Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

February 16, 2015

Washington’s Farewell

By David Reiss

President Washington had this to say in his farewell address:

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

We should heed these words as much today as in Washington’s own time. And while they should guide us in many areas, I would focus on what they mean in the context of housing finance reform.

Democrats and Republicans have not found common ground on the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And yet the nation is likely to be made worse off by leaving them in limbo for so long, with a variety of crises lurking just over the horizon. I hope Congress can hear Washington’s advice to his fellow citizens and commit to placing the reform of these two gargantuan financial institutions at the top of its agenda for the coming year. Seems like a good way to truly commemorate his contribution to our country.

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