Wise Words from Washington …

… George Washington, that is. Father of our country. Our first and one of our finest presidents. Native of Virginia’s Northern Neck. Little remembered today, his 1796 Farewell Address contains warnings and wisdom that still ring true at daybreak of 2019.

January 2019

Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Executive Editor

In a 32-page letter published near the end of his second and final term as president, George Washington offered encouragement … advice … and cautionary notes to “friends and fellow-citizens” of the nation he loved, led and helped create. He shared his hopes about the unlimited potential of this new nation … and his concerns about some serious pitfalls that littered our landscape.

In this Farewell Address, he worried about the divisive influence of political parties … stressed the importance of constitutional government … encouraged citizens to see themselves first as Americans, rather than as residents of a state or region … and offered numerous warnings about the perils of long-term alliances with, and special treatment of, foreign governments. He also discussed the importance of a balanced budget, and of sparing future generations from the burden of debts accumulated by previous ones.

These may seem like quaint concepts in today’s world, where economies are so intertwined, and people so interconnected. But had our first president’s advice been followed more carefully, few today would argue against less (or no) national debt, and less (or no) political partisanship. President Washington also offered thoughts on the importance of an informed electorate. Of this, he wrote the following:

“… It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

“Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened …”

Taking heed of President Washington’s point about promoting “institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge,” we offer within the folds of this month’s magazine our annual Virginia Legislative Guide. We’re very proud to have published this guide now for 30 years, making it one of the oldest, and we hope most useful, guidebooks available on the commonwealth’s General Assembly.

We hope you’ll do more than merely scan the enclosed guide. We hope you’ll keep it, and more importantly, use it. It contains a wealth of information on our elected officials, including photos of each delegate and senator, plus their district and Richmond office phone numbers, as well as their mail and email addresses. There are also summaries of Virginia’s three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial.

As high schoolers know (but we adults often forget), Virginia’s legislature is the Western Hemisphere’s oldest democratic body in continuous existence. Despite long centuries of practice, though, the General Assembly functions best when the commonwealth’s citizens are involved and invested in the decisions that are being made on their behalf.

For additional information about the General Assembly, go online to the legislature’s website, virginiageneralassembly.gov; to the Virginia Public Access Project site, vpap.org; or to the website of the electric cooperative association that publishes Cooperative Living magazine, vmdaec.com.

The 140 citizen-legislators who constitute the 100-member House of Delegates and the 40-member Senate of Virginia convene at noon on Wednesday, Jan. 9, to begin considering thousands of proposed changes to the commonwealth’s laws, including bills that may impact your community, your profession, or your electric cooperative. As a concerned citizen, and as a member-consumer of an electric cooperative, we hope you’ll stay in touch with the issues … and with your elected representatives.

In one short sentence nestled among the many long passages in his Farewell Address, President Washington summarized the importance of citizen involvement in the political process: “The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives; but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate.”

Still true, 223 years later.