Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations, by John Avlon (Simon & Schuster, 368 pp., $27)
Books about specific presidential addresses have become commonplace. In recent decades, we have been treated to book-length studies of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address, Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, and Kennedy’s Inaugural Address. John Avlon’s Washington’s Farewell will take its place as one of the best of this expanding and increasingly popular genre.
Unlike the messages that inspired those previous studies, Washington’s Farewell Address was not delivered orally before spectators. He submitted the 6,088-word document to a newspaper in the run-up to the 1796 presidential election. Washington had an announcement of particular importance to make: that he was stepping down at the end of his second term as president. This news, certain to capture readers’ attention, provided an opportunity for Washington to pass along advice to his countrymen as to how they might best preserve the hard-gained fruits of the American experiment in self-government. A master of timing, Washington, in choosing this particular venue to attract the widest possible audience, demonstrated once again that he was every inch the “great actor” his vice president, John Adams, proclaimed him to be.