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Editor's B;og No. 3 - George Wasjington: ICON, Hero and Philosopher


We need our iconic figures. They represent, with their words, values that are dear to our hearts. We need our heroes. They model, with their actions, behaviors we can emulate. We need our philosophers. They help us understand our responsibilities as human beings and as citizens. Occassionally, a country produces a leader who is ICON, hero and philosopher all-in-one. India's Mahatma Ghandi and our George Washington are examples.


At about age six, Washington  reportedly  admitted to his father that he had destroyed his father's favorite cherry tree. From that time until he died in 1796, his actions and behavior modeled honsty, courage, persistence, diffidence and integrity. As it happened, he possesed these qualities at a time when his country badly needed them. He was able to unite and lead his fellow Americans in the revolutionary and post-revolutionary periods because they trusted him. They did not trust him because of his words. They trusted him because of his long record of consistently honest, courageous, dogged, modest and ethical actions. I will mention a few of these actions.


Pre-Revolutionary Times


Washington commenced hs adult life as a surveyor, He then served as a proffessional soldier, fighting in the French and Indian Wars. He resigned from the army in 1758 and lived as a southern gentleman and planter until the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. During these years, he earned himself a reputation for honesty, courage, competancy and good character.


The Revolutionary War


In 1777 he was named commanding general of the Continental Army. With few resources, little support from the Continental Congress and a part-time army of farmers and artesians, Washington led his army through many defeats,  discouragements and congressional criticisms. During a particularly discouraging period, he struck back with an incredibly bold attack. On Christmas Eve in 1777 he personally led his army across the Deleware River into New Jersey. There he suprised and destroyed a unit of Hessian mercenaries - giving new life, spirit and hope to the new nation. It is worth noting that, as the commanding general of the Continental Army, Washington shared with his soldiers the snow and cold of Valley Forge and the dangers of personal combat.


Post-Revolutionary Times


Without the steadying influence of Washington's presence and support, the Philadelphis convention may have failed to produce a workable constitution. Madison was no doubt the father of the Constitution’s structure, but - without Washington - the 55 delegates might well have failed to reach agreement. As our first president, it fell to Washington's lot to set many precedents. Just to mention two, he refused to grant the Governor of New York;s request that he attack the Creek indians. He explained that hostile actions could only be initiated by Congress. Unfortunately, later presidents ignored this precedent.  He also declined a third term and prohibited the royal pomp and ceremony he found objectionable and unbecoming a representative democracy – but which has, nevertheless, grown upon us over the years.


Words to Consider


Washington's actions have spoken louder than his words. His (undelivered) Farewell Address, however,  contains some words that, should we heed them, might prove to be his most valuable legacy. He advised us that our (not our government's) most important right/duty is to alter our Constittution in times of crisis when alterations become necessary. Our country  is now in a political, economic and moral decline. This decline presents us with a crisis comparable to the crisis of 1776. Our forefathers risked their lives to meet their crisis. Are we willing to take the trouble of bringing about a 2nd constitutional convention in order to meet ours?



Neal Q. Herrick is Editor of governmentreform.org, a retired University of Michigan Visiting Professor and author of A Jeffersonian Approach to Reversing America’s Decline (to be issued by the History Publishing Company in April of this year).    


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