Washington's Farewell Address Translated into Everyday Speech

I’ve often heard that Washington’s ‘Farewell Address’ — the speech he sent out (in written form) to a bunch of papers at the end of his second term — is important. Apparently he lays down a lot of good ideas for America. But the common style of writing and vocabulary has changed since then. Maybe people have gotten dumber, too. Either way, the result is that it’s kind of a pain to read sometimes. Particularly tricky are the odd compound sentence structures, where it’s hard to keep track of what the subject is.

Having never read the whole thing, I thought it would be interesting to go through and try to transcribe it into some sort of casual modern speech. I wouldn’t try to recreate the prose and would probably miss out on subtleties and shades of meaning (and no doubt occasionally miss the point completely), but at least I’d get the idea of what he was talking about.

So I pulled up a copy off Wikisource and started reading and typing. Here’s the result:

A Bastardization of George Washington’s Farewell Address

Sup.

Elections are coming up, and it’s time to figure out who we wanna give the keys to. I figure it might clear things up if I take a sec to explain why I’m not running.

Now, I care about the future, don’t get me wrong, and thanks for your trust so far. I just think me quitting is a good idea on all counts.

I’ve been president twice now, and I didn’t want to do it either time. I tried to quit the first time, but the country was in trouble and every single person around me begged me to stay on.

I’m glad to say we’re pretty much in the clear now and I can get out of here without getting screamed at or letting things fall apart completely.

I told you when I started what I thought of the job. All I’m gonna say is that I did my best to set up the government right, but the more I do this the more I realize how dumb I am, and so maybe it’s okay if I let someone else take over.

Before I go I’ve gotta thank y’all, for the awards and honors and stuff but more importantly for your supporting my projects to try to make everything right, even if they didn’t always turn out quite as well as I hoped. Remember, it’s hard to tell how things will turn out when people get all fired up, so thanks for sticking by me even when everything was going to hell. Y’all get the credit for anything good that came out of it, and by God you’d better keep taking good care of the Constitution and the lives of the folks who live here. As long as you do, we’ll be a pretty kickass country and the other guys will start noticing us.

I should shut up, but I care about you guys, so there’s some more stuff to cover. I’ve been doing some thinking and I’ve got a few things to say. You know I ain’t biased ’cause all I want is to leave, so you might wanna listen up.

Now, you all love freedom enough that no one thing here is too important.

You’re all happy that the government’s so together and unified on everything (and you should be — it’s why everything’s so good), but it ain’t always gonna be this way. All sorts of folks from both here and elsewhere are gonna try to divide it, make you lose faith in it, so please don’t sell this whole America thing short. Make it your top priority and don’t ever get in a mindset where you can let ANYTHING divide you.

You’ve gotta be Americans before all else. You’re for the most part the same religion and culture, and you’ve got the same goals, and you’ve only got what you do because you all worked together.

But even though this sounds good, when it comes to crunch time it’s easy to forget that in favor of stuff that seems more immediately important than sticking together.

The North and the South, as equals, help each other. The South gets machines and junk from the North, the North gets crops from the South. Also, the South’s got some nice boats which go out and fetch stuff we need from time to time. You’ve got a similar situation with the East and the West. The East supplies the West with what it needs, and the West gets a market for its crap as well as — once we get a navy in gear — protection on the Atlantic side. There’s really no way they could safely do what they’re doing without the folks to the East.

So, we all need each other and we’re all stronger when we’re together. Being a family also means we can get along a little better, unlike certain countries I might name who aren’t so well unified. This makes us stronger and protects our freedom, and if you wanna keep protecting it you’d better get along.

It should be obvious here that we should all try to keep ourselves together. Sure, it’s a big country, and we’re not sure if we can keep it all together, but what the hell? Let’s give it a shot and find out. It’d be stupid to call it off because we’re not sure if it’ll work. Since it’s obvious how much we have to gain from keeping ourselves together, we can safely say that anyone who tries to divide us, anywhere, hates America.

Let’s think about where those splits might come from. The big one is geography. North and South, Atlantic and West, people are gonna try to emphasize the differences. They’re gonna lie about what the other side wants, and they’ll try to make you hate each other when you should all be brothers. You saw just a bit ago how some folks were trying to stir up suspicion out West that we were trying to pull one over on them with the whole Mississippi thing, but you saw how thanks to Congress dealing with Spain and England they got everything they wanted in the end. So maybe they won’t be so quick to talk about jumping ship next time.

Government’s important, and it’s not always easy to stay together. You’ve figured this out, and that’s why you ditched the last idea and came up with this Constitution. We went over it all carefully, big and small, and it’s definitely something we can trust (we can even amend it if necessary!). Give it some credit, and if you disagree, change it — don’t just disobey. Otherwise it just screws things up.

Getting in the way of the law for the sake of power plays similarly screws things up. Playing that game creates groups just looking out for themselves, turning crazy splinter groups into a powerful force. Let this get too bad and you’ll probably have the country tossed back and forth wildly as the various parties with their pet issues fight for power, rather than nice, consensual, unified government.

Parties are probably gonna look like they’re helping with one popular issue or another, so you’re gonna want support them, but I bet the guys in charge of them will just turn out to be power-hungry assholes who want to run everything.

To keep things going nicely, quit fighting with the government and be careful with letting folk amend the Constitution to weaken it. Just, in general, give it all time and see how it works out before being quick to judge. It’s a big country and we can’t keep everyone safe without a little centralization.

I just said that parties are no good, particularly regional ones. But lemme go a step further and say ALL parties are a bad idea.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty much human nature to gather into little factions like this. It’s worst in the freeest countries, and they suffer because of it.

Control goes back and forth between one party and another, and they just get more and more pissed, and we’ve seen that get really bad in the past. But it also leads to terrible, controlling government and general suckage. This gets the people more angry, they get behind one party leader or another, and that guy just takes that support and does whatever he wants, screwing up the country.

I’m not talking about anyone in particular here, but this isn’t necessarially too far off, and it’s always gonna be a threat, so keep an eye out.

This division distracts us, enfeebles the government, it gets everyone riled up with jealousy and false alarms, it pits us against each other, and eventually creates riots and stuff. It also opens the door to other countries getting a hand in our system, since they can reach in through the party structure, and then we just become their puppets.

Now, there’s the idea that the parties are important to defend freedom and put the government in its place. That might even be true sometimes; when you’ve got a real Nazi in charge, you can afford to rally behind a party, but you shouldn’t like it, and you should dump it ASAP. And there’s always gonna be a feeling of opposition to whatever the government is, so be sure you know what you’re doing before getting all partisan, and be very careful to know when to drop it so you don’t just make the problem worse.

Also, make very sure that you keep all your politicians in their place. There’s this tendency to let all the power shift into one office, which inevitably creates tyranny (just look at human nature and how much we love power). If you just divide up the power, and get everyone to watch everyone else, we’ve seen both in the past and right here at home that things will work out pretty well. And if you think the powers aren’t laid out right, just go ahead and amend the Constitution. But be careful, because that’s an easy way to destroy everything. Make sure you’re not switching to something that, no matter how good it is for now, sucks in the long term.

Now, religion and morality are vital here, and it’s silly to say that patriotism could ever be more important than those. Politicians need to be pious and respectful folk; it would take forever to list all the ways that being a good politician is tied to being moral and religious. All you need to do is ask — without religion, how can we trust anyone who swears an oath? And be awfully careful before suggesting that we can be moral without religion. There’s a lot of philosophical junk out there, but the bottom line is we can’t possibly suggest that we can keep our morals as a country without religion.

So, virtue is the root of Government. So anyone who screws with the basis of the government is obviously a bad guy.

Make education of everyone a high priority, because the government will only be as smart as the average people are.

Public credit’s important too. Don’t run up debts during peacetime so you can afford to draw on them when there’s a problem — and then pay them back ASAP. This is the job of the politicians, but the people need to keep them in line. And remember, to pay debts you need cash, and you have to get the cash from somewhere, and there’s no way to do that which people will like. It’s a tough issue with no easy answer, so try to have a good attitude and pay up when necessary.

Try to stay at peace with everyone. Religion and basic decency both say to do this, so it should be a no-brainer. It might even turn out that God arranged it so if we’re nice to everyone, we’re better off in the end. Wouldn’t that be sweet? It sucks, though, that we tend to be jerks sometimes.

It’ll help a lot if you can avoid permanent rivalries and permanent alliances. Just try to get along with everyone when you can. Otherwise, you’re a slave to your policy, which may take you somewhere bad when the situation changes. Constantly being enemies with a particular country makes you stupid and reactive, and can even lead you to war when you really don’t need to. The government gets all involved in this, and one way or another it turns out badly. Permanent alliances are bad too, because they makes you give stuff up when you shouldn’t, cause jealousy, and divide loyalties of your own citizens, often with pretty bad results.

The idea of this kind of alliance should scare any real American because it lets foreign countries meddle with us. And remember, if a weak little nation (us) gets too attached to a big strong nation (anyone else) you know we’ll be stuck in that arrangement forever.

Now, foreign meddling is one of the worst threats around, and you should be constantly paranoid about it. But be careful to be fair and sensible about it, otherwise you’ll get so focused on one country or another that you slip into alliances with other countries. And then, like I said, you turn into tools.

The most important thing about commercial trade is to avoid getting politically tangled. We’ve obviously gotta keep the promises we’ve made, but in the future let’s try not to make new ones.

Europe has a whole lot of issues that don’t mean a thing to us. So they’re gonna be fighting, and we need to make sure not to get involved with the folks on either side. We might make some nasty enemies we don’t need to.

Since we’re out here across the Atlantic, we get to do our own thing. And if we just keep it together for a little while, we might be strong enough to stand up for ourselves. And if we’re tough enough, other countries won’t want to start anything, so the choice of whether to go to war or keep the peace will be up to us.

And why give up this great situation? Why give up our country just so we can live in someone else’s? Seriously — why get involved in Europe’s squabbles?

So, we’ve gotta avoid permanent alliances. We can’t break the promises we’ve already made — the government has to be honest just like anyone — but we don’t need to make more and we don’t need to actively make the current ones longer.

(Now, as long as we’re fighting a defensive war, alliances are okay in emergencies.)

In the same way that we should be politically friendly and stay on good and fair terms with everyone, we should be fair and open financially too. Just let everything go as it will without being biased. Let natural trade routes open up, and don’t try to mess around with the whole thing one way or another. Just keep and enforce the laws on trade and traders, and keep them flexible enough to change as the situation changes — always keeping an eye out for those foreign meddling. Never get used to paying one country or another, and never get used to expecting them to pay you.

I like you all. We’re friends. I’m not gonna hope that you’ll actually remember all this for long, but I can hope that every now and then people will look back on what I said and use it to calm down a crazy political party, remind us not to get tied up with other countries, or to try to expose phoney patriots. That’s the only payment I need — the hope that in return for my looking after you, you’ll look after yourselves.

You can look at my record. In my years in charge I’ve done my best to follow all the ideas laid out in this message.

Oh, and about the war still going on in Europe right now — check out what I said on 4/22/1793. It’s the outline of my principles on the subject, which I have followed as closely as I possibly could.

I gave it a lot of thought, decided that we could stay neutral, and then took reasonable steps to make sure that’s what happened.

You know, if you just look at basic common decency it should be pretty obvious what a good idea neutrality is.

As to the reasons it’s a good idea, you can probably come up with plenty on your own. For me, the main thing has been that we’re a pretty new country, just trying to get settled, and we don’t wanna interrupt that with war right away.

Now, I can’t think of anything I knowingly screwed up over the last eight years. But I’m sure I’ve made mistakes, and I pray that God helps to repair any harm they caused. And I hope that you’re understanding about them. I’ve spent 45 years working really hard for this country, and I hope that you won’t be too hard on my incompetences once I’m gone.

Speaking of being gone, I am really looking forward to this retirement. And I’m especially looking forward to retiring to live in a peaceful, free country of good laws under a good government — a government which is a good reward for our shared hardship, work, and love.

Wow. That was fun, depressing, inspiring, and a little bit spooky.

323 thoughts on “Washington's Farewell Address Translated into Everyday Speech

  1. an help you to save plenty of unnecessary money, such as, paying on finding other unsuitable products, paying on dealing with the defects of the dralese sert olduğu içinsin lan sen

  2. i have to do a huge paper on the farewell address and this helped me out SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much, whomever did this, THANK YOU!

  3. This just helped me SO MUCH! I’m terrible at retaining anything I read having to do with History, and the hard-to-understand language of the Farewell Address would have been that much tougher. THANK YOU!!!!

  4. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say great blog!

  5. Pingback: Washington's Farewell Speech: Since He Asked...

  6. that was AWesome!!!!! I really really liked that!! Who knew behind all those words and all that language are ideas just like ours. George Washington and th history really did happen after all.

    Now i just wanna time machine.

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  8. ton’s Farewell Address Translated into Everyday Speech В« xkcd Jan 29, 2007 … A Bastardization of George Washington’s Farewell Address. Sup. Electi fore abouter listens scamped

  9. Second, I read here that this is a no pictures theme. Ooops… I’ve used lots of images and I think it looks fine. Third, Google Webmaster has reported to me that I have 22 broken links on the site as a result of the tabbed box. I’ve sit-e.org

  10. The man was very intelligent and most of the bad things he warned about, we have indeed brought upon ourselves. Sounds like the kind of things Ron Paul is talking about every day for the past 30 years.

  11. That is pretty funny. Considering the importance of the speech. I guess this is an example of how current speech writers should think and perhaps begin writing backwards. Direct the speeches to the everyday men and women.

  12. great job in translating it to modern english!! i am totally going to ace my paper on washington’s farewell! lol!! thank you for taking the time and posting it. =)

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  14. Hi,

    I was wondering if you could help me figure out what Washington cited as evidence that the national government was working for benefits for every section of the nation?

  15. Thank you, Thank you! You are awesome. I felt like a total retard as I read through this matrix of poetic words!

  16. This is kinda totally boss; gonna attatch it to my final copy- my teach’ will love it! he awlways does lol. Oh Yes! BONUS POINTS!!!!

  17. THANK YOU!! I’m working on a history project right now. This was really funny too xD. Keep blogging man, you’ve got it.

  18. Very well written, thank you very much. This is going to come in handy for my History class in which I have to write about Washington’s Farewell Address. I tried reading it and got about halfway through it and decided I couldn’t figure out what the heck he was talking about most of the time. Putting it into plain English was funny and very insightful. Thank you for your efforts.

  19. This may be fine and funny and all, but it just shows how dumbed down our society has gotten that we have to take such a wonderful man like George Washington and make him sound like an uneducated idiot!!! WE should be ashamed that we have let our selves get to the point that we do not understand the language in his farewell address!

  20. This is freakin’ awesome! Also a great example of how the lack of a standard grammar for the English language creates a barrier over time, making older writings inaccessible to future generations. Yes, all languages change over time, but it’s sad that such a significant document is all but incomprehensible to the average citizen a mere 150 years out. I appreciate your effort to “make it new”. Thanks for posting your translation!

  21. This is going to come in handy for my History class in which I have to write about Washington’s Farewell Address. I tried reading it and got about halfway through it and decided I couldn’t figure out what the heck he was talking about most of the time.

  22. everyone here must read my post if u really want a glimpse at the convoluded, limitless, but somewhat irrationally and uncontrollably egotistical power structure that is soooooo close to a line and to be honest, we will definately not disallow it. if u understand that last 6 word phrase u can read on.

    I am a professionally and academically trained and highly seasoned archaeologist and have dug all over world looking for things that speak a much clearer story than even this speech, which I am declaring as a member of the scientific community who is subject to peer review that this document may be one of the most important documents of our era, if not the most important of our history, for it the bridge between the declaration of independence and the constitution, between philosophy and the law of man.

    No, in fact this is not awesome. This is so unbelievably awesome that the word “awesome” is in fact the literal and functional effect of the true meaning of the word, loosely defined by myself on this post (which may be my 3rd post on any site in the last 10 years) as a healthy and deserved respect of the powers greater than ourselves, by their very nature requiring us to define them as “God” (or his opposite, my girlfriend’s hooved step-mother), as a Pharoah, as a Ceasar, as a King and indeed as need would have it an embodied Hitler/Napoleonic complex sacrificing the experiencees that bind us as a people, never conversing with everything sacred or not sacred, instead alienating himself from that human experience that acts as the structure balance between inevitable death and absolute dominion over all life he claims.
    The awesomeness of this is apparant, even self-imbued yet simultanesouly ( also in this case contemporaneously-happening now or alongside the subject-us) it is interpreted falsely by the majority within a percieved context that assumes that the Complex (now capitalized as a proper noun, a distinction most commonly associated with the relationship between “God” and “god/gods”) he says his “SOLICITUDE to your welfare,” to have solicitude is literally meaning he has a deepseated concern, a concern characerized by a degree of urgency and one of a matter of dutied importance. In the same sentence he goes on to say it is due to “the APPREHENSION of this danger,” an anxiously awaited and prioritizing concern…is urging him to tell us then and now, that “an occasion like the present” which essentially is the most pure and informed reflection of our nation being of the purest and the original singular consciousness of our America. He warns of unseen subversive forces, and to watch out. He also says clearly the case of the vastess minority which through the proper reflection and virtue of thier SOLEMN (in respect of God and no other before him) contemplation as he claimed would the context of this speech be understood.
    He said his ideas were what got him elected, that he was praised constantly by those around him to remain in the postion, and that only an observation at the outcome has changed partcular views of this philosophy.
    He was Influenced by few to accept the nomination but elected by the common SENTIMENT of the people. Sentiment is not undefined at any given time. It cannot appear one way or another. Only the function and cause of it can.
    The phrases are so fractured because the subject appears to be one thing when in reality it is not. The meanings of these words as they would have been spoken by an educated, presidential, martial, highly ranked Mason are not the same as the common vernacular, as we can establish the rampant misuse of the word “awesome” being literally defined as common vernacular
    It is only awesome to you because you need to be inspired to the holding of the constitution, to me it is because the subject of the speech was the Complex. They already existed. They put him there. He was led to his beliefs, but only his belief in the moral authority of the people, having God’s moral code, allowed him the knowledge and the fear for our future. Because with the same hand that writes the constitution it shears it in half. we must remain with this moral code and never lose God’s morality, for this one Nation under God. It was not a bi/tri partisan union of sovereign states, for that union will be divided by the subverters
    The Greatest lie told by Satan is that god does not exist.
    Through God we founded, without at least a common unity, God or not, what are we getting done now. nothing, and we will continue that trend when we have no power to excersize or will as people of God, not the Earth.
    I am an archaeologist, I do not believe in God. I have studied works of the uneducated and of the literary masters of the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th century. His words have more double meaning and triple meaning than most of us will ever understand.
    Go back and read the real speech agian. Do your homework kid. The trinity exists as god the creator, the messiah who literally speaks the word of our power to clease ourselves, and finally the holy spirit which is our will to have free will, because will is powerful and through it we can reach god. god is the goodness and humanity that binds all men to eachother by honor and duty to eachother. the messiah, in this millenium happens to take form as the devil, or the word/legislation that has created the situation from which we decide to rise from back to god. the divinity of life may perhaps be a metaphor. but it is meant to instill in us the necessary wrangling of our own ego.

  23. btw,
    just so you can think about what god really means for us humans,
    because he tells us directly there will be two messages to take away from this speech. First is the hierarchy created. God empowers the people to become like him, a unilaterally just and ultimately benevolent god whose withdrawel from direct and frequent contact with man is the mechanism for which they are now thriving, the notion of manifest destiny. we established a government mimicking this paradigm and this now removed our government as the intermediary between us and god, and all that it implies.
    the second message told BY THE MAN WHO BECAME THE FIRST INDEPENDENT LEADER OF A NATION FOLLOWING A REVIVAL OF ENLIGHTENMENT whose personifaction of the fruits of that intellectual labor, coupled with a hypothesized and tested, and determined true, that solemn contemplation is the key. Hes telling us the same perogative, and he is your commander in Chief, every other chief in existence can do nothing but step down should the people order it, or if by your presence harm will be knowingly done. He is our president, he presides over our land and country, but that power is given by its authoritative superior.
    If you understand the subtle differences in meaning of words, and that this meaning is the legislative meaning of these words and REREAD with use of merriam-webster or standard oxford but in that order and nothing else. talk to yourself if u have to understand punctuation. writing of any kind for these people was a flagrant activity. not flagrant like i grabbed your head by the face guard in a football game. flagrant like overly presentable for the sake of appearance. Which today “hes flagrant” is a nicer way of saying “hes gay man who talks expresionally with his hands”,

  24. i forgot my point and typed most of another point alltogether…
    God is the goodness and ALTRUISM binding mankind. not all men were created equal.
    Neanderthals are found surviving amongst humans in cold northern-euro climates recently enough, 35000 , to see neanderthals with multiple breaks of bones frequently throughout there life many times bumrushing a mammoth with little regard to past experience who then flattens him, he, who is burns so so much energy per square inch he literally is a human furnace, those breaks which have been healed in such a wayare evidence and we are fairly certain it occurred through medical treatment, altruism amongst eachother, they also ate one another occasionally when times were favoring other species so flawed. They were sentient because they realized they existed and in what capacity and maybe something just a little abstract about death and life philosophically. We dominated them like we dominated everything else even though they
    some. We killed them, outcompeted them for our resources interbred with portions perhaps so they become resorbed in our mindset. to exstinction, no coexist BS or reservations. they were different and did not share our interests.
    We were far smarter and more systematic. strategic. we ran them down for miles and miles and chased them till thier bodies own gave out from exhaustion like at a marathon because they didnt have our butt muscles. look at a chimps but and also upright does not mean to be built for running without exhaustion through extended periods. its our altruism that will hinder and ultimaly prevent this behavior

  25. I have a paper due on this topic and this was so helpful and incredibly fun to read!! Please tell me that you translate more old documents???

  26. I had to write a paper on this and it was incredibly hard to understand the language. I typed out the main points in my own translation, but I still needed to make sure that I fully understood what it said. This helped me a lot and it was hilarious to read. Thanks!

  27. Thank you so much. The translation was not only accurate, but entertaining as well . This helped me so much with my essay.

  28. Thanks for this post! I read the original speech just before your blog, and you did a great job with the prose while adding some much needed humor! Now we can just hope our current politicians consider reviewing it before digging the US into a deeper hole!

  29. It’s amazing to see how many of George’s ideas are incredibly relevant to our current dysfunctional government. Thanks Randall, and job well done!

  30. You need to get paid to do these “For Dummies” type of blogs for historical purposes because most of it is hard to understand non-comprehensible! Thanks for doing this and helping all of us young, college/high-school students that are trying to understand!

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