“If I Had It in His Hand-Writing I Would Burn It”: Federalists and the Authorship Controversy over George Washington’s Farewell Address, 1808–1859
- Journal of the Early Republic
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 34, Number 2, Summer 2014
- pp. 219-242
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Federalists throughout the United States claimed George Washington as a Federalist leader and, especially after Thomas Jefferson’s Revolution of 1800, used this connection as a central feature of their campaign to regain voter confidence and political influence. A critical part of that campaign was Washington’s Farewell Address. Federalists argued that they were the true defenders of Washington’s principles and that the Republicans had turned their backs on the Farewell Address. When a rumor began circulating in 1808 or 1809 that Alexander Hamilton had been the true author of the Farewell Address, Federalists feared that the authority of the Address would be diminished and its influence in the Federalist cause greatly weakened. As Federalists began to meet renewed success at the polls in 1808, at least in part due to their Washingtonian rhetoric and principles, their need to preserve the established narrative that the Address was solely Washington’s work led them to do everything they could to quash the Hamilton rumors. Federalist needs conflicted with the desire of Hamilton’s family to see their patriarch receive the credit they believed he was due. When the Federalists finally passed from the scene in the late 1820s, it was Washington’s heirs who extended the controversy for an additional three decades. The authorship controversy revealed how essential the Federalists saw Washington and his Farewell Address as being to their political beliefs and their renewed electoral relevance.