In Honor of the National Holiday, we Present the Words of
our Two Most Famous and Influential Presidents
Excerpts from George Washington's farewell
Hence likewise they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown
Military establishments, which under any form of Government are
inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly
hostile to Republican Liberty.
basis of our political Systems is the right of the people to
make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the
Constitution which at any time exists, 'till changed by an explicit
and authentic act of the whole People, is sacredly obligatory
upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the People
to establish Government presupposes the duty of every Individual
to obey the established Government.
All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations
and Associations, under whatever plausible character, with the
real design to direct, control counteract, or awe the regular
deliberation and action of the Constituted authorities are destructive
of this fundamental principle and of fatal tendency. They serve
to Organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary
force--to put in the place of the delegated will of the Nation,
the will of a party; often a small but artful and enterprising
minority of the Community; and, according to the alternate triumphs
of different parties, to make the public Administration the Mirror
of the ill concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather
than the Organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by
common councils and modified by mutual interests. However combinations
or Associations of the above description may now & then answer
popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things,
to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled
men will be enabled to subvert the Power of the People, &
to usurp for themselves the reins of Government; destroying afterwards
the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened
by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in
different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid
enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at
length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders
& miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of
men to seek security & repose in the absolute power of an
Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing
faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns
this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the
ruins of Public Liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which
nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight) the common
& continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient
to make it the interest and the duty of a wise People to discourage
and restrain it.
There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful
checks upon the Administration of the Government and serve to
keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits
is probably true--and in Governments of a Monarchical cast Patriotism
may look with indulgence, if not with favour, upon the spirit
of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments
purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their
natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of
that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant
danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public
opinion, to mitigate & assuage it. A fire not to be quenched;
it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a
flame, lest instead of warming it should consume.
One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the
Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the
system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown.
In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that
time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character
of Governments, as of other human institutionsthat
experience is the surest standard, by which to test the real
tendency of the existing Constitution of a Countrythat
facility in changes upon the credit of mere hypotheses &
opinion exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety
of hypotheses and opinion: and remember, especially, that for
the efficient management of your common interests, in a country
so extensive as ours, a Government of as much vigour as is consistent
with the perfect security of Liberty is indispensableLiberty
itself will find in such a Government, with powers properly distributed
and adjusted, its surest Guardian. It is indeed little else than
a name, where the Government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises
of faction, to confine each member of the Society within the
limits prescribed by the laws & to maintain all in the secure
& tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person & property.
It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in
a free Country should inspire caution in those entrusted with
its Administration, to confine themselves within their respective
Constitutional Spheres; avoiding in the exercise of the Powers
of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment
tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one,
and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism.
A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse
it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy
us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal
checks in the exercise of political power; by dividing and distributing
it into different depositories, & constituting each the Guardian
of the Public Weal against invasions by the others, has been
evinced by experiments ancient & modern; some of them in
our country & under our own eyes. To preserve them must be
as necessary as to institute them. If in the opinion of the People,
the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers
be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment
in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be
no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may
be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which
free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly
overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit
which the use can at any time yield.
Excerpt from a Speech by Abraham Lincoln Upon Leaving
his Home Town of Springfield, Illinois To Assume the Presidency
on the Dawn of the Civil War-February 11, 1861
"No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feelings
of sadness at this parting. I have lived here for a quarter of
a century, and passed from a young to an old man. Here my children
have been born and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when
or whether ever I may return.
am called upon to assume the Presidency at a time when eleven
of our sovereign states have announced their intention to secede
from the Union, when threats of war increase in fierceness from
day to day.
"It is a grave duty which I now face. In preparing for
it, I have tried to enquire: what great principle or ideal is
it that has kept this Union so long together? And I believe that
it was not the mere separation of the colonies from the motherland,
but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave
liberty to the people of this country and hope to all the world.
This sentiment was the fulfillment of an ancient dream, which
men have held through all of time, that they may one day shake
off their chains and find freedom in the brotherhood of life.
We gained Democracy, and now there is the question of whether
it is fit to survive.
"Perhaps we have come to the dreadful day of awakening,
and the dream is ended. If so, I am afraid it must be ended forever.
I cannot believe that ever again will men have the opportunity
that we have had. Perhaps we should admit that, and concede that
our ideals of liberty and equality are decadent and doomed. I
have heard of an eastern monarch who once charged his wise men
to invent him a sentence which would be true and appropriate
in all times and situations. They presented him with the words
'And this too shall pass away.'
"That is a comforting thought in time of affliction -
'And this too shall pass away.' And yet - let us believe that
it is not true! Let us live to prove that we can cultivate the
natural world that is about us, and the intellectual and moral
world that is within us, so that we may secure an individual,
social, and political prosperity whose course shall be forward,
and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away . . .
"I commend you to the care of the Almighty, as I hope
that in your prayers you will remember me . . . . Good-bye, my
friends and neighbors."