“For this [protecting your unity] you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. 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 counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”
Right to Affection
The way Washington writes is so poetic. I love the old style of writing because you cannot just breeze over it and assume that you understand it all. Instead, the different way of saying things makes you pause and really examine the point that the author is attempting to communicate.
If you heard someone say that as a citizen of America, this country has a right to your affection, that you ought to have an affinity to America, what would you think? This may seem like an odd thing to say. Would Washington really admonish allegiance to a country just because you are a citizen of that country?
Again, we are presented with the idea that America is more than just a country. Being the man of principle that he was, Washington would never advocate blind loyalty based solely on something as trifling as citizenship. Understanding his belief that America is more than just a government, or land, or people, that this new country he helped form was an eternal idea, suddenly it begins to make a bit more sense.
The principles that underlay this country do indeed have a right to concentrate our affections. We ought to be able to unify under the idea that is America. Regardless of who is in office, what politician we love or hate, what policy we want to implement, we should be able to find unity. That palladium that is the guard against destruction.
The Name of American
There are those who do not understand the privilege, the honor that accompanies the name of American. Washington speaks of a “just pride of patriotism”. This is not the sort of braggadocios nationalism that pits one country against another to prove which one is better. Instead, this is a staunch allegiance to something that is a benefit to your fellow countrymen and by extension, to the world.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines patriotism thus: “Love of one’s country; the passion which aims to serve one’s country, either in defending it from invasion, or protecting its rights and maintaining its laws and institutions in vigor and purity. Patriotism is the characteristic of a good citizen, the noblest passion that animates a man in the character of a citizen.”
There is a just way to take pride in the love that we have for this country. Why? Because of what it stands for – freedom, justice, and rule of law.
This is where a lot of people get confused and where a lot of the misguided hate for American comes from. There are, no doubt, those that actually are enemies of liberty. However, there are others who are fed up with the corruption they see in government or any other number of problems that America has (for it is true, our government is not perfect, far from it!).
The distinction they fail to draw is that Washington and patriots like him never put that much stock in the government of America per se. In just the first few decades of the United States, there were power struggles and regime changes that drastically changed the way the government operated. Throughout the states, there were differences in government function and priority.
Instead, Washington’s just pride of patriotism was in the name of American. And in all that it implied.
In 2018, are Washington’s words still true? Do we have anything close to the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles? Do we have anything close to a united fight or victory? Do we view the independence and liberty we have as something that has come from a united effort?
The answers to these questions might vary depending on whom you ask. However, no one can deny that a ‘yes’ answer today would be far less emphatic than it would have been in 1796. Some would argue that an emphatic ‘no’ would be far more accurate.
Even back then, Washington realized that there was no such thing as perfect, 100%, homogeneous unity in a country as large as America. Since then, we have only gotten larger and more diverse. Those ‘slight shades of difference’ have gotten darker and darker until now, we cannot unify on basic, fundamental issues that all Americans should be able to join on.
There is no easy solution to this problem. We do have to acknowledge though, that the Judeo-Christian religion of which Washington spoke, is key to any hope of renewed unity.
While some may balk at a statement like this, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a recurrence to the principles in the Bible, held in such high esteem by the vast majority of our Founding Fathers, is the first step in the long road back to the kind of unity Washington desired for America.
John Hancock said, “Sensible of the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a state, I cannot but earnestly commend to you every measure for their support and encouragement.”
Patrick Henry said, “The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.”
Washington will address this further into his address, so I’ll save the rest for later. But consider – a country that had only slight shades of difference in their desire to love God and love others would find it far easier to unify in matters of manners, habits, and political principles.
What a difference this one change could make.