Two hundred years ago, going into the month of December, 1799, the majority of the inhabitants of the United States were not anticipating the start of a new millenium, as we are today. In the time period "BC" (i.e. Before Computers), few of those people probably even stopped to ponder the fact that they were witnessing the ending of the Eighteenth Century and preparing to step into the Nineteenth Century. To be sure, there were changes in store for some. Clerks in the local court systems were possibly wondering what they would do with a surplus of legal forms printed with the date "_______, 17__". Printers were, no doubt, stocking up on an extra supply of type dies of the number "8", which they knew from experience would become quickly worn through heavy usage, like the number "7" dies they had been using for the past hundred years. Not too many other people would have been affected by the "turn of the century".
It would not be entirely true, though, to assume that no one was interested in the changing of the dates from "Seventeen Hundred and ------" to "Eighteen Hundred and -----". The upper class of society might have wholeheartedly embraced the excitement of the passing from one century to another. They might have viewed it as a confirmation of the good times they were experiencing. The United States was a new and emerging nation, free of the war torn past, and her "servitude" to Great Britain. She had weathered her first major internal revolt, in the form of the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, and had become stronger because of it. Trade with other nations was proceeding at a steady (albeit, slow) pace. The Tripolitan War, in which American ships were forced to pay a tribute to the pirates of the Barbary States in order to undertake commerce in the Mediterranean, was a couple years away. Jay's Treaty of 1794 had resulted in the (implicit) withdrawal of British garrisons from the Northwest Territory. The 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo had confirmed the U.S.-Spanish boundary lines along the Mississippi River, which ensured the United States free navigation on that major waterway. The benefits of the Industrial Age were being felt, even by the lower classes, as a result of many agricultural and industrial inventions, such as the cotton gin. All in all, there were probably many people who were looking forward to the dawning of the Nineteenth Century with the same excitement and anticipation that many people, today, are looking forward to the dawning of the Third Christian Millenium.
George Washington, being the man that he was: having an inquisitive mind and willing to embrace new technology and ideas, was no doubt one of the few people who looked toward the approaching Nineteenth Century with expectancy. In the autumn of 1796, while serving his second term as the President of the United States of America, George Washington composed a speech. It was never delivered in public, but rather was published in the 19 September, 1796 issue of David Claypoole's American Daily Advertiser. The overt intention of the speech, now known as his Farewell Address To The American People, wwas to announce to the public that he did not intend to serve another term in office. More importantly, in this Farewell Address, President Washington imparted some final thoughts of wisdom to the people of the new nation. The following are some excerpts from George Washington's Farewell Address To The People Of The United States.
"Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment. The Unity of Government which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main Pillar in the Edifice of your real independence; the support of your tranquility at home; your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity in every shape; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee, that, from different causes, and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your Union to your collective and individual happiness..."
"Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of AMERICAN, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same Religion, Manners, Habits, and political Principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together. The Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint councils, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings and successes."
"To the efficacy and permanancy of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliancees however strict between the parts can be an adequate substitute. They must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a Constitution of Government, better calculated than your former for an intimate Union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of your own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support."
"Respect for its authority, compliance with its Laws, acquienscence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty. The 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."
"I have already intimated to your the dangers of Parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on Geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party, generally."
"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and 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 and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power on an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able of more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty."
"It opens the doors to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the Government itself through the channels of party passion."
"Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them." "Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice?"
"Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffussion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened."
"As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible: avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of Peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon prosperity the burthen which we ourselves ought to bear."
"Though, in reviewing the incidents of my Administration, 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. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service, with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest."