The One American Who Should Never Be Forgotten


Gilbert Stuart's Familiar Painting of President Washington

Gilbert Stuart's Familiar Painting of President Washington

On This Date in History: On this date in 1732 George Washington was born. His birthday used to be a National holiday on it’s own.  I had to edit this post though to reflect the number of protestations from people pointing out that Washington’s Birthday is still the holiday, officially. I have to admit that I did not know that.   Back in 1968, apparently the Feds moved the recognition from Feb 22 to the third Monday in February.  It’s cheaper to have a 3 day weekend than it is to close offices in midweek.  A few years ago when it was determined that there needed to be a birthday holiday for Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  While Lincoln’s birthday was never a federal holiday, many states had such a designation. I broke a rule and assumed that it had been a federal holiday since I always got two days off from school.  Anyway,  since they added MLK, state governments did not want to increase the number of holidays so they eliminated the holidays for the birth of President Lincoln.  The third Monday in February is still officially Washington’s birthday, but no one calls it that.  Instead, it is referred to by the media and just about everyone else as President’s Day.  That is utter nonsense. I mean, do we need a day to remember Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce and Chester A. Arthur? If  states wanted to eliminate a day, it could have been Columbus Day. I suppose they didn’t want so may holidays in January and February. In any event, the point of this piece was not a debate about holidays…it’s about February 22.  Today, I asked the students in my American History class what was significant about today.  One said “we have an exam” another said “it’s Monday” and another reminded me that it was his birthday.   That is the larger issue….for whatever reason, while it may not be official, pragmatically, we have lost Washington’s Birthday in the national lexicon.  The distance between the “Father of the Country” and Americans is growing.   

General Washington Resigning His Commission to Congress.  He Voluntarily Surrendered Absolute Power, Not Once, But Twice.  The Definition of the man, his character and integrity.

General Washington Resigning His Commission to Congress. He Voluntarily Surrendered Absolute Power, Not Once, But Twice. The Definition of the man, his character and integrity.

Recently, they came out with another poll of historians ranking the presidents. Lincoln came out on top followed by Washington. In my mind, General Washington is and always should be at the top of the list. I believe there is no other person who is more important in the history of the United States of America.  In many regards, if it were not for him, there very well may not have been a President Lincoln, or William Henry Harrison or Warren G. Harding. He should be studied more in school and his day should remain. Instead of using my words to put out a  full biography, instead, I am choosing on this day to commemorate his birth and life with some verbiage put out by historian David Hackett Fischer from Washington’s Crossing; (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) 7-8.

“He was a big man, immaculate in dress, and of such charismatic presence that he filled the street even when he rode alone. A crowd gathered to watch him go by, as if he were a one-man parade. Children bowed and bobbed to him. Soldiers called him ‘Your Excellency,’ a title rare in America. Gentlemen doffed their hats and spoke his name with deep respect: General Washington.”

“As he came closer, his features grew more distinct. In 1776, we would not have recognized him from the Stuart painting that we know too well. At the age of forty-two, he looked young, lean, and very fit-more so than we remember him. He had the sunburned, storm-beaten face of a man who lived much of his life in the open. His hair was a light hazel-brown, thinning around the temples. Beneath a high forehead, a broad Roman nose bore a few small scars of smallpox. People remembered his soft blue-gray eyes, set wide apart and deep in their sockets. The lines around his eyes gave an unexpected hint of laughter. A Cambridge lady remarked on his ‘appearance of good humor.’ A Hessian observed that a ‘slight smile in his expression when he spoke inspired affection and respect.’ Many were impressed by his air of composure and surprised by his modesty.”

Fort Necessity Wasn't Much of a Fort

George Washington wasn’t always wildly successful but his life certainly is marked by perverence and a sense of duty.  In 1754, the Governor of Virginia sent a militia force into the Ohio Valley to challenge French expansion in that area.  A young, inexperienced colonel by the name of George Washington was put in command.  Washington and his men camped at Fort Necessity, which  was but a crude outpost not far from the far more substantial French fortification in what is present day Pittsburgh, or more specifically, about where Three Rivers Stadium housed the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Pirates.   A detachment from the France’s Fort Duquesne was attacked by Washington’s forces but a French counterattack left Washington and his soldiers surrounded.  After 1/3 of the British had died, Washington surrendered .  The British were allowed to leave but this marked the beginning of the French and Indian War.

Washington's Daring Trek To Trenton and Then Princeton

By the spring of 1775, the Continental Congress established and made George Washington the singular commander in chief.  While the Fort Necessity escapade was somewhat of a fiasco, he had more military experience than any other American-born officer who was available.  He had been an early advocate of Independence and that was important since about a third of the colonists remained loyal to the crown, a third was riding the fence and the third that favored independence initially included a portion whose support was soft.   But, above all, the reason the Continential Congress chose the aristicrat-planter from Virginia was that he was admired, respected and trusted by nearly every Patriot.

The theme that runs through the narrative of this man is one of unflinching respect.  He was physically imposing for his time, and even would be today, standing somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 foot 2 inches with an extremely sturdy stature.  We know about crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Eve 1776.  It was a  brilliant plan, but the weather was dangerously awful and it was Christmas Eve for his men too.  So, it took great leadership to be able to get his men to execute the plan at night in sleet, rain and snow on Christmas Eve and do so by crossing a river under conditions that would make it near impossible to cross in daylight.

George Washington Cut an Impressive Figure

Washington’s mere presence was enough to bring the most arrogant of men to attention.  He served as the President of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787.   It was a long hot summer and tempers flared to the point that several times, the conventioneer threatened to pack up and go home.  But, when necessary, apparently all George Washington needed to do was rise from his chair and talk of dissovlement abruptly ended.  Washington was the only president to be elected unanimously by the electoral college and he was elected unanimously twice.  He followed the example set by Cincinattus, of Roman lore, and returned to his farm after his service.  (The city of Cincinnati was so named in honor of General Washington)   In fact, it is extremely unusual for someone to give up absolute power voluntarily and George Washington did it not once, but twice, when he surrendered his sword  to Congress after the Revolution and then again refused to stand for a third term.  In many ways, he set the tone that the nation has generally followed in the over two centuries that have followed.

We could use General Washington today. Without him, there may never have been a United States of America and the freedom that has spread around the world in the past two centuries may never have come to pass. May his life always be remembered in the singularity of respect that it deserves and demands.

Weather Bottom Line:  I may update this later but, basically, I told you it would rain, though the weekend warmed up even more than I anticipated. Dont’ get used to it.  Look for falling temperatures by Monday evening and then we’re back well be below average for the foreseeable future..perhaps into mid March.  As it stands,  a second push of decidedly colder air comes down on Wednesday and late Tuesday into Wednesday we may get some light snow squeezed out from the denser, Arctic air.  Perhaps and inch of snow would fall over a 36 hour time frame.  That would come after some insignificant light snow or flurries Tuesday with moisture wrapping around the low as it scoots to the northeast…but that won’t  be much of a big deal. It’s not really coming together much but…if the data changes just a bit, we may have another significant snow event left in us for the first week of March..but, well see.

8 Responses

  1. Washington was the greatest president if for no other reason than his self-imposed limits. He refused to become king of the United States, refused a fancy title, and refused to serve more than 2 terms, setting a precedent that took over 150 years to break. If all presidents used Washington as a success-model, we would have a lot more great ones!

  2. i think u may be on to something

  3. We’ve wanted to point out that there has never been an official holiday for Lincoln’s Birthday, (nor an officially declared ‘Presidents’ Day’), and it was not changed to make room for MLK Day.

    It was originally suggested to change Washington’s Birthday to “Presidents’ Day” (but it didn’t succeed) in 1967 or 1968, at a time when Congress was trying to change many federal holidays to being celebrated on Mondays. (“Uniform Monday Holiday Law”)

    Additionally, in that time, was when they first -added- Columbus day; (the article says as a nod to Italian-American groups.)

    The “Uniform Monday Holiday Law” was enacted in 1971, during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Even then, the holiday was still officially called ‘Washington’s Birthday,’ but was moved to the third Monday of February (which would, strangely, never be February 22nd, only between February 15th – 21st.)

    It was later promoted commercially as Presidents Day, but was not (and -has- not been) declared that by Congress.

    http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2004/winter/gw-birthday-1.html

    Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into federal law in 1983 and first commemorated in 1986.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._Day

    (“Presidents Day” on Wikipedia redirects to ‘Washington’s Birthday’): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidents_Day_(United_States)

  4. You are correct and I edited it for content. However, it’s a shame I made the mistake. Not because I was wrong in my assumptions, but because the holiday issue has taken away from the real theme, which is that the distance between the “father of the country” and America is growing. The point is to praise Washington and reaquaint America with him, not bury him in a an academic discussion of how the holidays have evolved. Yet, my error did that and so it makes the effort almost fruitless. I appreciate your pointing out the error and your effort of correction, but I should not have created an atmosphere in which we are discussion holidays instead of talking about the subject..which is Washington. This may be indicative of a the problem. We tend to want to argue semantics instead of the subject at hand. It’s a good lesson in communication that, if you want to get a message across, make sure that you don’t create any superficial issues that will necessarily distract from the theme. But, again, thank you for your contribution.

  5. A true patriot and a truly great man. Would that we had more “reluctant leaders” of his type today rather than the hoards of self-promoting, professional politicians who currently inhabit our capital! Of all of our founding fathers I hold him in the highest esteem as a man of great virtue, intelligence & humility. If all of our leaders would aspire to the high standard that George Washington set in his life of service to our country, our world would be a far better place today, that’s for sure!

  6. Thank you for being able to grasp the subject. Got a replacement car. Providence took me to Bob Hook and my experience with him and his staff was by far the best that I had in the entire car wreck scenario. Just can’t get over how they really stepped up, understood my situation and worked with me. Today, I even got a call from the salesman just asking how the weekend had gone. Really good to know that they were checking up on me even after the check cleared! I’ve decided that there are a lot of good folks in business in Louisville.

  7. This came to me via email from a reader that thought it was pertinent to this post. It came from the Patriot Post:

    “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life. Pious, just humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform dignified, and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private charter gave effulgence to his public virtues.” –John Marshall, official eulogy of George Washington, delivered by Richard Henry Lee, 1799

  8. The importance of George Washington to the success of 13 colonies becoming an independent nation is nothing short of staggering. It is indeed a shame that his character, service and accomplishments fade a bit more with each passing year. His experience during and after the French and Indian Wars was pivotal in his transformation from loyalist to separatist, as he remained dutiful to the crown during these often overlooked conflicts (thank you for your discussion here!) After the war, the monarchy did not elevate him to become a full member of the royal army, an appointment he had long sought. This rejection caused him to reevaluate his service, allegiances, and future. Talk about fate! Our nation’s founding depended on it!

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