George Washington has always been one of my favorite founding fathers, and it was this miniseries from 1984, starring starring Barry Bostwick and Patty Duke, that made me first fall in love with American history:
“The time is near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves.” ~ George Washington
George Washington was a man of great humility and virtue, who fought valiantly for liberty, insisted on being called “Mr. President” instead of a more honorary title, and willingly handed over the reigns of power to set an example for all who followed.
February 22 is the birthday of George Washington — the man who, more than any other, made possible our republican form of government.
The third Monday in February has come to be known, wrongly, as President’s Day. America’s political leaders should take this occasion to remember Washington’s deeds, recollect his advice, and again call the holiday celebrating him by its legal name: Washington’s Birthday.
Washington biographer James Flexner called him the “indispensable man” of the American Founding. Without Washington, America would never have won our War of Independence. He played the central role in the Constitutional Convention and set the precedents that define what it means to be a constitutional executive: strong and energetic, aware of the limits of authority but guarding the prerogatives of office.
Washington not only rejected offers to make him king, but was one of the first leaders in world history to relinquish power voluntarily. His peaceful transfer of the presidency to John Adams in 1797 inaugurated one of America’s greatest democratic traditions.
For eight years, Washington led his small army through the rigors of war, from the defeats in New York and the daring crossing of the Delaware River to the hardships of Valley Forge and the ultimate triumph at Yorktown. Through force of character and brilliant political leadership, Washington transformed an underfunded militia into a capable force that, although never able to take the British army head-on, outwitted and defeated the world’s mightiest military power. And when the job was done, Washington resigned his commission and returned to his beloved Mount Vernon.
Washington was instrumental in bringing about the Constitutional Convention, and his widely publicized participation gave the resulting document a credibility and legitimacy it would otherwise have lacked. Having been immediately and unanimously elected president of the convention, he worked actively throughout the proceedings. His voting record shows his consistent support for a strong executive and defined national powers. The vast powers of the presidency, as one delegate to the Constitutional Convention wrote, would not have been made as great “had not many of the members cast their eyes towards General Washington as president; and shaped their ideas of the powers to be given to a president, by their opinions of his virtue.”
Washington wrote extensively and eloquently about the principles and purposes of the American Founding. He was a champion of religious freedom, of immigration, and of the rule of law. His most significant legacy is his Farewell Address of 1796, which ranks with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as one of the greatest documents of the Founding. The Farewell Address is best remembered for its counsel about international affairs: Washington recommended commercial relations with other nations but as few political entanglements as possible.
Often overlooked is his sage advice about the character of our political system:
- Uphold the Constitution. Washington reminds us that the Constitution — by which our government is carefully limited yet strong enough to defend our rights and liberties — is our strongest check against tyranny and the best bulwark of our freedom.
- Beware of the politics of passion. Washington was concerned about the excessive partisanship that stirs up individual passions, bringing out the worst aspects of popular government.
- Protect American independence. Although often remembered as an isolationist, Washington advocated an active policy of building the political, economic and physical strength for America to defy external threats and pursue its own long-term national purpose.
- Encourage morality and religion. Public virtue cannot be expected in a climate of private vice, Washington reminds us, and the most important source of virtue is religion and morality.
Greg Halvorson opines that the “failure to honor Washington is a triumph for the Left“:
“President’s Day” disrespects George again. The equivalent of “every leader gets a prize,” it mocks history, inspires no one, and displays the lengths to which fools go to be foolish. There is no par between George Washington and James Polk, between Thomas Jefferson and Millard Fillmore, and to assert otherwise says: 1) that no president is different from any other; 2) that individuals must bow to the Collective; and 3) that history is a dull, generic ride.
False on each count. When you honor everyone, you honor no one, and honor becomes meaningless. The name of the law which created President’s Day – The Uniform Monday Holiday Act – is absurd, much like the mush it inspired. Debating the bill, Rep. Dan Kuykendall (R-TN), foresaw the outcome:
“If we do this – change the date of the Washington holiday – ten years from now our children will not know what February 22 means. They will not know or care when George Washington was born. They will know only that in the middle of February, they will have a three-day weekend for some reason…. This will come.”
It has. The progressive effort to rewrite history and to demonize – and erase – the Founders has succeeded. General Washington is now less revered than Lady GaGa.
Today, take a moment to learn about and remember America’s first president and what he and his generation sacrificed so that we could live free.
Then ask yourself, what am I doing to preserve this priceless, fragile gift of liberty for the next generation?
Cross posted at ThoughtsFromAConservativeMom.com