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George Washington

Birthdate: 22. February 1732
Date of death: 14. December 1799

George Washington was an American statesman and soldier who served as the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797 and was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and later presided over the 1787 convention that drafted the United States Constitution. He is popularly considered the driving force behind the nation's establishment and came to be known as the "father of the country," both during his lifetime and to this day.

Washington was born into the provincial gentry of Colonial Virginia to a family of wealthy planters who owned tobacco plantations and slaves, which he inherited. In his youth, he became a senior officer in the colonial militia during the first stages of the French and Indian War. In 1775, the Second Continental Congress commissioned him as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution. In that command, Washington forced the British out of Boston in 1776 but was defeated and nearly captured later that year when he lost New York City. After crossing the Delaware River in the middle of winter, he defeated the British in two battles , retook New Jersey, and restored momentum to the Patriot cause. His strategy enabled Continental forces to capture two major British armies at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781. Historians laud Washington for the selection and supervision of his generals; preservation and command of the army; coordination with the Congress, state governors, and their militia; and attention to supplies, logistics, and training. In battle, however, Washington was sometimes outmaneuvered by British generals with larger armies, yet was always able to avoid significant defeats which would have resulted in the surrender of his army and the loss of the American Revolution.

After victory had been finalized in 1783, Washington resigned as commander-in-chief rather than seize power, proving his commitment to American republicanism. Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787, which devised a new form of federal government for the United States. Washington was widely admired for his strong leadership qualities and was unanimously elected president by the Electoral College in the first two national elections. Following his election as president in 1789, he worked to unify rival factions in the fledgling nation. He supported Alexander Hamilton's programs to satisfy all debts, federal and state, established a permanent seat of government, implemented an effective tax system, and created a national bank. In avoiding war with Great Britain, he guaranteed a decade of peace and profitable trade by securing the Jay Treaty in 1795, despite intense opposition from the Jeffersonians. He oversaw the creation of a strong, well-financed national government that maintained neutrality in the French Revolutionary Wars, suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, and won wide acceptance amongst Americans. Washington's incumbency established many precedents still in use today, such as the cabinet system, the inaugural address, and the title Mr. President. His retirement from office after two terms established a tradition that lasted until 1940 and was later made law by the 22nd Amendment. He remained non-partisan, never joining the Federalist Party, although he largely supported its policies. Washington's Farewell Address was an influential primer on civic virtue, warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars.

He retired from the presidency in 1797, returning to his home and plantation at Mount Vernon. Upon his death, Washington was eulogized as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen" by Representative Henry Lee III of Virginia. He was revered in life and in death; scholarly and public polling consistently ranks him among the top three presidents in American history. He has been depicted and remembered in monuments, public works, currency, and other dedications to the present day.

Works

„It is better to be alone than in bad company.“

—  George Washington

Letter to his niece, Harriet Washington (30 October 1791)
1790s
Variant: It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.

„Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.“

—  George Washington

1790s, Farewell Address (1796)
Context: Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its Virtue?

„What astonishing changes a few years are capable of producing! I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government without horror.“

—  George Washington

Letter to John Jay (15 August 1786) http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/documents/constitution/1784/jay2.html
1780s
Context: If you tell the Legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train forever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people being disgusted with the circumstances will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate & prevent disasterous contingencies would be the part of wisdom & patriotism.
What astonishing changes a few years are capable of producing! I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government without horror. From thinking proceeds speaking, thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable & tremendous! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal & falacious! Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.
Retired as I am from the world, I frankly acknowledge I cannot feel myself an unconcerned spectator. Yet having happily assisted in bringing the ship into port & having been fairly discharged; it is not my business to embark again on a sea of troubles. Nor could it be expected that my sentiments and opinions would have much weight on the minds of my Countrymen — they have been neglected, tho' given as a last legacy in the most solemn manner. I had then perhaps some claims to public attention. I consider myself as having none at present.

„There might, Gentlemen, be an impropriety in my taking notice, in this Address to you, of an anonymous production — but the manner in which that performance has been introduced to the Army — the effect it was intended to have, together with some other circumstances, will amply justify my observations on the tendency of that Writing.“

—  George Washington

1780s, The Newburgh Address (1783)
Context: There might, Gentlemen, be an impropriety in my taking notice, in this Address to you, of an anonymous production — but the manner in which that performance has been introduced to the Army — the effect it was intended to have, together with some other circumstances, will amply justify my observations on the tendency of that Writing. With respect to the advice given by the Author — to suspect the Man, who shall recommend moderate measures and longer forbearance — I spurn it — as every Man, who regards that liberty, & reveres that Justice for which we contend, undoubtedly must — for if Men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind; reason is of no use to us — the freedom of Speech may be taken away — and, dumb & silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.

„On these occasions I consider how mankind may be connected like one great family in fraternal ties—I endulge a fond, perhaps an enthusiastic idea, that as the world is evidently much less barbarous than it has been, its melioration must still be progressive—that nations are becoming more humanized in their policy—that the subjects of ambition & causes for hostility are daily diminishing—and in fine, that the period is not very remote when the benefits of a liberal & free commerce will, pretty generally, succeed to the devastations & horrors of war.“

—  George Washington

“From George Washington to Lafayette, 15 August 1786,” Founders Online, National Archives http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-04-02-0200 Source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 4, 2 April 1786 – 31 January 1787, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995, pp. 214–216. Page scan http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mgw2&fileName=gwpage013.db&recNum=157&tempFile=./temp/~ammem_fmyS&filecode=mgw&next_filecode=mgw&itemnum=1&ndocs=100 at American Memory (Library of Congress)
1780s
Context: Altho’ I pretend to no peculiar information respecting commercial affairs, nor any foresight into the scenes of futurity; yet as the member of an infant-empire, as a Philanthropist by character, and (if I may be allowed the expression) as a Citizen of the great republic of humanity at large; I cannot help turning my attention sometimes to this subject. I would be understood to mean, I cannot avoid reflecting with pleasure on the probable influence that commerce may here after have on human manners & society in general. On these occasions I consider how mankind may be connected like one great family in fraternal ties—I endulge a fond, perhaps an enthusiastic idea, that as the world is evidently much less barbarous than it has been, its melioration must still be progressive—that nations are becoming more humanized in their policy—that the subjects of ambition & causes for hostility are daily diminishing—and in fine, that the period is not very remote when the benefits of a liberal & free commerce will, pretty generally, succeed to the devastations & horrors of war.

„The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves“

—  George Washington

Address to the Continental Army before the Battle of Long Island (27 August 1776)
1770s
Context: The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.

„It was not my intention to doubt that, the Doctrines of the Illuminati, and principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more truly satisfied of this fact than I am.“

—  George Washington

Letter to the Reverend G. W. Snyder (24 October 1798) http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=WasFi36.xml&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=388&division=div1
1790s
Context: !-- Revd Sir I have your favor of the 17th instant before me; and my only motive to trouble you with the receipt of this letter, is to explain, and correct a mistake which I perceive the hurry in which I am obliged, often, to write letters, have led you into.
--> It was not my intention to doubt that, the Doctrines of the Illuminati, and principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more truly satisfied of this fact than I am.
The idea that I meant to convey, was, that I did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavoured to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of seperation). That Individuals of them may have done it, or that the founder, or instrument employed to found, the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects; and actually had a seperation of the People from their Government in view, is too evident to be questioned. <!--
My occupations are such, that but little leisure is allowed me to read News Papers, or Books of any kind; the reading of letters, and preparing answers, absorb much of my time. With respect — I remain Revd Sir Your Most Obedt Hble Ser. Go: Washington

„If you tell the Legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train forever.“

—  George Washington

Letter to John Jay (15 August 1786) http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/documents/constitution/1784/jay2.html
1780s
Context: If you tell the Legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train forever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people being disgusted with the circumstances will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate & prevent disasterous contingencies would be the part of wisdom & patriotism.
What astonishing changes a few years are capable of producing! I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government without horror. From thinking proceeds speaking, thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable & tremendous! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal & falacious! Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.
Retired as I am from the world, I frankly acknowledge I cannot feel myself an unconcerned spectator. Yet having happily assisted in bringing the ship into port & having been fairly discharged; it is not my business to embark again on a sea of troubles. Nor could it be expected that my sentiments and opinions would have much weight on the minds of my Countrymen — they have been neglected, tho' given as a last legacy in the most solemn manner. I had then perhaps some claims to public attention. I consider myself as having none at present.

„It is much to be lamented that each State, long ’ere this, has not hunted them down as the pests of Society, & the greatest enemies we have, to the happiness of America.“

—  George Washington

George Washington to Joseph Reed, 12 December 1778 http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-18-02-0452, Founders Online, National Archives. Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 18, 1 November 1778 – 14 January 1779, ed. Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, pp. 396–398. Page images http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mgw4&fileName=gwpage054.db&recNum=1004 at American Memory (Library of Congress)
1770s
Context: It gives me very sincere pleasure to find that there is likely to be a coalition of the Whigs in your State (a few only excepted) and that the Assembly of it, are so well disposed to second your endeavors in bringing those murderers of our cause—the Monopolizers—forestallers—& Engrossers—to condign punishment. It is much to be lamented that each State, long ’ere this, has not hunted them down as the pests of Society, & the greatest enemies we have, to the happiness of America. I would to God that one of the most attrocious in each State was hung in Gibbets, up on a gallows five times as high as the one prepared by Haman—No punishment, in my opinion, is too great for the Man, who can build “his greatness upon his Country’s ruin.”

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„The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.“

—  George Washington

Letter to Brigadier-General Nelson, 20 August 1778, in Ford's Writings of George Washington (1890), vol. VII, p. 161. Part of this is often attached to a fragment of a letter to John Armstrong of 11 March 1782; it is also often prefaced with the spurious "governing without God" sentence, as this 1867 example from Henry Wilson (Testimonies of American Statesmen and Jurists to the Truths of Christianity) shows:
It is impossible to govern the world without God. It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits and humbly implore his protection and favor. I am sure there never was a people who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs, than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency which was so often manifested during the revolution; or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of Him, who is alone able to protect them. He must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.
1770s
Context: It is not a little pleasing, nor less wonderful to contemplate, that after two years' manoeuvring and undergoing the strangest vicissitudes, that perhaps ever attended any one contest since the creation, both armies are brought back to the very point they set out from, and that which was the offending party in the beginning is now reduced to the use of the spade and pickaxe for defence. The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations. But it will be time enough for me to turn preacher, when my present appointment ceases…

„Know my good friend that no distance can keep anxious lovers long asunder, and that the wonders of former ages may be revived in this“

—  George Washington

But alas! will you not remark that amidst all the wonders recorded in holy writ no instance can be produced where a young Woman from real inclination has prefered an old man — This is so much against me that I shall not be able I fear to contest the prize with you — yet, under the encouragement you have given me I shall enter the list for so inestimable a jewell.
Letter to the Marquis de Lafayette (30 September 1779)
1770s

„The Marquis de Lafayette is extremely solicitous of having a command equal to his rank.“

—  George Washington

Letter to the Continental Congress (1 November 1777), as quoted in Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States Vol. 23, Issue 2 (1835), p. 665 https://books.google.com/books?id=3_lEAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA665
1770s
Context: The Marquis de Lafayette is extremely solicitous of having a command equal to his rank. I do not know in what light Congress will view the matter, but it appears to me, from a consideration of his illustrious and important connexions, the attachment which he has manifested for our cause, and the consequences which his return in disgust might produce, that it will be advisable to gratify him in his wishes; and the more so, as several gentlemen from France, who came over under some assurances, have gone back disappointed in their expectations. His conduct with respect to them stands in a favorable point of view; having interested himself to remove their uneasiness, and urged the impropriety of their making any unfavorable representations upon their arrival at home; and in all his letters he has placed our affairs in the best situation he' could. Besides, he is sensible; discreet in his manners; has made great proficiency in our language; and, from the disposition he discovered at the battle of Brandywine, possesses a large share of bravery and military ardor.

„To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable.“

—  George Washington

1790s, Farewell Address (1796)
Context: To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, 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.

„I die hard but am not afraid to go.“

—  George Washington

I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it — my breath cannot last long.
The first sentence here is sometimes presented as being his last statement before dying, but they are reported as part of the fuller statement, and as being said in the afternoon prior to his death in Life of Washington (1859) by Washington Irving, and his actual last words are stated to have been those reported by Tobias Lear below.
1790s

„In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States.“

—  George Washington

First Inaugural Address (30 April 1789), published in The Writings of George Washington, edited by John C. Fitzpatrick, Vol. 30, pp. 292-3
1780s
Context: Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station; it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage.

„The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.“

—  George Washington

1790s, Farewell Address (1796)
Context: The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.

„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.“

—  George Washington

1790s, Farewell Address (1796)
Context: 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.

„The fact is, I preside over none, nor have I been in one more than once or twice, within the last thirty years. I believe notwithstandings, that none of the Lodges in this Country are contaminated with the principles ascribed to the Society of the Illuminati.“

—  George Washington

Letter to Reverend G. W. Snyder (25 September 1798) http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-02-02-0435 thanking him for a copy of Proofs of a Conspiracy against All the Religions and Governments of Europe (1798) by John Robison.
1790s
Context: I have heard much of the nefarious, & dangerous plan, & doctrines of the Illuminati, but never saw the Book until you were pleased to send it to me. The same causes which have prevented my acknowledging the receipt of your letter, have prevented my reading the Book, hitherto; namely — the multiplicity of matters which pressed upon me before, & the debilitated state in which I was left after, a severe fever had been removed. And which allows me to add little more now, than thanks for your kind wishes and favourable sentiments, except to correct an error you have run into, of my Presiding over the English lodges in this Country. The fact is, I preside over none, nor have I been in one more than once or twice, within the last thirty years. I believe notwithstandings, that none of the Lodges in this Country are contaminated with the principles ascribed to the Society of the Illuminati.

„The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation.“

—  George Washington

Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island (1790)
1790s
Context: The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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