Steve McAlphabet Motorcycling Music Across America
Dear Mr. Washington

Dear Mr. Washington

On my 2022 motorcycle tour, I visited Washington DC with the sole goal of seeing Will Rogers’ statue in the Capitol building. Unfortunately, they have moved it out of Statuary Hall to a place where only members of Congress can see it. However, I did find a bust of him in the Smithsonian, and there is a lot more to see in Washington DC. 

The night I arrived on my 2023 motorcycle tour, before I went to bed, I played a melody in the key of C that served as a wonderful lullaby for my host and his other guest. The next morning, as I picked up my guitar, the words “Dear Mr. Washington” popped into my head with the idea to write a song for the man for whom the city was named. But since I’d written a song called “Dear Mona Lisa” to the world’s most famous painting in 2020, I didn’t feel inclined to repeat the same schtick.

For the rest of the day, as I walked the streets of DC listening to a recording of the tune I’d come up with, I searched for something else to write a song about. I went to memorials for Lincoln, Washington, and Dr. King. I went to Planet Word and three different Smithsonian museums. I sat in Obama’s booth for lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl. But I could not shake the idea that I had to write a song to our first president.

In 1796, after two terms in office, George Washington set a precedent for leadership in America by stepping down and allowing new leadership to rise. Until recently, it was an agreement that every president has honored, but since honor is often attained through challenges and hard fought struggle, apparently, it’s not something we can expect from someone born into the entitlement of the millionaire class. Nevertheless, George Washington and most of our American presidents were able to use hardships to carve their character, which allowed them the ability to strive for a greater character for the country, and not just their own selfish gains.

That’s not to say that our founding fathers didn’t benefit from creating the legislation that would also benefit other Americans. Washington was able to establish waterways that greatly improved his opportunities for trade from his properties, as did many of the other boys. And they established a republic, which isn’t the purest form of democracy, but for its time, it was a great step forward.

Unfortunately, after declaring independence, establishing a Bill of Rights, and drafting a constitution, making other decisions got a bit too complex. So much to the consternation of men like Washington and John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton created a two-party system to make things simpler. In George Washington’s 6087 word farewell address, a good portion of those words were used to warn his fledgling country about the dangers of the two-party system. 

I wondered what he would think about how ridiculously we have ignored his warnings.

(The chords and lyrics are included in the video below if you want to learn how to play this song.)

Dear Mr. Washington
They say you couldn’t lie
If you could see what we’ve become
Would you look on with pride?
Your farewell came with warnings
That we have since ignored
What we’ve been supporting
Is not what we should be moving toward

Washington wrote, “There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.” 

Is it too late to reconsider how our political process has been structured? Is it possible to change things or do we really have to wait for the entire thing to burn down before rebuilding with a bit more wisdom? 

You warned of despotism
And we took it by the hand
You claimed that it was frightful
And we let it rule our Land

Washington wrote, “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormity, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.” 

Perhaps I’m reading into things, but that pretty much seems to be where we are right about now.

Dear Mr Washington
You warned of disorders and miseries
The baneful effects of parties
Should be discouraged and restrained

Washington wrote, “I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discrimination. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally. This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.” 

It would seem that Washington wasn’t all that thrilled about gerrymandering either. Nevertheless, we have allowed the two parties to discard our first president’s advice, and carve the country up.

You said they’d spring misrepresentation
And be sharpened by revenge
And they’ve brought dissension to our nation
Divided us with a wedge
They claim unjust Dominion
Perpetrate horrid enormities
The specters of your warnings
Haunt the ruins of our Liberty

Washington wrote, “In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as a matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discrimination. Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedience of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations: they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.” 

It sure would be great if we could get back to cultivating fraternal affection rather than boyish competition.

Dear Mr Washington
You said the cunning would usurp
The reins of government without principles
The people’s power, they subvert

Washington wrote, “However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” 

If Washington were alive today, I’m sure it would be very difficult for him to hold back from saying, “I told you so.”

Against their jealousies and heartburn you said we could not shield
Their alternating factions of domination will not yield
Their potent engines of destruction
Render us alien instead of bound
Where there should be fraternal affection
their common mischief continues to be found

Washington wrote, “Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.” 

Homo sapiens actually translates to “wise people”. However, considering that we have ignored this warning and given our two parties the ability to write their common and continual mischiefs into law, I don’t think we are really living up to that title.

Dear Mr Washington
You spoke of love of Liberty
Have we held to that common cause
And created unity?

Washington wrote, “Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment. 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; for its preservation with jealous anxiety; 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.”

It would seem that alienating Americans and breaking our sacred ties is what the two parties do best.

You said to enlighten our public opinion
And let knowledge be diffused
But we sacrificed our institutions and allow them to be used
To take power from the individual
And give it to the corporation
Maybe we remember the duty of wise people
And give liberty back to our nation

Washington wrote, “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.” Opting for the propaganda, disinformation, and misinformation campaigns we now entertain was probably not what he meant. 

Given that Washington has long been considered our best president, having set such admirable and honorable standards, it is such a tragedy that we ignored his wisdom and his warnings. May we eventually find the clarity and courage to remedy our collective mistake and get back to creating a government of, by, and for the people rather than the current abomination crafted of, by, and for the parties. I realize it is a great leap to ask Americans to consider life without the Democratic and Republican parties, but I hope we’re not too far gone in our allegiance to them that we can at least start imagining the possibility. 

My greatest hope for this country is for the Democratic and Republican parties to become nothing more than bold print in text books. Until then, I’m gonna keep riding my motorcycle around the country and playing this song for people. I hope you like the tune.