't be tending to it.

Ronald Reagan

And then there was the third one, from Ronald Reagan, one that I think was misunderstood. We were so fat and sassy at the time, that I don't think anybody really listened to it. I want to share about five paragraphs of the Reagan's Farewell Address to the Nation:

Did you hear that? National pride is good, but it doesn't count for anything unless it is grounded in kindness and knowledge.

I contend we have neither of those right now, on any side, that our national dialogue is not grounded in knowledge, certainly not kindness. Who are you hearing talk about real issues, the ones that face you, and real solutions? Who are you hearing talk about real solutions with kindness and with knowledge? How many of us are responding back with knowledge or kindness? Ronald Reagan said it won't account for much, unless it's coupled with those two things.

That's a question. That's a question, and you can answer that question now. You couldn't answer it then. Are we doing a good enough job of teaching our children the history of America? I believe my parents probably said yes. And if I were a parent back then, I'd say yes. If I were a parent in 2000, I'd say, well, kind of, pretty much. If I were a parent in 2008, I would say, well, it's kind of bad. If I'm a parent in 2017? Look at the failure. We didn't even see how rotted this system has become. You can get your doctorate in history at maybe 90 percent of colleges nationwide and not be required to take any American history. How can you have your degree in world history without taking any American history? That doesn't make sense. That's like saying your an expert in world history, but you didn't study England or Rome. How is that possible? If that's the case then you're not a world historian. You might be a historian on Asia and the Middle East, but that's only part of the world.

He's getting ready to leave office in 1989, saying we used to have this in popular culture. Go back in popular culture in 1989, and it's practically Uncle Sam pants compared to now. Think about what culture is like now. Remember, entertainment creates culture, but culture creates values. Our culture back then was creating values that were good, kind, gentle, strong, American. Our entertainment is none of those things now. What are the values being mined and minted right now in our culture? They are not what we grew up with, and he was my president when I was a teenager.

But now, we're about to enter the nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom-freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile it needs protection.

So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important-why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant.

You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who'd fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, "we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did." Well, let's help her keep her word.

It's an amazing call to arms and one that needs to be heard again and answered again.

I want to bring you along for a ride that we're going to take because we are going to answer that call --- in a different way.

Listen to this segment from The Glenn Beck Program:

Editor’s Note: The following is based on an excerpt from The Glenn Beck Program on June 21, 2017.

George Washington's Farewell Address

In 1796, as his second term in office drew to a close, President George Washington chose not to seek re-election. Mindful of the precedent his conduct set for future presidents, Washington feared that if he were to die while in office, Americans would view the presidency as a lifetime appointment. Instead, he decided to step down from power, providing the standard of a two-term limit that would eventually be enshrined in the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution.

Washington informed the American people of his retirement in a public letter that would come to be known as his &ldquoFarewell Address.&rdquo James Madison had written a draft in 1792 when Washington had contemplated retiring after his first term. Retaining only the first few paragraphs of Madison&rsquos version, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton conducted an extensive rewrite, with Washington providing the final edits. Philadelphia&rsquos American Daily Advertiser published the address on September 19, 1796. 1

Washington began his address by explaining his choice not to seek a third term as president. Washington revealed that he had hoped to retire prior to the previous election, but refrained due to the &ldquocritical posture of our affairs with foreign nations,&rdquo referring to the escalation of tensions with Great Britain over its war with France. But with that crisis passed, Washington assured the country that his leadership was no longer needed. The republic would be safe in the hands of a new president. 2

Having done his best to assuage fear, Washington then offered his final counsel to the people as their president. He stressed the importance of the Union that bonded all Americans together and provided for their freedom and prosperity. He reminded them that the &ldquoindependence and liberty&rdquo the nation currently enjoyed was the result of the &ldquocommon dangers, sufferings, and successes&rdquo they had experienced together in the American Revolution and early years of the republic. To safeguard their hard-won system of republican government in a federal union, the country had to remain united. 3

He cautioned against three interrelated dangers that threatened to destroy the Union: regionalism, partisanship, and foreign entanglements. He warned his countrymen not to let regional loyalties overwhelm national attachments: &ldquoThe name of American&hellipmust always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.&rdquo At this time, many Americans primarily identified with their state or region, but Washington reminded the citizenry not to allow such attachments to divide them, lest &ldquodesigning men&rdquo convince them that differing local interests made the Union unworkable or unnecessary. 4

In particular, Washington feared that geographic identities would serve as the foundation for the development of political parties. Indeed, this process had already begun with the emergence of the New England Federalists and Southern Democratic-Republicans. While we currently view partisanship as inseparable from the American political process, in the early republic, most condemned parties as divisive, disruptive, and the tools of demagogues seeking power. 5 &ldquoFactionalism,&rdquo as contemporaries called it, encouraged the electorate to vote based on party loyalty rather than the common good. Washington feared that partisanship would lead to a &ldquospirit of revenge&rdquo in which party men would not govern for the good of the people, but only to obtain and maintain their grip on power. As a result, he warned Americans to guard against would-be despots who would use parties as &ldquopotent engines&hellipto subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.&rdquo 6

The greatest danger to the Union, though, stemmed from the combination of factionalism and external invasion. Washington explained that partisanship &ldquoopen[ed] the door to foreign influence and corruption&rdquo because it weakened voters&rsquo abilities to make reasoned and disinterested choices. Rather than choosing the best men for office, the people would base decisions on &ldquoill-founded jealousies and false alarms,&rdquo and so elect those in league with foreign conspirators. To avoid outside interference, Washington advocated a foreign policy based on neutrality and friendly commercial relations with all. 7

Washington concluded his address with some brief musings on his legacy. Given his forty-five years of service, he hoped that his countrymen would view his past mistakes &ldquowith indulgence&rdquo and that history would relegate them &ldquoto oblivion.&rdquo He closed by expressing his anticipation of a retirement in which he enjoyed the fruits of the nation&rsquos &ldquomutual cares, labors, and dangers&rdquo over the last several years. That is, &ldquothe benign influence of good laws under a free government.&rdquo 8

Washington&rsquos Farewell Address spoke to contemporary concerns that the Union was weak and vulnerable to attacks from internal and external enemies. But even after the uncertainty of the early national period had passed, his message of unity remained powerful. In the early nineteenth century, Federalists read the farewell address aloud as part of their yearly commemoration of Washington&rsquos birthday. 9 It is still recited annually in the United States Senate, a tradition dating back to the Civil War. The Farewell Address endures as a critical founding document for issues of Union, partisanship, and isolationism.

Shira Lurie, Ph.D.
University College Fellow in Early American History
Departments of History and Canadian Studies, University of Toronto

1. James Roger Sharp, American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 139.

2. Washington's farewell address. New York, New York Public Library, 1935. pg. 105 136. Courtesy of the Milstein Division of United States History, Local History & Genealogy, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. For more information on the New York Public Library, see the Library Guide.

5. Richard Hofstadter, The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780-1840 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 1-169.

6. Washington's farewell address. New York, New York Public Library, 1935. pg. 105 136. Courtesy of the Milstein Division of United States History, Local History & Genealogy, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

9. David Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 214-215.


Elkins, Stanley, and Eric McKitrick. The Age of Federalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 489-497.

Full Text of President George W. Bush's Farewell Address

(UPDATE: The President made very few minor changes to the prepared text in his actual delivery. We've made the changes in boldface below. President-elect Obama did not watch the speech live at Blair House, the presidential guest residence across Pennsylvania Avenue where he and his family are residing until they move to the big house Tuesday Obama went out to dinner just as Bush's remarks were beginning in the East Room.)

Here's the prepared text of the Farewell Address to the nation by the 43rd president to be given in a few minutes from the White House. His audience in the East Room includes family, friends, Cabinet and some selected Americans the President has met in his eight years in office (We'll have a list of them here later. And BTW, we had a fun look at past presidential farewells here earlier today.):

Fellow citizens: For eight years, it has been my honor to serve as your president. The first decade of this new century has been a period of consequence – a time set apart. Tonight, with a thankful heart, I have asked for a final opportunity to share some thoughts on the journey that we have traveled together and the future of our Nation.

Five days from now, the world will witness the vitality of American democracy. In a tradition dating back to our founding, the presidency will pass to a successor chosen by you, the American people. Standing on the steps of the Capitol will be a man whose story reflects the enduring promise of our land. This is a moment of hope and pride for our whole Nation. And I join all Americans in offering best wishes to President-elect Obama, his wife Michelle, and their two beautiful girls.

Tonight I am filled with gratitude – to Vice President Cheney and members of the Administration to Laura, who brought joy to this house and love to my life to our wonderful daughters, Barbara and Jenna to my parents, whose examples have provided strength for a lifetime. And above all, I thank the American people for the trust you have given me. I thank you for .

. the prayers that have lifted my spirits. And I thank you for the countless acts of courage, generosity, and grace that I have witnessed these past eight years.

This evening, my thoughts return to the first night I addressed you from this house – September 11, 2001. That morning, terrorists took nearly 3,000 lives in the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor. I remember standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center three days later, surrounded by rescuers who had been working around the clock.

I remember talking to brave souls who charged through smoke-filled corridors at the Pentagon and to husbands and wives whose loved ones became heroes aboard Flight 93. I remember Arlene Howard, who gave me her fallen son’s police shield as a reminder of all that was lost. And I still carry his badge.

As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before Nine-Eleven. But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our Nation. And I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe.

Over the past seven years, a new Department of Homeland Security has been created. The military, the intelligence community, and the FBI have been transformed. Our Nation is equipped with new tools to monitor the terrorists’ movements, freeze their finances, and break up their plots. And with strong allies at our side, we have taken the fight to the terrorists and those who support them.

Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored al Qaeda and stoned women in the streets to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school. Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship and a sworn enemy of America to an Arab democracy at the heart of the Middle East and a friend of the United States.

There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions. But there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil. This is a tribute to those who toil night and day and night to keep us safe – law enforcement officers, intelligence analysts, homeland security and diplomatic personnel, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.

Our Nation is blessed to have citizens who volunteer to defend us in this time of danger. I have cherished meeting these selfless patriots and their families. America owes you a debt of gratitude. And to all our men and women in uniform listening tonight: There has been no higher honor than serving as your Commander in Chief.

The battles waged by our troops are part of a broader struggle between two dramatically different systems. Under one, a small band of fanatics demands total obedience to an oppressive ideology, condemns women to subservience, and marks unbelievers for murder. The other system is based on the conviction that freedom is the universal gift of Almighty God and that liberty and justice light the path to peace.

This is the belief that gave birth to our Nation. And in the long run, advancing this belief is the only practical way to protect our citizens. When people live in freedom, they do not willingly choose leaders who pursue campaigns of terror. When people have hope in the future, they will not cede their lives to violence and extremism.

So around the world, America is promoting human liberty, human rights, and human dignity. We are standing with dissidents and young democracies, providing AIDS medicine to bring dying patients back to life, and sparing mothers and babies from malaria. And this great republic born alone in liberty is leading the world toward a new age when freedom belongs to all nations.

For eight years, we have also strived to expand opportunity and hope here at home. Across our country, students are rising to meet higher standards in public schools. A new Medicare prescription drug benefit is bringing peace of mind to seniors and the disabled. Every taxpayer pays lower income taxes.

The addicted and suffering are finding new hope through faith-based programs. Vulnerable human life is better protected. Funding for our veterans has nearly doubled. America’s air, water, and lands are measurably cleaner. And the Federal bench includes wise new members like Justice Sam Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

When challenges to our prosperity emerged, we rose to meet them. Facing the prospect of a financial collapse, we took decisive measures to safeguard our economy. These are very tough times for hardworking families, but the toll would be far worse if we had not acted. All Americans are in this together. And together, with determination and hard work, we will restore our economy to the path of growth. We will show the world once again the resilience of America’s free enterprise system.

Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I have always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. You may not agree with some tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.

The decades ahead will bring more hard choices for our country, and there are some guiding principles that should shape our course.

While our Nation is safer than it was seven years ago, the gravest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack. Our enemies are patient and determined to strike again. America did nothing to seek or deserve this conflict. But we have been given solemn responsibilities, and we must meet them. We must resist complacency. We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard.

At the same time, we must continue to engage the world with confidence and clear purpose. In the face of threats from abroad, it can be tempting to seek comfort by turning inward. But we must reject isolationism and its companion, protectionism. Retreating behind our borders would only invite danger. In the 21st century, security and prosperity at home depend on the expansion of liberty abroad. If America does not lead the cause of freedom, that cause will not be led.

As we address these challenges – and others we cannot foresee tonight – America must maintain our moral clarity. I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere.

Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This Nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense and to advance the cause of peace.

President Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” As I leave the house he occupied two centuries ago, I share that optimism. America is a young country, full of vitality, constantly growing and renewing itself. And even in the toughest times, we lift our eyes to the broad horizon ahead.

I have confidence in the promise of America because I know the character of our people. This is a Nation that inspires immigrants to risk everything for the dream of freedom. This is a Nation where citizens show calm in times of danger and compassion in the face of suffering. We see examples of America’s character all around us. And Laura and I have invited some of them to join us in the White House this evening.

We see America’s character in Dr. Tony Recasner, a principal who opened a new charter school from the ruins of Hurricane Katrina. We see it in Julio Medina, a former inmate who leads a faith-based program to help prisoners returning to society. We see it in Staff Sergeant Aubrey McDade, who charged into an ambush in Iraq and rescued three of his fellow Marines.

We see America’s character in Bill Krissoff, a surgeon from California. His son Nathan, a Marine, gave his life in Iraq. When I met Dr. Krissoff and his family, he delivered some surprising news: He told me he wanted to join the Navy Medical Corps in honor of his son. This good man was 60 years old – 18 years above the age limit.

But his petition for a waiver was granted, and for the past year he has trained in battlefield medicine. Lieutenant Commander Krissoff could not be here tonight, because he will soon deploy to Iraq, where he will help save America’s wounded warriors and uphold the legacy of his fallen son.

In citizens like these, we see the best of our country – resilient and hopeful, caring and strong. These virtues give me an unshakable faith in America. We have faced danger and trial, and there is more ahead. But with the courage of our people and confidence in our ideals, this great Nation will never tire … never falter … and never fail.

It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your President. There have been good days and tough days. But every day I have been inspired by the greatness of our country and uplifted by the goodness of our people. I have been blessed to represent this Nation we love. And I will always be honored to carry a title that means more to me than any other: citizen of the United States of America.

And so, my fellow Americans, for the final time: Good night. May God bless this house and our next President. And may God bless you and our wonderful country. Thank you." # # #

President Bush is leaving. But we're just getting started with coverage of the inauguration and the new administration. Register here for cellphone alerts on each new Ticket item. RSS feeds are also available here. And we're now on Amazon's Kindle as well.

Presidential Farewell Addresses

Presidential farewells constitute a great American conversation among the nation’s chief executives and open our view onto a large and detailed panorama of the past.

Farewell, Mr. President

When on January 10, 2017, Barack Obama delivered his farewell address to the nation, the occasion was only the tenth time in U.S. history that a president had delivered a formal farewell address to the American people.

The farewell messages of American presidents are important markers in the nation’s history. If one were seeking to survey America’s past, one could hardly do better than to do so through the eyes of some three-dozen shapers of that past. Presidential farewells bundle together the concerns of past generations of Americans. They offer vivid freeze-frames of key moments in the life of our nation. They are like snapshots of the American temper taken at regular intervals in our history.

In a most interesting way, presidential farewells constitute a great American conversation among the nation’s chief executives. Usually much thought has gone into their crafting. Because of their rhetorical excellence, they are literary documents. Because of their contemporary references, they are historical documents. Because of their political context, they are civic documents. Several have transcended the status of period pieces and have become part of our cultural memory. Many Americans are familiar with Washington’s warning against a foreign policy involving “entangling alliances.”[1] Many are also familiar with Eisenhower’s admonitions regarding the “military-industrial complex.”

The farewell messages of American presidents often pack a moral and rhetorical punch because the president can speak as a statesman. Freed up from reelection concerns, he can be more magnanimous and disinterested than can a candidate in the heat of reelection campaign. As George Washington disarmingly noted at the outset of his farewell message, “These [observations] will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of an impartial friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel.”

Not all of Washington’s successors were so disinterested. Some presidential farewells were self-absorbed they aimed low at political enemies or engaged in some tit for tat. For the most part, however, a president uses the occasion of the farewell to deal graciously with political opponents. He seeks to transcend partisan politics and speak of the epochal concerns that shaped his times and administration.

For readers who have not encountered these messages before, some wonderful surprises stand out. Many of our less famous presidents, it turns out, were powerfully eloquent. They wrote superb messages that give much instruction and delight.

In many of these messages readers may sense a tension among the past, present, and future. American presidents for the most part were concerned to give a fair rendering of the state of the union they were not easily tempted to assume the role of prophet. In public life they attended a tough school of experience. They sooner or later learned that “the greater part of wisdom is to look back, and greet the future with eyes focused by the past.” University of Virginia historian Robert Louis Wilken continues: “The gift of discernment must be learned and if our eyes have not been trained to make out where we have been, they will be insentient to what is yet to be.”[2]

It is insightful to compare the presidential farewell message with its mirror image, the inaugural address. The pair often provides a presidency with eloquent bookends. Both addresses can be inspiring national testaments because Americans are a hopeful people, and the inaugurals are visionary statements untested by Oval Office experience, while farewells show how the vision was tested by experience.[3] John F. Kennedy once put the drama, the unpredictable nature of the presidency this way:

It is impossible to foretell the precise nature of the problems that will confront you or the specific skills and capacities which those problems will demand. It is an office which called upon a man of peace, Lincoln, to become a great leader in a bloody war which required a profound believer in limiting the scope of federal government, Jefferson, to expand dramatically the power and range of that government which challenged a man dedicated to domestic social reform, Franklin Roosevelt, to lead this nation into a deep and irrevocable involvement with world affairs.[4]

The dramatic, unpredictable nature of any presidency helps explain why farewells have a different tone from that encountered in inaugurals. Farewells tend to be more sober, more poignant. There are the disappointments, defeats, and dashed hopes of any leader. The poignancy is especially evident when the audience senses that a president is retiring not just from the Oval Office, but from this life.[5]

“The time has now come when advanced age and a broken frame warn me to retire from public concerns,” wrote Andrew Jackson in his valedictory. Because he would “pass beyond the reach of human events and cease to feel the vicissitudes of human affairs,” it was time to bid his countrymen “a last and affectionate farewell.”

History of the Formal Presidential Farewell Address

Over the course of American history, forty-three men have served as president of the United States.[6] Not every president gave a formal farewell message to the nation. The first and most obvious reason is that eight of our forty-three presidents died in office.

Moreover—and perhaps surprisingly—of the thirty-five who lived to the end of their final term, only nine delivered a formal farewell to the nation: George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Even a passing glance at this list of chief executives reveals a striking pattern. In the first 160 years of the republic, presidents rarely gave a formal farewell address to the nation. Decades could elapse between such messages (in the case of George Washington and Andrew Jackson, some four decades in the case of Andrew Johnson and Harry Truman, more than eight decades).[7] Put another way, there was only one formal farewell address in the eighteenth century there were but two in the nineteenth and yet with President Obama’s there will have been seven in the last 64 years. Indeed, it was only during the past few decades that the formal farewell address to the nation became customary. Why has this happened? Conversely, why was the farewell address relatively rare between Washington and Truman?

Any number of reasons might account for the farewell’s rarity prior to the 1950s. Perhaps the nation’s early presidents were chary of treading on, or competing with, Washington’s example his 1796 Farewell Address has been regarded as one of the sacred texts in the presidential canon. Part of the reason is that our nation’s first presidential farewell was really the work of three founding fathers—Madison, Hamilton, and Washington himself—Olympians in our civil religion. Such an oracle was bound to cast a long shadow over American history. One indicator of the first farewell’s eminence is the regularity with which it has been anthologized in collections of great American documents. Another indicator is that, from 1862 on, Washington’s Farewell Address has been read annually from the floor of the U.S. Senate, a performance that continues to this day and is one of the Senate’s hallowed traditions.[8]

The respect with which Washington’s farewell has been treated may suggest a second reason for the rarity of such messages between 1869 and 1953. Upon reading Andrew Johnson’s farewell in 1869, the people perhaps perceived a decline in the quality of the genre. Not that Johnson’s message was poorly written—on the contrary, it was rhetorically competent. The problem was the desperate tone. Johnson was human. It is understandable that, as the nation’s first impeached president, he would try to vindicate himself, that he would use his farewell to attack political opponents and personal enemies. But if the farewell address were just a well-written personal grouse, who needed it? The contrast with Washington’s disinterested advice to posterity, or even with Jackson’s ruminations on America at the fifty-year mark under the Constitution, put Johnson’s address in an unfavorable light. Until memory of that address faded, perhaps future presidents did not want to be associated with the formal farewell at all.

A third reason that may account for the rarity of farewell addresses prior to the 1950s is that they might have seemed redundant at best, self-aggrandizing at worst. Here is why. The U.S. Constitution requires the president to report periodically to the Congress.[9] Our commanders-in-chief developed the tradition of submitting messages to the legislative branch on an annual basis (until the 1930s, usually during the first week of December). The last such message would typically be submitted about three months prior to retiring from office (March 4).[10] Given this brief span of time, most presidents skipped the formal farewell address and chose instead to devote a portion of their final annual message to the Congress to bid adieu.

The time frame between the last annual message and retirement was considerably shortened in the 1930s from two directions: Constitution and custom. When the Twentieth Amendment was adopted, the president was now to retire from office some six weeks earlier (January 20) than had previously been the case (March 4). 11 About the same time the Twentieth Amendment was adopted, Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the practice of delivering the annual message to Congress in January rather than December. This rendered a separate farewell address even more superfluous.

A final reason that may account for the rarity of the farewell address prior to the 1950s is that our earlier presidents did not do as much public speaking as presidents nowadays. These days we are used to the annual pomp and circumstance of the state of the union speech. But from Thomas Jefferson through William Howard Taft, annual messages were written, not spoken. They were submitted to the Congress as missives and read by a clerk. Even so commonplace an institution as the presidential news conference was not born until the Wilson administration. And a full-time speechwriter did not work in the White House until the Harding administration.[12]

Prior to the middle of the twentieth century, the limits of technology may have reinforced the tendency to do less speechifying. Orations could not be easily delivered to the whole nation until developments in radio in the 1920s and television in the 1940s made broadcasting more practical. The first president to exploit radio waves for speechifying was Warren Harding on June 14, 1922. Still, not until the 1950s would the formal farewell message to the entire people be resurrected. Why?

Two principal reasons might account for the resurrection of the formal farewell address in 1953—some eighty-four years after the previous formal farewell message (by Andrew Johnson). First, there was a dramatically new world order. The United States was the only global power to emerge from World War II stronger than it had been before the conflict. By the 1950s, America’s role as the free world’s leader was a fait accompli. Isolation, though championed in some quarters, was generally rejected. An assertive Pax Americana became the ideal. In the new dispensation, President Washington’s warning against an assertive foreign policy seemed antiquated, dangerous even. It may have been prudent advice to previous generations, when a vulnerable nation had to build up its strength. But it did not speak to an America that had come of age, conquered militaristic enemies on two fronts, and emerged as the strongest power the world had ever seen. Nor did it speak to a generation confronted with international communism and constantly en garde against a potent enemy that possessed weapons of mass destruction. Americans found themselves in a new kind of war, the Cold War, with responsibility for a global sphere of influence. Truman realized that the new age called for a new farewell address. Our thirty-third president seized the opportunity upon his exit from office in 1953.

Second, the outbreak of the Cold War coincided with the dramatic growth of the television industry. The leader of the United States and of the free world could now broadcast his message as no leader in human history ever had. Again Truman seized a historic opportunity and thereby revolutionized the delivery of the farewell address to the American people. He established the practice of televising the address from the White House.[13] It is also significant—unprecedented, really—that Truman’s farewell address was the first to be delivered as a speech to the entire nation. The three previous formal farewell messages—by Washington, Jackson, and Andrew Johnson—were delivered to the nation via newsprint. Truman’s speech was groundbreaking.

Thus was born not just a revival but a new era in the presidential farewell address. Truman was the pivotal figure in the resurrection and transformation of the genre. His example was reinforced by the next president, Dwight Eisenhower, who also delivered a farewell address to the nation (1961). This was the first time in American history in which back-to-back presidents gave formal farewell addresses to the nation.[14] Both presidents had their farewell addresses televised both used the occasion to focus on the challenge of American power in the world and both proved to be paradigmatic for future addresses.

Before moving on, it is well to pause and grasp the unprecedented nature of the Truman-Eisenhower innovations in the genre. Because their farewells were speeches and because they were televised to the nation, they were quite unlike anything before in American history. Prior to the 1950s, only one in ten presidents gave a formal farewell message, and then it was a printed message. Since the 1950s, more than half our presidents have given a spoken farewell. While the farewell address is not a given in our recent history, a pattern is nevertheless emerging: those who made it a priority to master the television medium—Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, for instance—delivered a primetime farewell to the nation. Those who had other priorities—Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, for example—did not.

Farewell Themes

Farewell messages are historical documents. They provide a unique survey of American history. They open our view onto a large and detailed panorama of the past. They give insight into the pressing concerns and achievements of each generation of Americans. Indeed, a systematic reading of these state papers gives one a sense of continuity and change in our national life. It is both instructive and ennobling to see how each president redefines and reasserts America’s national purpose.

Several recurring thoughts or themes characterize the farewell genre. Not all of these thoughts and themes have to be present in one message for that message to qualify as a farewell. But students of the genre will encounter certain topics over and over in the great conversation of the presidents.

Many farewell messages include something like the acknowledgments page at the beginning of a book. It is good form to say thank you to the people who have helped an administration and to mention a few of the virtues that make public service a noble calling. Gratitude is expressed to one’s family, colleagues in governments, citizens, and God. The display of thanksgiving is often accompanied by humility and contrition—virtues becoming to those who have reached the pinnacle of power. Most presidents are well aware that they are servants of the people, flawed ones at that. For any successes they achieve, it is decent to share the credit with Providence for any failures, it is good to pray that the nation will not be too harmed. As Washington put it: “In reviewing the incidents of my administrations, I am unconscious of intentional error. I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend.”

Another thought encountered in farewell messages is justification for offering the message. It can be the opportune place for the president to announce that he is not running for another political office. Or the aim can be to offer insight and advice to posterity. In his message, Washington twice noted that he offered advice out of “a solicitude for your welfare.” Jackson wrote that as a last gesture of public service he wanted to “use the occasion to offer to you the counsel of age and experience.“

Presidents also use the farewell message to tell the story of the administration. It is one last official forum to give their “spin” on what has transpired under their watch and thereby influence what future historians will write about them. One specific policy Washington defended was his much-debated stance of neutrality toward France and Britain, even though it had already been officially set forth on April 22, 1793.

Farewells often offer advice on how to proceed into the future. Washington famously advised his countrymen to avoid imprudent alliances with foreign nations. Eisenhower warned Americans against a host of dangers he saw on the horizon: (1) the growth of the military-industrial complex (2) the overweening influence of the federal government on university research (3) the danger of public policy becoming “the captive of scientific-technological elite” and in an especially modern sounding passage, (4) environmental plunder and degradation.

A number of final messages devote some space to what might be called “great ideas”—to the articulation of America’s national purpose, to the civic virtues that are desirable in a constitutional republic, and to the first principles of public stewardship and governance. This is the opportunity for the president to make his contribution to the “great conversation” of his predecessors. Leaving the tyranny of details and petty politics behind, he can speak here as a statesman. Already in the introduction of his Farewell Address, our first president broached a number of great ideas and achievements: he praised the stronger union under the new Constitution, the prudent use of the blessings of liberty, the wisdom and virtue necessary for governing a republic, and the need to be exemplary for the sake of other nations struggling to achieve the blessings of liberty. Washington’s message inaugurated a great conversation among the presidents. Many of his themes would be picked up in later farewell discourse. The Constitution is perhaps the most dominant theme of presidential farewell discourse. But broad principles of political economy can be articulated as well. Also, many of the presidents praise Americans for being a practical people who appreciate common sense and whose political assessments rely on “the lamp of experience” rather than on abstract theory and ideology.

Presidents have used their farewell to reaffirm a belief in American exceptionalism—the idea that the nation is unique in world history and has a special destiny. As Ronald Reagan used to put it, following John Winthrop, America is “a city upon a hill.” Eisenhower believed this unique destiny imposed special ­­­burdens on the United States. “America,” he wrote, “is today the strongest, the most influential, and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this preeminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches, and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment. Throughout­­­ America’s adventure in free government, such basic purposes have been to keep the peace to foster progress in human achievement and to enhance liberty, dignity, and integrity among peoples and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people.”

Finally, many presidents have used the occasion of the farewell to wish the country well in the future and to allude to or invoke divine protection. Eisenhower, for instance, offered two prayers in his farewell address. Thoughts about the future do not always bubble with optimism but affirm America’s national purpose nevertheless. Noteworthy is Jefferson’s parting sentiment—the same Jefferson who oversaw the Louisiana Purchase and was an inspiration for our western expansion: “Looking forward with anxiety to their future destinies, I trust that, in their steady character unshaken by difficulties, in their love of liberty, obedience to law, and support of the public authorities, I see a sure guaranty of the permanence of our republic and retiring from the charge of their affairs, I carry with me the consolation of a firm persuasion that Heaven has in store for our beloved country long ages to come of prosperity and happiness.”

Now that vision is one of true hope and change.

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

[1] A term, by the way, which is not in Washington’s Farewell Address. But it has become customary for commentators to use “entangling alliances” as a shorthand way of capturing our first president’s advice.

[2] Robert Louis Wilken, “Gregory VII and the Politics of the Spirit,” in The Second One Thousand Years: Ten People Who Defined a Millennium, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 1.

[3] There are always exceptions to prove the rule. Of all the presidents who have delivered farewells, only Bill Clinton claimed to “leave the presidency more idealistic” than when he began eight years earlier.

[4] John F. Kennedy, “How to Prepare for the Presidency,” Parade Magazine, September 23, 1962.

[6] Note that while there have been forty-four administrations (up through Barack Obama’s), only forty-three men have served in the office. That is because Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms. Thus, Donald J. Trump will be the 45 th POTUS but the 44 th man elected or constitutionally stipulated to serve as U.S. president.

[7] I discovered another most curious pattern in the course of researching presidential farewells. During the nation’s first century, the three presidents who gave a formal farewell address—Washington, Jackson, and A. Johnson—had all lost their fathers as infants or young children.

[8] For more on this tradition, see http://www.senate.gov/learning/min_3hh.html [accessed October 10, 2001]. It is a heroic tradition to uphold, given that Washington did not intend the Farewell Address to be read aloud. At more than 6,000 words, the Farewell Address takes almost an hour to get through.

[9] Article II, section 3, of the Constitution states, “He [the president] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

[10] The March 4 retirement date was prescribed in 1789 by a resolution of the Continental Congress.

[11] Adopted on February 6, 1933, the Twentieth Amendment, section 1, states: “The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20 day of January.”

[12] William Safire, Safire’s New Political Dictionary, 3 rd ed. (New York: Random House, 1993), s.v. “speech-writer,” 738. The first full-time White House speechwriter, Judson Welliver, was the “literary clerk” for presidents Harding and Coolidge.

[13] GW interview with Pauline Testerman, audiovisual archivist, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Independence, MO, October 16, 2001. Truman was paradigmatic in other ways, as well. He delivered the first live televised state of the union address on January 6, 1947, and the first live televised inaugural address on January 20, 1949, in addition to the first live televised farewell address on January 15, 1953.

[14] Prior to President Obama’s scheduled speech, farewell addresses have been given by back-to-back presidents only three times in U.S. history: Truman (1953) and Eisenhower (1961) Carter (1981) and Reagan (1989) Clinton (2001) and George W. Bush (2009).

The featured image is “A View of Mount Vernon With Washington Family On the Terrace Artist” (1796) by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. It has been enhanced for clarity.

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Obama served as the first African American President of the United States for two terms, first elected in 2008 and reelected in 2012. During his presidency, his administration addressed the 2007-2008 global financial crisis (including a major stimulus package), oversaw the passage and implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, partially extended Bush tax cuts, took executive action on immigration reform, and took steps to combat climate change and carbon emissions. Obama also authorized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, signed the New START treaty with Russia, signed the Paris Agreement, and negotiated rapprochements with Iran and Cuba. Democrats controlled both houses of Congress until Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections. Republicans took control of the Senate after the 2014 elections, and Obama continued to grapple with Congressional Republicans over government spending, immigration, judicial nominations, and other issues.

In the 2016 presidential election, Obama was ineligible to seek reelection to a third term due to the restrictions of the Twenty-second Amendment. In June 2016, Obama endorsed his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to succeed him as president. [4] He addressed the 2016 Democratic National Convention on July 27 in support of Clinton as the Democratic Party's nominee, [5] and continued to campaign for her throughout the 2016 general election campaign season. [6] However, Hillary Clinton would unexpectedly lose the general election to Republican nominee Donald Trump on November 8, after failing to receive enough votes in the Electoral College, despite receiving a plurality of the national popular vote. The Democratic Party would no longer control the presidency once Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, and they did not have a majority of seats in either chamber of the United States Congress, and in the state legislatures and governorships. President Obama's approval ratings were nearly at 60 percent at the time of his farewell speech. [7] [8] [9]

In a break with recent tradition, President Obama did not deliver his farewell address at the White House. [10] Instead, he gave the speech at the McCormick Place convention center in his home city of Chicago, less than four miles from Grant Park, where he delivered his 2008 election victory speech. [11] McCormick Place is also the same venue where Obama delivered his 2012 reelection victory speech. [12]

The event was open to the public, with free tickets being distributed on a first-come, first-served basis on January 7. [2]

On January 2, 2017, President Obama released a post on the White House blog publicly announcing that he would deliver his farewell address in his hometown of Chicago, and stated that he was "just beginning" to write his remarks and that he was "thinking about them as a chance to say thank you for this amazing journey, to celebrate the ways you've changed this country for the better these past eight years, and to offer some thoughts on where we all go from here." [13]

In the January 6 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that "the President is interested in delivering a farewell address that's forward-looking" [14] and on January 9 he stated that "there's still a lot of work that needs to be done on the speech. So the President will be doing a lot of thinking between now and then, between now and 9:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, thinking about what he wants to say and what sort of presentation he wants to make to the American public as he enters the last couple of weeks that he has here at the White House." [15]

The farewell address was written by President Obama, who dictated passages to Cody Keenan, the White House Director of Speechwriting. The President and Keenan went through at least four drafts of the speech. Former White House speechwriter Jon Favreau and former senior advisor David Axelrod also contributed to the drafting process. [16]

  • What is George Washington's opinion of political parties? Give two to three examples of what Washington thinks will happen if Americans participate in political parties.
  • What does Washington think should draw Americans together?
  • Think about politics today as you consider Washington's advice about political parties. Do you agree or disagree with his predictions?

Washington, George, "George Washington Papers, Series 2, Letterbooks 1754-1799: Letterbook 24, April 3, 1793 - March 3, 1797," 19 September 1796. Courtesy of Library of Congress

Session 1 Oral Presentations

Title of Oral/Poster Presentation

American Presidential Farewell Address: Examination of Structure in the Final Speech

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As many farewell addresses have a history of being painfully prepared and revised previously to presentation, structure of these speeches in their comparison is a topic of research. The preparation for a final speech is no doubt approached with a different mindset and method of presenting ideas and statements to the American people than other presidential addresses. There appears to be a gap in scholarly research in the use of specific tactics to express a meaningful farewell address, and in what degree they are used whether in successful or unsuccessful presidential time in office. As a student at Utah State University and an American Studies major, the origin of research stems from an interest in American politics including an overview of English literature which can be obtained from addresses. The envisioned final product of this research will be one in which historical and recent researched materials will be used in comparison to identify important aspects of presidential addresses of the United States.

An examination of a collection of farewell addresses and relevant primary and secondary sources in every century of the existence of the United States, will be achieved through a thorough content, textual and rhetorical analysis. No human participants will be required. Statistical evidence will be acquired through the historical documents themselves in order to establish a comparison of different speeches.

Findings will be gathered into a research report. This research report will have visuals such as pie graphs and bar graphs to show the quantitative results. The overall purpose of this research proposal is to inform those in the scholarly history community, as well as its students with an in-depth analysis of the structure of the historical documents produced by American presidents through farewell addresses. This research will be presented to a mentor Joyce Kinkead and students in the class of 3470 of Utah State University, as well as the possibility of the undergraduate symposium sponsored by USU in the spring of 2017.


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American Presidential Farewell Address: Examination of Structure in the Final Speech

As many farewell addresses have a history of being painfully prepared and revised previously to presentation, structure of these speeches in their comparison is a topic of research. The preparation for a final speech is no doubt approached with a different mindset and method of presenting ideas and statements to the American people than other presidential addresses. There appears to be a gap in scholarly research in the use of specific tactics to express a meaningful farewell address, and in what degree they are used whether in successful or unsuccessful presidential time in office. As a student at Utah State University and an American Studies major, the origin of research stems from an interest in American politics including an overview of English literature which can be obtained from addresses. The envisioned final product of this research will be one in which historical and recent researched materials will be used in comparison to identify important aspects of presidential addresses of the United States.

An examination of a collection of farewell addresses and relevant primary and secondary sources in every century of the existence of the United States, will be achieved through a thorough content, textual and rhetorical analysis. No human participants will be required. Statistical evidence will be acquired through the historical documents themselves in order to establish a comparison of different speeches.

Findings will be gathered into a research report. This research report will have visuals such as pie graphs and bar graphs to show the quantitative results. The overall purpose of this research proposal is to inform those in the scholarly history community, as well as its students with an in-depth analysis of the structure of the historical documents produced by American presidents through farewell addresses. This research will be presented to a mentor Joyce Kinkead and students in the class of 3470 of Utah State University, as well as the possibility of the undergraduate symposium sponsored by USU in the spring of 2017.

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