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When Washington early in 1796 determined to retire in March, 1797, he revived the idea of issuing a valedictory address to the American people. He reverted to Madison’s draft of 1792, and wove it into the structure of a new address he was preparing. This new holograph manuscript of Washington is called Washington’s first draft. After it was finished, he had a conversation with Alexander Hamilton in Philadelphia, showed him this first draft and asked him to redress it. This Hamilton agreed to do. The first thing that Hamilton did then, was to make a digest of it, called Abstract of points to form an address, as a syllabus for his own use in making a new draft of the Farewell Address, and leaving Washington’s holograph first draft untouched. In the correspondence that passed between the President and Hamilton during ensuing months, the form that the address was to take was altered. Washington had suggested to Hamilton, that if he were to form it anew, it would of course “assume such a shape” as Hamilton was “disposed to give it,” but always “predicated upon the Sentiments” which Washington had furnished.

It was here that Hamilton began a major draft. It followed his Abstract of Points closely. But as the result of correspondence between them, and the passing of the major draft back and forth, that draft became in process “considerably amended,” and so was endorsed by Hamilton: “Original Draft. Copy considerably amended.” It is therefore always referred to as Hamilton’s major draft.

Now, after Hamilton had sent this major draft to Washington, he told him he was preparing another draft for incorporating, meaning thereby, that if Washington was determined to use his own first draft and wished to redress it by Hamilton’s structure and additions, he could do so by availing himself of the draft for incorporating in which case Hamilton’s major draft would be discarded. But Hamilton thought the major draft the better. Washington agreed with him, though he said it was too long. Washington began the preparation in his own hand of a manuscript for the printer. This is called Washington’s final manuscript.

In its preparation he availed himself of all the drafts that had come into his hands, but principally Madison’s draft and Hamilton’s major draft; and he made changes of his own in the process of revision to the very end before its publication. Throughout the preparation Washington’s ideas or “sentiments,” as he liked to call them, were preserved. Hamilton knew, as Madison had before him, that whatever he might do in reshaping, rewriting, or forming anew a draft, the results should be “predicated upon the Sentiments” which Washington had indicated. This central fact was adhered to. Hamilton was solicitous to be governed by it. He had recognized that Washington would be the final judge, and considered his own part in the undertaking as an affectionate act, without putting upon it the least suspicion of restraint. He was magnanimous to Washington, when he wrote: “Whichever you prefer, if there be any part you wish to transfer from one to another–any part to be changed–or if there be any material idea in your own draft which has happened to be omitted and which you wish introduced–in short if ther be anything further in the matter in which I can be of any [service], I will with great pleasure obey your commands.” And it was precisely this freedom, as has been shown, that Washington pursued in preparing his own final manuscript for publication. In the last analysis, Washington was his own editor; and what he published to the world as a Farewell Address, was in its final form in content what he had chosen to make it by processes of adoption and adaptation. By this procedure every idea became his own without equivocation.”

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Notes

Washington’s Farewell Address was printed by David C. Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia), on 19 September 1796. Neither the proof sheet that Claypoole made for Washington’s examination nor the copy that Claypoole worked from in making the proof sheet has been found. The New York Public Library owns Washington’s final manuscript of the Farewell Address as well the drafts made by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton and a number of letters relating to the preparation of those drafts. In 1935 the Library published Victor Hugo Paltsits’ Washington’s Farewell Address: In Facsimile, with Transliterations of all the Drafts of Washington, Madison, & Hamilton, Together with their Correspondence and Other Supporting Documents, and the digitized facsimiles of Washington’s final manuscript of the Farewell Address were made from that book with the Library’s permission. Copies of the book may be obtained from the Library’s Publications Department. The brief introduction above is taken from the preface of Paltsits’ edition.

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