(This is Part 1 of a series on President George Washington.)
Many conservatives point to great modern men and leaders like Ronald Reagan as models we can follow, and I concur with their sentiment. But I think the best of leaders lived long ago during the founding of our republic, away from the limelight and luster of today’s politics and Washington drama.
With Feb. 18 being President’s Day and Feb. 22 being the actual day George Washington was born, I thought it was no better time to honor what I consider one of the greatest leaders ever born anywhere. And I’m going to take a few weeks (articles) to do it.
Let me begin by highlighting a few background notes for some who might not be as familiar with this pillar of American life beyond the basics, as documented by the University of Virginia and the History Channel.
In 1752, at 23 years young, Washington joined the British army and served as a lieutenant in the French and Indian War.
In 1759, Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow, and adopted her two children. (She had two other children, but they had passed.)
In 1775, at 43 years old, Washington became the commander in chief of the Continental Army, and, in 1783, led America to victory over the British after eight years of war.
As far as his political career, Washington served as a member of the House of Burgesses of Virginia from 1759-1774. He was also a member of the first and second Continental Congresses in 1774 and 1775. But while others were signing the Declaration of Independence, Washington was already on the battlefield fighting for independence. As the president of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, however, Washington was the first signer of the U.S. Constitution.
In 1789, Washington became the first president of the United States of America. He was unanimously elected by the 69 presidential electors to serve his first term from 1789 to 1793. He was then again unanimously elected for his second term from 1793 to 1797. He declined a third term.
So here are my Top 10 reasons why I wish George Washington were still alive, and why I believe his life and model is still worthy to shadow today. (These are also the reasons I often cited the Father of America’s words and works, among our other founders, in my New York Times bestseller and now expanded paperback, “Black Belt Patriotism.”)
10) Even as a youth, Washington was a role model for many. At just 14 years of age, young George wrote out in freehand by his own volition, “110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” At age 17, George’s first official job was as official surveyor of Culpeper County, Va.
9) Washington epitomized courage. While others were frightened by signing of the Declaration of Independence, Washington was on the front lines battling for its tenets. He faced his fears, endured grave hardships and even stared death in the eyes while helping others to do the same. Who can forget the severe conditions of Valley Forge? And what about the repeated threat of personal injury?
Washington even dodged bullets on several occasions. The University of Virginia documents a few of them: “[A]t Braddock’s Defeat where two horses were shot under him and he had four bullets in his clothes; at the final skirmish of the Forbes expedition, on November 12, 1758, where he rushed between two parties of British who were firing at each other; at Kip’s Bay skirmish on September 15, 1776, where he rashly exposed himself in an attempt to rally the militia; at the battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777; and when making a reconnaissance of the British after the landing at the Head of Elk on August 26, 1777.”
8) Washington wasn’t afraid of public opinion or challenging the status quo. As the History Channel explained, “He struggled with advisers over what sort of image a president should project. He preferred one of dignity and humility and stumbled when encouraged to act out of character or monarchical. … A member of the Virginia planter class, he grew increasingly uncomfortable with the hypocrisy of owning slaves, yet publicly he promoted a gradual abolition of slavery. In his will he requested that his slaves be freed upon Martha’s death.” As far back as 1786, Washington said, “There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it.”
7) Washington was a man of integrity and character, and yet just as human as the rest of us. Again, as the History Channel explained, “Washington possessed that intangible quality of a born leader and had earned a reputation for coolness under fire and as a strict disciplinarian during the French and Indian campaign. … An extraordinary figure in American history and unusually tall at 6′ 3″, Washington was also an ordinary man. He loved cricket and fox hunting, moved gracefully around a ballroom, was a Freemason and possibly a Deist, and was an astute observer of the darker side of human nature. His favorite foods were pineapples, Brazil nuts (hence the missing teeth from cracking the shells) and Saturday dinners of salt cod. He possessed a wry sense of humor and, like his wife Martha, tried to resist the vanities of public life. Washington could also explode into a rage when vexed in war or political battles. Loyal almost to a fault, he could also be unforgiving and cold when crossed. When Republican Thomas Jefferson admitted to slandering the president in an anonymous newspaper article for his support of Federalist Alexander Hamilton‘s policies, Washington cut Jefferson out of his life. On at least one occasion, Washington’s stubbornness inspired John Adams to refer to him as Old Muttonhead.”
(Next week I will discuss a few more controversial aspects of Washington’s life, like his family values and relation with Sally Fairfax, how some today view him as yesteryear’s presidential billionaire mogul, as well as reveal my No. 1 reason why I wish he were still alive today to serve as a model for us all. For more on the monumental figure of George Washington, I recommend the amazing book, “Sacred Fire,” by Peter Lillback and Jerry Newcombe.)