It is the birthday of George Washington, our nation’s indispensable man. Here are a few things you might not know about him.
Today is the birthday of George Washington, this country’s “indispensable man.” Without him, it is nearly impossible imagine how we would have won the American Revolution — and it is completely impossible imagine how we would have a Constitutional republic.
Washington’s major achievements are legend, and each worthy of a bit of detail. His most important:
As our first President, Washington gave us the customs of a limited tenure for President and the peaceful transition of power. Those two customs have allowed our Republic to prosper for over two centuries.
Then there is what Washington didn’t do. By refusing to seize power, he further defined our nation as one based on a Constitution and laws, not on coercive power. Despite numerous opportunities to take power as a dictator, either by coup or, after the end of the war, by popular acclamation (Washington is the only person elected to the Presidency to receive all possible electoral votes), he refrained. Virtually every other military commander of a revolutionary force in history has seized political power afterwards – Julius Caesar, Oliver Cromwell and Napoleon are but three examples. Yet Washington refused to do so. To put this in stark perspective, no one was more surprised than King George III when told that Washington had retired after the war and returned home. The King was moved to call Washington “the greatest character of our age.”
Moreover, Washington stopped the single greatest threat to the nascent Republic, the Newburgh Conspiracy of 1783. At the end of the war, many of the officers had not been paid for their service. They were on the verge of marching on Congress with musket and cannon to conduct a coup when Washington intervened, calling them all to a meeting. At one point, Washington paused to read aloud a letter. He apologized as he fumbled for his reading glasses, saying to his officers that he had gone somewhat “blind in the service of our country.” That was a cathartic moment for many of the officers, for their respect for Washington was boundless. He had shared their hardships from day one and never wavered. Many broke out into tears. The Conspiracy ended at that moment. [Read more…]