In order to get the Constitution passed, General Washington cut a deal. He would become the first POTUS. This is how it went down.
“…Around noon on April 14, 1789, Washington flung open the door at Mount Vernon and greeted his visitor with a cordial embrace. Once in the privacy of the mansion, he and Thomson conducted a stiff verbal minuet, each man reading from a prepared statement. Thomson began by declaring, “I am honored with the commands of the Senate to wait upon your Excellency with the information of your being elected to the office of President of the United States of America” by a unanimous vote. He read aloud a letter from Senator John Langdon of New Hampshire, the president pro tempore. “Suffer me, sir, to indulge the hope that so auspicious a mark of public confidence will meet your approbation and be considered as a sure pledge of the affection and support you are to expect from a free and enlightened people.” There was something deferential, even slightly servile, in Langdon’s tone, as if he feared that Washington might renege on his promise and refuse to take the job. Thus was greatness once again thrust upon George Washington….”
Perhaps my favorite person in history, George Washington was a failure. He wanted to be a success. He wanted to be famous. He wanted to be important. Everything he tried, failed. Then, he became Commander in Chief of an army which appeared to be on its last legs. He lost one battle after another, until Christmas, 1776. Deep within himself, he found that transcendent moment.
He became the Father of His Country.
“…Richard Brookhiser rescued this view of Washington in his landmark 1997 book, “Founding Father.” Hidden behind myth, written off by revisionists as just another dead, white, male slave-owner, Washington was in fact a man for the ages.
Born a Virginia aristocrat, he carefully cultivated his virtues — self-control, moderation, civility; his strengths physical and moral — to become the most widely admired presence first in the 13 colonies, then in the new nation.
He created two American institutions.
First was the army, which he commanded from 1775 to 1783, shaping a collection of untrained and undisciplined ragtag soldiers into a fighting force that defeated the world’s superpower, Great Britain.
He also set the future course of the US government itself. Presiding over its first years from 1789 to 1797, he understood he was setting precedents that had to last — even as many disagreed on what precise form that government should take.
Yet his importance goes far beyond his résumé. It was Washington who emphasized that America was a republic when he rebuked those who wanted a monarchy or an exalted president.
Likewise, he set the precedent for presidential limits by refusing entreaties that he accept a third term.
“Washington’s last service to his country was to stop serving,” writes Brookhiser.
And he was the only slaveholding founder to free his slaves, albeit in his will.
For all these reasons and more, there was no dissent when Henry Lee famously described Washington in death as “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Unlike other notable presidents — Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR, JFK, Reagan — Washington left no memorable lines that we continue to quote today.
But, as Brookhiser tells us, “His life still has the power to inspire anyone who studies it.” Give it a try…”
I am a fan of George Washington. We would, basically, not have the nation we do without him and the things that he did. In a recent column, Phil Kadner captured the single reason Washington deserves even more accolades than we give him. A bitterly ambitious man, young George wanted to be rich, famous, and be all powerful. Instead, for most of his life, even after being named as the commander of the failing Continental Army, he was an abject failure. Then, on December 25, 1776, he crossed the Delaware River.
Until then he was treated like dirt.
Then he pulled off a bloody miracle.
Kadner captures the very reason I admire Washington more than any other person in history.
“…After the fighting had ended and before the peace was signed, King George III of England asked an acquaintance whether Washington would remain in charge of the army or become the new nation’s monarch. When told Washington’s aim was to simply give up his power and return to his farm, the king replied, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
He resigned in Annapolis, Maryland, and immediately set out for home. For the first time in eight years Washington returned to Mount Vernon for Christmas. It would be six years before he was elected the nation’s first president and once again called away from home.
In the history of the world there are a multitude of heroic military leaders who have led successful revolts against oppressors only to seize power themselves, becoming dictators and despots.
Put simply, this government of the people and by the people exists only because George Washington voluntarily gave up his power, first as the military leader and later as its chief of state.
Yet, there is no national holiday marking the occasion. No fireworks light the skies. The calendar does not even designate Dec. 23 as a day to fly the flag…
That’s why I believe Dec. 23 needs to be recognized, remembered and cherished as the day a man walked away from absolute power.
On his last day in uniform, Washington did not proclaim himself the greatest military commander in history or trumpet his victories. Instead, he recalled how inadequate he felt when he was named to lead the troops.
He tied this prize in a red, white and blue ribbon and presented it as a Christmas gift to all who would live in this nation for centuries to come. And then he mounted his horse and rode home…”
He walked away from absolute power.