Why Washington Matters Today: Washington the Leader/President

by Datechguy | February 20th, 2013

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Why Washington Matters Today: Washington the Leader/President

Yes it was easy enough for a pri­vate cit­i­zen to be a staunch Repub­li­can and grum­ble: “Why, what could there be sim­pler than to choose a moment of gen­eral tran­quil­ity, resign and turn the gov­ern­ment over to the Sen­ate.” The dif­fi­culty could only be under­stood if that pri­vate cit­i­zen were to become Emperor him­self. It lay in the phrase “moment of tran­quil­ity” there were no moments of tranquility.

Robert Graves Claudius the God 1935

The 3rd of a four-​part series of why George Wash­ing­ton Mat­ters, Mon­day, Wash­ing­ton the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary, yes­ter­day Wash­ing­ton the Gen­eral, today Wash­ing­ton the Leader/​President

It has become fash­ion­able for some his­to­ri­ans to play down George Wash­ing­ton as pres­i­dent and raise more recent peo­ple above him. Abe Lin­coln due to his vic­tory in the Civil War gets high marks, FDR’s win in WW 2 and Reagan’s in the Cold War both make them loom large par­tic­u­larly since both Rea­gan & FDR are still in liv­ing Mem­ory and George Wash­ing­ton is from an age so remote to many his pres­i­dency becomes ancient his­tory . You were deal­ing with a smaller coun­try, less communication,

But to really appre­ci­ate Wash­ing­ton the pres­i­dent and the leader you have to look at three spe­cific things.

First Wash­ing­ton at the end of his mil­i­tary career.

Up to the time of Wash­ing­ton and after­wards as well his­tory abounded with exam­ples of lead­ers of armies who used those armies to take absolute power. At the end of the War Wash­ing­ton was the sin­gle most pop­u­lar per­son in Amer­ica. As a man with just about every­thing the only thing he didn’t have was a crown or a title.

It was in his grasp, all he had to do is reach out to have it and he would be the head of an Amer­i­can con­sti­tu­tional monarchy.

And he declined.

It was a move wor­thy of Lucius Quinc­tius Cincin­na­tus and a shock to the power­bro­kers of Europe.

But as much as it impressed the men of Europe it impressed his coun­try­men more he presided at the con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion hav­ing very lit­tle con­fi­dence in the result­ing sys­tem but accepted the pres­i­dency when elected unanimously.

This was the 2nd phase. Despite the lack of con­fi­dence in the sys­tem he gov­erned with dis­cre­tion and skill know­ing every action that he would take would be the model for the coun­try to fol­low and act­ing in a man­ner that aided rather than retarded a sys­tem that he thought would fail mea­sur­ing care­fully words and deeds for the sake of future generations .

The third phase was the end of his term. It’s one thing to refuse impe­r­ial power when you’ve never had author­ity, but Wash­ing­ton now had two full terms under him. He could keep power with the veneer of repub­li­can­ism he might have jus­ti­fied serv­ing a 3rd term sim­ply to delay the decent into par­ties and par­ti­san divi­sions that already existed.

He did not and when he gave his farewell address assigned the credit for all of his suc­cess to the peo­ple:

In look­ing for­ward to the moment, which is intended to ter­mi­nate the career of my pub­lic life, my feel­ings do not per­mit me to sus­pend the deep acknowl­edg­ment of that debt of grat­i­tude, which I owe to my beloved coun­try for the many hon­ors it has con­ferred upon me; still more for the stead­fast con­fi­dence with which it has sup­ported me; and for the oppor­tu­ni­ties I have thence enjoyed of man­i­fest­ing my invi­o­lable attach­ment, by ser­vices faith­ful and per­se­ver­ing, though in use­ful­ness unequal to my zeal. If ben­e­fits have resulted to our coun­try from these ser­vices, let it always be remem­bered to your praise, and as an instruc­tive exam­ple in our annals, that under cir­cum­stances in which the pas­sions, agi­tated in every direc­tion, were liable to mis­lead, amidst appear­ances some­times dubi­ous, vicis­si­tudes of for­tune often dis­cour­ag­ing, in sit­u­a­tions in which not unfre­quently want of suc­cess has coun­te­nanced the spirit of crit­i­cism, the con­stancy of your sup­port was the essen­tial prop of the efforts, and a guar­an­tee of the plans by which they were effected. Pro­foundly pen­e­trated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incite­ment to unceas­ing vows that Heaven may con­tinue to you the choic­est tokens of its benef­i­cence; that your union and broth­erly affec­tion may be per­pet­ual; that the free con­sti­tu­tion, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly main­tained; that its admin­is­tra­tion in every depart­ment may be stamped with wis­dom and virtue; than, in fine, the hap­pi­ness of the peo­ple of these States, under the aus­pices of lib­erty, may be made com­plete, by so care­ful a preser­va­tion and so pru­dent a use of this bless­ing, as will acquire to them the glory of rec­om­mend­ing it to the applause, the affec­tion, and adop­tion of every nation, which is yet a stranger to it.

In this Wash­ing­ton didn’t just equal Lucius Quinc­tius Cincin­na­tus who twice gave up power over Rome, he exceeded him by not only giv­ing up power but cred­it­ing his suc­cess to the people.

It would be 144 years before a pres­i­dent was arro­gant enough to con­sider him­self in indis­pens­able. In clos­ing think of the lead­ers and the pols of today. If any of them had the chance for per­ma­nent power do you imag­ine any of them would sur­ren­der it?

The nation has seen great­ness in the White House, but it has not seen the great­ness of a Washington.

Yes it was easy enough for a private citizen to be a staunch Republican and grumble:  “Why, what could there be simpler than to choose a moment of general tranquility, resign and turn the government over to the Senate.”  The difficulty could only be understood if that private citizen were to become Emperor himself.  It lay in the phrase “moment of  tranquility” there were no moments of tranquility.

Robert Graves Claudius the God 1935

 

The 3rd of a four-part series of why George Washington Matters, Monday, Washington the Revolutionary, yesterday Washington the General, today Washington the Leader/President

It has become fashionable for some historians to play down George Washington as president and raise more recent people above him.  Abe Lincoln due to his victory in the Civil War gets high marks, FDR’s win in WW 2 and Reagan’s in the Cold War both make them loom large particularly since both Reagan & FDR are still in living Memory and George Washington is from an age so remote to many his presidency becomes ancient history .  You were dealing with a smaller country, less communication,

But to really appreciate Washington the president and the leader you have to look at three specific things.

First Washington at the end of his military career.

Up to the time of Washington and afterwards as well history abounded with examples of leaders of armies who used those armies to take absolute power.  At the end of the War Washington was the single most popular person in America.  As a man with just about everything the only thing he didn’t have was a crown or a title.

It was in his grasp, all he had to do is reach out to have it and he would be the head of an American constitutional monarchy.

And he declined.

It was a move worthy of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus and a shock to the powerbrokers of Europe.

But as much as it impressed the men of Europe it impressed his countrymen more he presided at the constitutional convention having very little confidence in the resulting system but accepted the presidency when elected unanimously.

This was the 2nd phase.  Despite the lack of confidence in the system he governed with discretion and skill  knowing every action that he would take would be the model for the country to follow and acting in a manner that aided rather than retarded a system that he thought would fail measuring carefully words and deeds for the sake of future generations .

The third phase was the end of his term.  It’s one thing to refuse imperial power when you’ve never had authority, but Washington now had two full terms under him.  He could keep power with the veneer of republicanism  he might have justified serving a 3rd term simply to delay the decent into parties and partisan divisions that already existed.

He did not and when he gave his farewell address assigned the credit for all of his success to the people:

In looking forward to the moment, which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude, which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that Heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; than, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation, which is yet a stranger to it.

In this Washington didn’t just equal Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus who twice gave up power over Rome, he exceeded him by not only giving up power but crediting his success to the people.

It would be 144 years before a president was arrogant enough to consider himself in indispensable.  In closing think of the leaders and the pols of today.  If any of them had the chance for permanent power do you imagine any of them would surrender it?

The nation has seen greatness in the White House, but it has not seen the greatness of a Washington.

DaTechGuy on DaRadio Saturday Noon EST. WBNW AM 1120 Concord WPLM 1390 Plymouth WESO 970 Southbridge, FTR Radio, the 405 Media

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