Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Today is George Washington’s Birthday

I wrote a regular post for today’s blog (see below) and had posted it when I realized that today is also George Washington’s Birthday. I simply could not let that pass without mention.

As a young man growing up in America I knew who George Washington was and very often herd him referred to as the “Father of our country”. I did not, however study the man, nor was there very much taught about him in the schools. As I became older and my personal interest in history grew, I frankly paid more attention to great leaders from the past, such as Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. It was not until I began studying American History that I read my first biography of George Washington and my admiration for him grew to the point where I now rate him as the greatest of all the great men in history (excluding religious figures, of course). I am not going to do an in depth discussion of his many, many accomplishments and admirable traits here, but I will include a brief biography, purely out of personal respect.

George Washington (February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799) was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. It is safe to say that the United States of America, as we know it today, would not exist except for this man. He led the American victory over Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1775–1783, and he presided over the writing of the Constitution in 1787. As the unanimous choice (and only one to achieve that) to serve as the first President of the United States (1789–1797), he developed the forms and rituals of government that have been used ever since, such as using a cabinet system and delivering an inaugural address. As President, he built a strong, well-financed national government that avoided war, suppressed rebellion and won acceptance among Americans of all types.

Washington had a vision of a great and powerful nation that would be built on republican lines using federal power. He sought to use the national government to improve the infrastructure, open the western lands, create a national university, promote commerce, found a capital city (later named Washington, D.C.), reduce regional tensions and promote a spirit of nationalism. "The name of American," he said, must override any local attachments. At his death, Washington was hailed as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen". As the leader of the first successful revolution against a colonial empire in world history, Washington became an international icon for liberation and nationalism. His symbolism especially resonated in France and Latin America. Historical scholars consistently rank him as one of the two or three greatest presidents. 

One thing he did that demonstrates the character of the man was turning down a crown when, after winning the revolutionary war, he was asked to be the first “King of America”. Then, after serving two terms as President and guiding the formation of the national government, he set the precedent for a smooth transition of power by insisting on turning power over to an elected candidate, retiring from politics for the remainder of his life.

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