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Ed Hudgins

The Example of Our First President: George Washington

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Example of Our First President

by Edward Hudgins

Originally publishing in The Washington Times

February 22, 2004 -- George Washington unfortunately has become a cliché. For an older generation, he was too often treated as such a mythic figure that it was difficult to appreciate his true importance. In today’s politically correct society many treat him as a white, male oppressor. Most of us celebrate his birthday by shopping the sales at the mall. This is not a bad use of our time, but it is appropriate to take a moment to reflect on the real greatness of the real Washington and the moral lessons he taught us.

Washington exemplified the spirit of early America. He was in his heart and for most of his life a farmer and an innovator who developed new crops and agricultural techniques. He valued the production of wealth as a worthy goal in life. But he also understood that the freedom to produce often must be fought for.

Washington was the general who won America’s independence from Britain, then one of the world’s strongest powers. It was an incredible feat. In 1777, when he marched his 12,000 ragtag volunteers to winter camp at Valley Forge, their prospects were as bleak as the bitter weather. Some 2,000 men died from the brutal cold and from sickness. But the volunteers persevered in large part because of Washington, who forged them into a formidable army. He was no great orator but he had the inspiring words of Thomas Paine read to his frozen troops: “These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” This certainly is an appropriate epitaph for Washington and the Continental Army soldiers who ensured the survival of the United States.

Washington’s achievements reflected his outstanding moral character. He set for himself the highest standards in everything he did and thus became exemplar for his associates and his fellow countrymen. Indeed, when he presided over the Constitutional Convention, he spoke little. It was his example—the fact that the other delegates were in the presence of Washington—that kept those delegates on their best behavior and inspired them to look to the good of the country.

But Washington was not some ever-frowning moralist; he enjoyed life, whether at a dance or dinner party or just riding through his beloved Mt. Vernon estate.

Washington hardly considered himself a philosopher like his friend Thomas Jefferson. But he lived his philosophy. For example, he was born into a slave society but his experiences in life led him appreciate the evils of that institution. He freed his slaves at his death.

Perhaps Washington’s most important legacy was his attitude towards political power. After his victory over Britain some suggested that he be made king of the new America. He adamantly refused. He wanted to return to his farm. In this he followed the example of the retired Roman Senator Cincinnatus who was called away from his farm by a Senate that gave him absolute power to defeat an invading army. As general, Cincinnatus accomplished his goal in a matter of weeks and then, with total power, the esteem of his people and an army in his hands, gave up his position and returned to his plough. Sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon’s statue in the Virginia state house, the only one Washington every posed for, depicts him as a general setting aside his sword and returning to civilian life.

Illustrative of his deep integrity, Washington resigned from the Cincinnati Society, an organization for Revolutionary War veterans, because he feared it would create in the new nation a hereditary class of nobles. Washington believed that individuals should be honored for their own achievements, not for the achievements of their ancestors.

Washington, our first president, set the example for future presidents by limiting himself to two terms in office. He is reputed to have said, "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence—it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master." This is an understanding that too many American citizens and politicians have lost.

George Washington indeed should be honored by all Americans today as he was by Henry Lee who wrote at the time of Washington’s passing that he was “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

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Ed; I had a post about President's Day but your focus on Washington is excellent. The famous statement about Washington being first in war, and first in peace in still true. I am afraid he is sadly not first in the hearts of his countrymen. He should be. One should look at other countries and see how good the premises were of the men and womem who started the United States.

Edited by Chris Grieb

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Here are Cincinnatus, the Roman statesman who, after taking up the office of dictator, defeated the barbarians in several weeks and set aside power to return to his plough, and Washington, also with fasces, also setting aside power. The Washington statue is Houdon's from the Virginia state house.

Cincinnatus-Washington.jpg

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George the III is supposed to have said that Washington not becoming king after the Revolution was the greatest act in history.

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Judith -- Glad you liked the piece! Too bad you'd need to travel to Richmond or Cincinnati to view statues of heros because there are too few real ones in the world today. We need to work on that!

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Ed; There is a rather impressive monument to Washington in Washington. A structure that is mentioned in a certain novel. There is also the statue of Washington at Smithsonian the one where is sitting shirtless.

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Judith -- Glad you liked the piece! Too bad you'd need to travel to Richmond or Cincinnati to view statues of heros because there are too few real ones in the world today. We need to work on that!

I've always loved the Jefferson Memorial in DC as well.

But yeah, I'd rather see them in the flesh! :D

Judith

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A Happy Birthday shout-out today to George Washington! Thanks for the liberty!

Ditto to your commemts about Washington.

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A Happy Birthday shout-out today to George Washington! Thanks for the liberty!

Ed,

I share your appreciation and admiration for George Washington. I have read several versions of the story of his role in the revolution including Howard Fast's The Crossing. His commitment to the cause is always impressive, more so because of all the losses he had to endure.

One think that bothers me is his acceptance of Hamilton's contention that having a central bank was constitutional as an implied power. Fortunately Jefferson succeeded in abolishing it when he was in office. Still I wonder why Washington didn't consult with others such as Jefferson and Madison and the anti federalists first.

Wm

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Ed,

I share your appreciation and admiration for George Washington. I have read several versions of the story of his role in the revolution including Howard Fast's The Crossing. His commitment to the cause is always impressive, more so because of all the losses he had to endure.

One think that bothers me is his acceptance of Hamilton's contention that having a central bank was constitutional as an implied power. Fortunately Jefferson succeeded in abolishing it when he was in office. Still I wonder why Washington didn't consult with others such as Jefferson and Madison and the anti federalists first.

Wm

I obviously don't agree with every policy decision Washington made, but his achievements far outweigh any of my minor disagreements.

By the way, I like the four-part James Thomas Flexner biography. Check it out!

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Ed,

I share your appreciation and admiration for George Washington. I have read several versions of the story of his role in the revolution including Howard Fast's The Crossing. His commitment to the cause is always impressive, more so because of all the losses he had to endure.

One think that bothers me is his acceptance of Hamilton's contention that having a central bank was constitutional as an implied power. Fortunately Jefferson succeeded in abolishing it when he was in office. Still I wonder why Washington didn't consult with others such as Jefferson and Madison and the anti federalists first.

Wm

I obviously don't agree with every policy decision Washington made, but his achievements far outweigh any of my minor disagreements.

By the way, I like the four-part James Thomas Flexner biography. Check it out!

Ed,

I recently read "TO TRY MEN'S SOULS : A NOVEL OF GEORGE WASHINGTON AND THE FIGHT FOR AMERICAN FREEDOM" by Newt Gingrich and found it to be filled with details which brought the story to life.

I will keep my eyes open for the Flexner bio.

On the subject of the loose interpretation of the "necessary and proper" clause, I think it is important that the sovereign people are made aware of it rather than leave it up to the Supreme Court. If we are ever going to restore our constitutional republic I believe only widespread knowledge and understanding of such issues must occur.

That is one reason why I am willing to be involved in the Campaign For Liberty which is still growing although not anywhere near the rate of its first year. At least these people have been awakened to the importance Ron Paul considers the Constitution to be, and the need for each to enlighten themselves and then their neighbors to the ideas of Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand among others.

My impression is that George Washington didn't make a thoughtful policy decision rather just caved to the contention of Hamilton on the subject of a central bank. Of course that was long before the Austrian school emerged. I am surprised he didn't ask to have time to think about the issue and to discuss it with his other advisors.

Our present situation is certainly more compelling and in need of a solution. It is one thing to know the ideal and to have the antidote and quite another to get the patient to swallow it. Rand was correct when she pointed out that it is a struggle for man's mind.

Wm

www.campaignforliberty.com 228,187

Edited by galtgulch

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Based on Ed's comments and the failure of the public schools I went to do justice to the founding fathers (especially Washington), I've just ordered the one volume version of Flexner's biography: "Washington: The Indispensable Man" - dirt cheap used paperback on Amazon.

I'm buying too many books, lately and should probably spend some of my money on crack cocaine instead. Therefore, my not-so-new-year's-resolutions are two:

1) Try to buy books no more than three times as fast as I can read them.

2) Try to make new year's resolutions earlier than the end of February.

Edited by Philip Coates

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Has anyone looked at Paul Johnson's short biography of Washington. During Johnson's three hours on Book TV he was greatly impressed with the Founding Fathers especially Washington.

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I actually found the Library of America book on Washington's papers and writings to be a great companion to any bio [indeed, the same can be said of their collection of Jefferson's, Madison's, the Convention Debate papers [two volumes], Franklin's and probably even Hamilton's [the only one not gotten]]

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Based on Ed's comments and the failure of the public schools I went to do justice to the founding fathers (especially Washington), I've just ordered the one volume version of Flexner's biography: "Washington: The Indispensable Man" - dirt cheap used paperback on Amazon.

I'm buying too many books, lately and should probably spend some of my money on crack cocaine instead. Therefore, my not-so-new-year's-resolutions are two:

1) Try to buy books no more than three times as fast as I can read them.

2) Try to make new year's resolutions earlier than the end of February.

Phil - Espresso, my drug of choice, is so much tastier than crack and you get gallons of it for the same money!

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