George Washington: Still First In our Hearts?
By Sam Johnson
"I think I knew General Washington intimately and thoroughly; and
were I called on to delineate his character, it should be in terms like these.
"His mind was great and powerful, without being
of the very first order...and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever
"He was incapable of fear, meeting personal
dangers with the calmest unconcern.
"Perhaps the strongest feature in his character
was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration was
"His integrity was most pure, his justice the
most inflexible; no motives of interest, friendship or hatred being able to
bias his decision...
"He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a
wise, a good, and a great man."
is George Washington's birthday; a day once celebrated with great fanfare and
eloquent speeches about the man who was "First in war, first in peace, and
first in the hearts of his countrymen."
has been a long time since we have so honored this founding father. We used to
have a special day set aside just for him, but in recent years, the observance
of Washington's birthday has been relegated to a generic government holiday
called "President's Day," giving federal employees a 3-day
mini-vacation, and merchants the opportunity for a "SELLabration" of
their own that has nothing to do with honoring "the father of our
difficult to say exactly what the cultural results of this generic holiday are,
but ask young people what they know about George Washington and you will likely
get responses such as: "he chopped down a cherry tree," "he
couldn't tell a lie," "he's on the dollar bill," "he's the
father of our country," "he was our first President," "he
threw a silver dollar across a river."
might also mention something about bare feet at Valley Forge, crossing the
Delaware, and maybe Mount Vernon, but that's about the extent of it.
legend looms larger than the man.
young people can tell you even the basic story of George Washington. How this
gentleman farmer from Virginia with no great education ("merely reading,
writing and common arithmetic to which some surveying was later added")
left his plantation to represent Virginia in the first Continental Congress,
then became Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and "led a rag-tag
bunch of ill-equipped and poorly trained soldiers through 8 years of bitter
fighting to glorious victory and eventual independence."
the last bunch of the British troops left the colonies, Washington resigned his
command of the army and served as president of the Constitutional Convention to
help formulate a document that would empower a new system of government and
change the course of history.
with the opportunity to become the first American monarch and enjoy a great
deal of power, "His Excellency" (as he was addressed in letters and
in person) rejected the idea. However, with the unanimous selection by
convention delegates, Washington agreed to become president of the newly formed
constitutional government with its system of checks and balances -- a position
of limited power he graciously relinquished after 2 terms (a tradition that
lasted until FDR) though he likely could have served as president for life had
he so desired, and some suggested should have been elected "King of the
George Washington did not single-handedly win the war for independence, enact
the Constitution, or establish our democratic system of government, he was at
the very center of those developments and played an important role in bringing
Jefferson rightly noted, the contributions of George Washington are
"worthy of everlasting remembrance. For his was the singular destiny and
merit of leading the armies of this country successfully through an arduous
war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils
through the birth of a government new in form and principles."
the whole, his character was, in its mass, perfect, in nothing bad, in few
points indifferent; and it may truly be said that never did nature and fortune
combine more perfectly to make a man great."
he deserves more attention from us on "Presidents' Day."
Anyway, I'll be thinking about that as I head over to the Senior
Center for a piece of their Presidents' Day cherry pie!
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