Baldrick: I still can’t believe you’re leaving me behind.
Blackadder: Oh don’t you worry. When we’re established on our plantation in Barbados I’ll send for you. No more sad little London for you Balders. From now on you will stand out in life as an individual.
Baldrick: Will I?
Blackadder: Indeed. All the other slaves will be black.

Black Adder Amy and Amiability 1987

Ben Franklin:  First things first, John … Independence. America. If we don’t secure that, what difference will the rest make?

1776 1972

The final in my series of post on Why Washington Matters don’t miss Part one (Washington the Revolutionary) Part two (Washington the General) and Part three (Washington the leader/president)

If there is any post title that would cause confusion among readers it’s this one.  George Washington the Emancipator?  For most of his life, Washington owned slaves.  When he married his wife, she brought even more slaves to the marriage and at the time of his death the number of slaves he owned was considerable.

In this modern age where slavery exists only in Africa and parts of Arabia where Blacks and Muslims enslave other blacks (to the silence of the media) and the sex trade (where slavery by other names is an international scourge and also pretty much ignored) this concept doesn’t wash, but in the age of Washington Slavery was not only a norm but had been a norm in the world for the history of…the entire world.

And in addition to full slavery, there were indentured servants bound to masters by contract for years and other systems by which men were held by other men.  From Morocco to the Americas slavery and forced servitude was a norm of convenience and profit wherever you went.

To this world Washington was born and raised, in a culture where slavery was a total norm, yet look at the record as commander in chief:

In his General Orders of 30 December 1775, he gave “leave to the recruiting Officers to entertain … Free Negroes [that] are desirous of inlisting” should Congress approve the new policy. Writing to John Hancock the next day he couched his order in terms of military necessity: “free Negroes who have served in this army are very much dissatisfied at being discarded. As it is to be apprehended that they may seek employ in the Ministerial Army, I have … given license for their being enlisted.”

It would have been remarkably easy for Washington the Virginia planter and slaveholder to let this be.

At the Constitutional convention he spoke very little, how easy would it have been for Washington, slaveholder and southern to push for slavery, to argue against the constitutionally mandated end to the slave trade.  How much of a pull on the delegates would his voice have been if he choose to make the case?

As president although he singed a fugitive slave law he also signed a law  he signed a law affirming the ban on slavery in the Northwest territories. How easy would it have been for a unanimously elected Washington to argue against such affirmation? How many of his friends and fellow slave holders, involved in land speculation would have wanted to bring their “property” to those lands?

Then in the final act in his will.  He freed his slaves.

While it was acknowledged even by Confederate leaders such as Alexander Stephens that the founding fathers considered Slavery wrong:

The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away.

It was he and he ALONE of the slaveholders who would occupy the White House that would free his slaves. After carefully steering the ship of state that was in danger of splitting apart on its maiden voyage he took the act, which has great symbolic meaning at a time when it was least likely to produce an argument against but would shine as his final example at the period when an entire nation would be in mourning for him.

Some in the 21st century might look at this 18th century man’s act as trivial? Why not do this BEFORE death? One might as well condemn Lincoln for not pushing for women’s suffrage. Consider this. Just two years after Washington’s death William Henry Harrison who would later be 9th president was appointed governor of the Indiana Territory. The slaveholding Harrison pushed vigorously for the legalization of slavery there and his allies in congress managed to get article 6 of the Northwest Ordinance/ forbidding slavery suspended for ten years.

Imagine the difference in the close debate if Harrison won, imagine what the country would look like if Harrison’s foes in the debate didn’t have the example of Washington as emancipator to use?

Washington’s act was extraordinary and the proof is that Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Tyler, Polk and Taylor did not copy it. Lincoln among president might have been the great emancipator but Washington was the first emancipator.

In summary for all of these reasons:
Washington the revolutionary
Washington the General
Washington the Leader/President
Washington the Emancipator
I argue President’s day once again be known far and wide as Washington’s birthday.   I further submit and suggest that George Washington is and remains the greatest American who ever lived.

and I don’t think it’s even close.

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[thermometer raised=129 target=300 height =200 ]

We’ve reached Friday and while the thermometer moved a bit a little but I’m still less than half way to that elusive $300 weekly paycheck.

On weeks when I make the goal I’ve pulled the thermometer early after all I’d rather focus on the product and I suspect you dear reader would too.

As we are less than half way there with under 48 hours to go the thermometer will be on every post today.  As a wise man once said if you don’t promote yourself nobody is going to do it for you.

So if you think I’ve earned that $300 paycheck this week and you can afford it feel free to hit DaTipJar.

If not, well I’ll keep trying harder.




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.

The 2nd of a four-part series of why George Washington Matters, Yesterday, Washington the Revolutionary, today Washington the General.

Washington as a leader is often derided for his lack of victories against the British, but his record was much better than one might think.

When Henry Knox suggested bringing the cannon from Ticonderoga Washington signed on and thanks to the successful relocation of this artillery Washington was table to take Boston without a shot being fired. It’s the reason why so many of the historic buildings in Boston are still available to be visited.

There is no denying the New York Campaign was a fiasco Washington was defeated at Brooklyn Heights, White Plains and Fort Washington. But Trenton and Princeton were clear victories

Next year Howe defeated Washington at Brandywine and Germantown and at Monmouth while the batter was pretty much a draw Washington missed an opportunity and Washington doesn’t fight another battle for three years until the final victory at Yorktown.

At first glance this is not impressive, particularly when you consider numbers Washington’s victories come when he has numbers. At Trenton 60%, Yorktown 2-1 and Princeton nearly 4-1. His victory at Trenton is his most modest only a 60% advantage over the British force. In NY he is outnumbered but at Brandywine the numbers are within 7% and at Germantown he has a full 22% advantage as still loses.

While the British had numbers in all the battles of the NY Campaign at Brandywine the British have a mere 6% advantage and at Germantown has a full 22% advantage and still loses.

The numbers however don’t tell the whole story, consider his situation. England is the most powerful nation in the world, with a professional well-trained army and an experienced officer corps. Meanwhile Washington has to turn basically farmers and militia into a force that can stand against them.

Mel Gibson & Popular Lore not withstanding the war was not fought by a bunch of guys playing hit and run and hiding behind rocks. That’s Lexington & Concord and some of the partisan fights in the south but for the most part the American Revolution was a conventional War fought by the conventional tactics of the time.

Washington has to create, train and keep together an army, bring it up to snuff to stand against British Regulars in the face of lack of supplies, poor food and irregular pay.

The wonder isn’t that Washington lost so many battles, the wonder is his army lasted long enough to win any battles at all, let alone the revolution.

George Washington was more than the Colonial commander-in-chief, he was THE general of the American Revolution and perhaps of his time.

Tomorrow Washington the leader.

As history continues to be revised in the classrooms of the country one of the greatest stars the country has ever produced George Washington continues to get short shift.

Washington is a paradox a rich man who risks his wealth in revolution, a general who loses far more than he wins, a man universally popular yet not only doesn’t become king but gives up power after elected. The slaveholder who frees his slaves in his will.

These are all incredible things at any time in history. This weeks for February Vacation and Washington’s birthday week, we’ll talk about the reasons why this holiday should still be called “Washington’s birthday (as its legal name remains) instead of president’s day.

First: Washington the Revolutionary

George Washington was one of the richest if not the richest person in the colonies yet he was willing to fight and support a revolution that would add little if anything to his wealth.

Think about it. What did Washington have to gain from a successful revolt? He was already a huge landowner, he already had comfort, power and wealth, reputation, everything a man of his time could want. What is the incentive for him to do anything that might change it?

Consider: If he had sided with England others would have followed and if a British victory had taken place, a likely-hood that the nearly the entire world anticipated at the time, he would have been honored even further, Knighthood, Order of the Bath, a peerage. These were the greatest honors an Englishman could get at the time, one of the few things Washington lacked.

Yet he put principle ahead of this, and fought against England. Think of the risk involved. If England wins, Washington would not only face a “short drop and a sudden stop”. Even if he was somehow allowed to live, his property would certainly be seized and distributed to loyalists, and his name would have lived infamy. A 18th century Guy Fawkes.

Washington in terms of wealth had more to lose than almost anyone in the nation, and he still fought, risking life, wealth and reputation for the dream of an independent America.

Who can you think of in modern America who would do the same?

When George Washington is called the Father of his Country, you had better believe he earned it.

(Tomorrow, Washington the General)