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George Washington Farewell Address

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George Washington resigned from office in 1796. For the occasion, he wrote a farewell address directed to the citizens of the United States. He was certainly aware that his audience would include other politicians as well as dignitaries and officials from foreign nations. Washington feels that the citizens need his closing remarks before he steps out of office. He is informing the citizens of how he feels about his past service, what is currently going on and what will need to be done in the future. In some respects, Washington is just saying goodbye to the nation.

Rhetoric can be defined as the practice of speaking or writing in a persuasive manner. Washington’s form of rhetoric was very verbose. He spoke in such a way that many ordinary people could not understand. He was known for being a poor persuasive writer and many times he was reputed to have had speech writers prepare speeches for him. His manner of speaking seemed to just run on without really coming across his purpose or reason for speaking. Ethos is sometimes defined as the appeal to a person’s character or reputation. Washington certainly understood his singular position as leader of the United States, and also enjoyed some of the benefits of being essentially a “lame duck” president. He did not need to consider the impact of his words on a voter, but rather may have considered only how he would be portrayed in an historic sense. Thus, he was free to offer himself humbly, as in the closing portion of his speech where he confesses that he “may have committed many errors”.

This perhaps was intended more to endear his humanity to the listener, rather than to truly admit his errors, and thereby bring the listener closer to understanding his humanity. Perhaps this humble closing is to provide counterbalance to the otherwise fatherly slant contained in various portions of his speech. In many instances, Washington appears to render advice (having “intimated … the danger of parties in the state”); or to state some theory, rule or duty as fact (for example, when he states that “ a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils”). These ideas are presented as in some way self-evident, when in fact there may be contrary opinions about many of his ideas. By resorting to his authoritative position, while presenting himself humbly, it seems he is indulging the listener in the pretense of agreement with his ideas.

Pathos is the appeal to the writer’s emotion. At the beginning of the paper Washington begged the citizens of the United States to understand his reasons for resigning and he wanted them to know it was for the best. Washington said “my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgement of that debt of gratitude.” He was stating that he does not know how he can thank his beloved country enough for all they had done for him. By doing this, he appeals to the emotional participation of the listener in his own passion. Washington said, “Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts.” Here he was talking about his love for the country and the importance of freedom. He also feared that political parties would cause problems in the country and in the government.

Washington thought that foreign alliances could have been a bad influence on the American society. While he recognized in several instances the need for involving the United States in foreign activities, he appealed for such entanglements to be kept at a minimum. He also discussed how he felt about the neutral position taken by the United States during the ongoing European war. Washington felt that it was in their best interest and their duty to stay neutral. In fact, appealing to the pathos (but making a pretense of logos), Washington implies that “holding a neutral conduct” may be some sort of duty. The logical foundation of this principle seems to have stemmed from his personal opinion, and cannot be claimed to be uniformly held by all politicians of that day, much less the present day.

Logos is the attempt to persuade with the use of logical reasoning. As described above, and throughout his complex rhetoric, Washington’s farewell speech approaches logic in many ways. Washington talked about the need to maintain unity in the United States and appealed to logic by describing the various assets enjoyed by different sections of the country. He pointed out that in the North there were great natural resources; the South had grown agriculturally and the commerce had expanded; the East had improvements of communications; and in the West there was major growth and an outlet for the many products of the other areas. Washington explained that with them all together, the United States would greatly benefit. Washington also attempted a logical argument in discussing the dangers of the political parties. He claimed that with political parties it would cause the country to corrupt.

To support his appearance of fair-minded attention to both sides, Washington also stated that many citizens expressed opinions supporting the benefits of a two pronged political party. These contrary positions suggested that the political parties would be a useful check for the government. In contrast, Washington discussed the importance of checks and balances within the three arms of the government, rather than the political party system. These different “depositories” would divide and distribute power in such a way that the political party would become not only unnecessary, but could in fact become a “frightful despotism”. This appeal to pathos is further evidence of a bold statement of a personal opinion, couched in words intended to strike fear into the listener. The syntax or sentence structure of the paper is stilted. Washington used very complex sentences throughout the paper. “Run-On Sentences” dominated the speech and appeared to obscure the listener from arriving at the intended purpose.

The entire first paragraph of the speech was a single sentence! The entire second paragraph of the speech was another single sentence! Many of the sentences in Washington’s speech are imperative, commanding; he said a lot of things as though they were fact, when in many instances it appeared more likely that it is just his opinion. Washington’s diction was very verbose and his word choice was complex. The speech was very wordy and hard to follow. Most of his words were cacophonous ones and did not appeal to the reader. He wrote in a very formal manner and used a lot denotative words. Washington used a fatherly tone through out the speech. In parts of the speech the tone sounded somewhat remorseful, but not in a very sincere way.

He also spoke in a warning tone, basically trying to let the public know that what he said was right and that they needed to listen to him. Washington used many different forms of writing through out his speech and he applied all of the different types of rhetoric at different times to make different points. Washington used ethos to back up his logistics, pathos to appeal to the citizen’s emotions and inform the country about how he felt, and he used logos to back up how he felt about the country. Washington’s use of diction was very formal, his tone was fatherly and he struggled to get his point across.

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