Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 1, 2015

Senate Hears Washington’s Words Once Again

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate returned from the Presidents Day recess by reprising one of the chamber’s greatest — and perhaps most ironic — traditions.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, was recognized for the annual reading of George Washington’s Farewell address. In the lengthy speech, the nation’s first president warned “against the baneful effects of the spirit of party.”

As to be expected, King was repeating Washington’s words to a largely empty chamber on a Monday afternoon before many of his colleagues had returned to the Capitol.

“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,” Washington said. “The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and 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.”

The Senate’s had a reading of the speech annually since 1896. As the Senate Historical Office explains, each senator reading the speech leaves a note in a leather-bound book maintained by the Senate.

The reading of the speech is repeated every year pursuant to an order of the Senate.

This year’s reading of the farewell address came just hours ahead of a series of procedural votes on President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees, following a particularly partisan divide over the chamber’s rules in the aftermath of the decision by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to invoke the “nuclear” option to change the Senate’s precedents governing floor action on most nominees.

While King caucuses with the Democrats, he was elected as an independent and didn’t formally announce plans to be part of the Democratic caucus until after election. However, King’s choice of party association came as no surprise to either Democrats or Republicans.

As for the honor of presenting the address, which alternates between the two sides of the aisle, King told #WGDB before the recess that he really didn’t know why he was selected.

“I have no idea, except that occasionally Harry Reid calls me ‘professor,’ so maybe it’s my background as a, as a college professor,” King said. After leaving the governor’s mansion in Augusta, King in fact became a lecturer at Bowdoin College.

King’s a known history enthusiast, as he previously made clear on the Senate floor last year when he offered a lecture on the Battle of Gettysburg, complete with drawings.

“The leader’s office called and I jumped at the chance because I think it’s such a great document. You know who wrote it?” asked King. “Who Washington had as ghostwriters? Madison and Hamilton. Not bad.”

James Madison had initially drafted a farewell speech for Washington in 1792, which Washington used as a basis for the eventual speech. Washington asked Alexander Hamilton to revise what Washington himself drafted from what Madison had provided. The University of Virginia has an online repository of papers related to the address and the various drafts.

  • Connor Vlakancic

    …sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction…turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation [self-superior aggrandization].

  • Anonymous

    F*ckin¦ remarkable issues here. I¦m very satisfied to see your article. Thank you a lot and i’m taking a look forward to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?

  • Anonymous

    I used to be very pleased to seek out this net-site.I wished to thanks on your time for this excellent learn!! I positively enjoying each little little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you weblog post.

  • Anonymous

    It’s actually a great and useful piece of info. I’m happy that you simply shared this useful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    Nice post. I learn something more challenging on different blogs everyday. It will always be stimulating to read content from other writers and practice a little something from their store. I’d prefer to use some with the content on my blog whether you don’t mind. Natually I’ll give you a link on your web blog. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    I¦ve been exploring for a bit for any high-quality articles or blog posts on this kind of house . Exploring in Yahoo I ultimately stumbled upon this website. Studying this information So i am happy to express that I have a very just right uncanny feeling I discovered just what I needed. I such a lot for sure will make sure to do not put out of your mind this web site and provides it a glance on a continuing basis.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for the good writeup. It in truth was a leisure account it. Look complicated to more brought agreeable from you! By the way, how can we communicate?

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for another great post. Where else could anyone get that kind of info in such a perfect way of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.

  • Anonymous

    Well I definitely liked reading it. This information procured by you is very practical for accurate planning.

  • Anonymous

    This blog is definitely rather handy since I’m at the moment creating an internet floral website – although I am only starting out therefore it’s really fairly small, nothing like this site. Can link to a few of the posts here as they are quite. Thanks much. Zoey Olsen

  • Anonymous

    of course like your web site however you need to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very troublesome to inform the truth however I’ll definitely come again again.

  • Anonymous

    Good write-up, I’m regular visitor of one’s web site, maintain up the nice operate, and It’s going to be a regular visitor for a lengthy time.

  • desene animate romana

    Awesome blog.Really looking forward to read more. Really Cool.

  • Anonymous

    rtV6LP Thank you ever so for you blog article.Really thank you! Cool.

  • eebest8

    Say, you got a nice blog post.Thanks Again. Keep writing.

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...