Monday, February 21, 2011

"Under The Auspices of Liberty"

As I write today, the nearby living room television is turned to CNN. The network is showing images from Libya where the people are protesting against a dictator of some 40 years.

"Gaddafi out!" said a protester's sign in one of the shots.

It's ironic this is the leading news on a day when we Americans celebrate the birthday of our first president, George Washington. History reminds us that, after two terms in office, the founding father could have stayed on but freely did not.

This was a blessing to the young American republic. It led to a peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected leader to another and set the precedent for a calm presidential retirement.

The Arab world needs men and women like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the rest -- leaders who cherish real democracy and true freedom more than power for themselves and their regimes.

The despots could do well by reading George Washington's Farewell Address.

Here's a piece of that honorable exit:

" ... In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected.

Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it. ... "

The image above, the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of President Washington saved by Dolley Madison, is from here.

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