Monday, February 22, 2016

Happy Birthday, George! (Washington)

I have been a student of history, primarily military history, all my life. I have read and studied many great men and women from Alexander to Patton. A few have become heroes to me. Alexander the Great conquered the entire known world in a very short time winning every major battle. Julius Caesar was a master of military strategy and engineering. Napoleon was hailed as a great general, but his real genius was in public relations and the ability to spin his failures into perceived victories. 

There is one man I did not study until relatively recently. I had overlooked him. I had learned a little about him in school but his accomplishments, while often listed, are rarely explained. When I began reading about him I discovered a man whose character and accomplishments place him head and shoulders above anyone I had studied before. That man is George Washington and today is his birthday.

George Washington is a man whose fame is not wholly accounted for by the record of his life. The man was infinitely greater than anything he did. A military genius, he wrested liberty from tyranny; a statesman, he helped evolve a stable government from political chaos; a patriot, he refused a crown. Wisdom, patience, tolerance, courage, consecration to the righteous cause animated his every act. Ingratitude, injustice and treachery never embittered him, but served to strengthen his character. He grew in dignity and in capacity to the need of his growing responsibility and power, but he never became arrogant and ambition and opportunity never tempted him from the narrow path of honor.

It has been truly said of George Washington that he was the one indispensable man of our Revolution, but he secured immortality by insisting that he was dispensable. He asserted that the cause of liberty was larger than any individual.

The true story of his life reads like something a fiction writer would have loved to dream up. His first military experience resulted in his defeat by a force of French and Indians and his signing a surrender document in which, because it was written in French and he did not speak any foreign language, he did not realize that he had "confessed" to assassinating the French commander. It resulted in his disgrace and started the French and Indian War. Forced by his own sense of honor to resign his commission, he did not let this stop him. He returned 2 years later as a volunteer serving as an aid to General Braddock, the British general in command. In a battle in which the General Braddock was killed, George assumed command of the defeated British force. In the course of the battle Washington had 2 horses shot out from under him and his uniform coat had 4 bullet holes shot right through it. By sheer leadership and calm demeanor under fire, he lead the survivors to safety and was acclaimed a hero.

His ambition was to enter the regular British Army but they turned him down and he returned to civilian life. While running his plantation and a small import business became increasingly resentful of the way the English King treated the colonists. An ardent supporter of the American cause, he went to the Continental Congress and was appointed Commander of the American Army.

During the Revolutionary War he literally created the American Army, organizing it, creating a supply system and training the undisciplined militiamen. Commanding an army which was out numbered and out gunned he lost many of the major engagements but he won every strategically important battle. In the end forced the largest, best equipped and most experience army of the day to surrender and by doing so he secured the independence of America from England.

At the end of the war he was so popular that the army and the majority of the people in the colonies wanted to give him a crown and acclaim him king. Instead he went to the Continental Congress and resigned, said that our new country should be have no one person in total power and returned once again to civilian life.

His sense of duty found him again returning to the Continental Congress a few years later where he was an integral part of writing and getting support for the Constitution. He was elected first President of the United States of America and was the only President to receive a unanimous vote by the Electoral College. As president he was responsible for the organization of the executive branch and the establishment of many of the procedures and precedents followed to this day, including the annual "State of the Union" report to Congress. After serving 2 terms in office, he insisted that it was time for the country to learn how to transition power smoothly and he retired once again to civilian life. He is a man of unique and exceptional qualities.

The United States of America would simply not exist today if it were not for the quality of his character. If there was ever "the right person, at the right place, at the right time", it was George Washington.

His name is on everything, at every turn. His picture hangs in every public school, is on our dollar bill and on our coins. Our capital, a state, and several counties and cities are named after him. He has become so common place we actually forget about him. He has become the "unseen sign" along the road. It is a shame. We must not forget him and what we owe him. More importantly, we should learn from him. His actions and his words are an inspiration even today. I am putting a list of my favorite quotes of George Washington below. Those few words speak volumes and are a tribute to his greatness.

"Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism."

"If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."

"It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty upon the supposition he may abuse it."

"My observation is that whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty... it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein."

"To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace."

"We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience."

and finally:

"It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn. This call to his fellow citizens was meant for each of us as well."

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