A Man of Action

Happy birthday.  Today is the birthday of the man who, in my opinion, was the greatest American who ever lived – George Washington.  Born in 1732 in Westmoreland County, Washington would go on to settle in Fairfax County.  If people had pick-up trucks back then, one could imagine the bumper sticker on his reading, “RoVa by birth.  NoVa by choice.” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Life of a legend: Had Washington’s life been the subject of a fictional Hollywood movie, critics would charge that it was far too fanciful to be believed.  He stood a full head higher than the other men of his generation.  In battle, he had four bullets go through his coat and two horses shot out from under him.  He led an army in an impossible war and achieved an impossible victory.  After the war, rumors spread that Congress had decided to never provide the back pay that the soldiers had earned and been promised.  His men approached him with a plan for a second revolution which would install him as king.  Vehemently opposed to this, the general who spent every day of the war in the field with his troops met with the leaders of the proposed second revolution.  Reaching for a letter from Congress to read to the men he said, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” It’s said that the hardened veterans and presumptive rebels left the meeting in tears never to speak of insurrection again.

After he defeated the British he stunned the royalty of Europe by resigning his commission in the army and returning to his farm at Mt Vernon.  Yet he remains the only sitting president to ever lead men in battle.  During the Whiskey Rebellion he donned his uniform, sheathed his sword and quickly put down the uprising.  He then granted a blanket amnesty to all involved.

George Washington was a man of action.

Indispensable.  Washington lacked the intellect of Jefferson, the inventiveness of Franklin, the financial shrewdness of Hamilton and the oratorical skills of Henry.  Those shortcomings were overcome with a surfeit of integrity, leadership by example and courage.  The revolution would have been won and America would have been born without any of the individual founding fathers except George Washington.  He was the indispensable man.  He was the collaborator, the disciplinarian, the negotiator, the builder and the warrior.  He was the mortar that bound together the bricks that became the United States.  He did all this and became the indispensable man because he was a man of action.  Jefferson and Hamilton would have argued until their death over the need for a central bank.  The indispensable man listened to both sides and made the call. He bound together the nation’s leaders from every former colony in matters big and small.  And on a wild tract of land along the Potomac River he selected the site of the new nation’s capital city.  He personally laid the cornerstone of the Capitol building and personally picked the location of the White House.

Remembrance.  On this day every politician should devote some time to reflecting upon the indispensable man.  A poorly educated farmer’s son, he would go on to found the greatest nation on Earth.  A man with a legendary temper he would form and hold together a constellation of supremely talented egos.  A man who could have been king he would voluntarily leave politics after two terms in office.  I have always suspected that the General would take a dim view of what is going on in the city named for him.  What would he do if he came back to life and witnessed the graft, pettiness, runaway egos and endless partisan bickering that goes on in today’s Congress?  I suspect the General who stood 6’2″ tall, weighed 220 pounds and was reputed to be enormously strong might just take matters into his own hands and physically kick the current residents out of the Capitol building and onto the sidewalk outside.

After all, he was a man of action.  

Happy birthday, General Washington.

– D.J. Rippert

16 Responses to A Man of Action

  1. Beautifully said. Everything you wrote about Washington is true. I would add a couple of things. First, consistent with him being a man of action, he was one of the colonial era’s great entrepreneurs — not only a farmer but a merchant, land developer and canal builder. The range of his activity was phenomenal. Second, although he was a slave owner, he agonized over the institution, which he clearly saw as inconsistent with his principles. Although he did not manumit his slaves while he was alive, he freed them upon his death. And his reasons for keeping the slaves were too nuanced to discuss at length here. Let it just be said that he was as concerned for their welfare as for his own.

    • Thank you. He was quite the man. Major league distiller. You can still buy Rye Whiskey made to his recipe. He was an avid hunter and fisherman before you had to claim that to get elected in Virginia! He description of the Potomac River near Mt Vernon would make an historian smile and an environmentalist cry.

      Washington described himself in his will as “George Washington of Mount Vernon, a citizen of the United States.”. That offers food for thought on what it omits as much as what it includes.

      In 1785 a visitor to Mt Vernon stated that Washington’s greatest pride was to be thought the greatest farmer in the United States.

  2. I agree – DJ did a good job… but what would ole George had done with the abomination that just passed the House of Delegates?

    I think ole George would have supported toll roads across the commonwealth – everyone would pay their own way – no damn govt screwing up the private economy.

    and if someone had dared to suggest to Washington that they were going to tax his whiskey to pay for roads I’d bet he would have been even more a man of action!

    how DJ can fawn all over the Gov who sought to tax whiskey to pay for roads whilst in the midst of blathering about GW is curious indeed!

    • LarryG:
      1. You question of how George Washington would have seen the circus in Richmond is interesting. However, I think a look at how Jefferson and Hamilton would have seen things would be fascinating. The Anti-Federalist vs the Federalist. Perhaps one could outline their arguments but then speculate how GW would have “made the call”.
      2. The government did tax George Washington’s whiskey. I don’t know what the taxes were used to pay – probably for the army. He put down the Whiskey Rebellion becuase the farmers in Western Pennsylvania refused to pay the Whiskey tax.
      3. If you think he would have been upset at the taxes used to pay for roads, you really wouldn’t want to see his reaction to entitlement programs.

  3. No matter how many years pass, I am always reminded of my history textbook, The American Past. Here is the quote that always makes the room a little dusty whenever I read it on his birthday, “Despite his setbacks and lack of flash, he held the revolutionary cause together by the vague, undefinable quality known as ‘character.’ If the very notion rings a little sappy today, the dishonor is not to the era of the American Revolution.”

    • Yes, indeed. His ability to have both the Federalist Hamilton and the Anti-Federalist Jefferson as his closest advisors was only possible because both men knew of the General’s character.

  4. Washington finished pulling the newborn country from the tentacles of the King and gave it the push it needed to start life on it’s own but Washington was anything but a top-down, tax&spend Governance advocate.

    If he would live today and saw the discussion about not increasing the fuel tax – I’m pretty darn sure he – (like Eisenhower) by the way, would advocate roads with tolls – not taxing ESPECIALLY if he also knew that modern tolling is done with transponders not toll gates.

    the only real CORE function of state government is to make sure there is a network of connecting roads to allow commerce between the communities to occur.

    The roads within those communities – and regions is not a “core” state responsibility in 46 other states. It is in those states a “core” local responsibility and it has the additional benefit of forcing those localities to trade off the real cost-benefits to them of building roads for development.

    If someone said what is the need to extend the Dulles Toll Road 50 miles west and have a north spur over the Potomac and it would have to paid for solely with tolls – would that project still have the impetus from the folks who now want it?

    We say we admire Washington but if Washington were here today, he’d not admire us.

    • Eisenhower built an immense road system with no tolls.

      • Eisenhower WANTED tolls. He did not want taxes to fund the interstates but he was told that no one would use the rural parts and they couldn’t be built just from tolls.

        ” President Eisenhower insisted that the financing mechanism for the Interstate System be “self-liquidating,” so that it could not add to the national debt. The president favored a toll highway network financed by bonds, but his aides convinced him that traffic volumes would not generate enough revenue in most corridors to repay bondholders with interest. Therefore, the plan the President submitted to Congress called for establishment of a Federal Highway Corporation to issue bonds to pay for the Interstate System up-front, with the Federal excise tax on gasoline and lubricating oil (which then went to the general Treasury without a linkage to highways) was dedicated to bond retirement. Congress rejected this plan, but adopted a proposal to finance the Interstate System on a pay-as-you-go basis with revenue from highway user taxes. The revenue was credited by the Department of the Treasury to the Highway Trust Fund established under the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.”

        http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/faq.htm

    • “We say we admire Washington but if Washington were here today, he’d not admire us.”.

      I don’t think he’d have much good to say about our politics or political process. However, Washington was a man of industry. I think he’d be awed by the skyscrapers in Manhattan, The Hoover Dam, the American cities on the Pacific Ocean.

      He’d wonder why we have so many entangling alliances. He’d wonder about the size and scope of our military industrial complex (to coin a phrase from another American General turned president). He’d wonder why the state (rather than charities) contribute to the welfare of those who can’t find work. And he’d be stunned at America’s secular society. He just wouldn’t understand the lack of faith in God – some God, any God.

  5. I too admire our First President. However, he too was opportunistic. While in office, he charged the War Department to find a location for a new federal armory. The War Department came back with a recommendation for a site, which was not at Harpers Ferry. The President told the War Department to re-examine the issue. It got the message and recommended Harpers Ferry for the new federal arsenal. The feds bought land from George Washington. Maybe there’s something in Virginia’s water that causes so many landowners to look in their neighbors’ pockets.

  6. Curiously self-revelatory.

  7. To fill out a bit more of Don’s finely wrought piece and the commentary that follows it, here’s a detail or two on Washington the “merchant, land developer and canal (and city) builder.”

    By 1784 Washington had personally acquired nearly 50, 000 acres west of Mount Vernon. His land extended into “Loudoun and Farquier” counties Va, west into to Berkley Springs (now W.Va.), and up the Potomac River to the Ohio River, as well as into Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky and the North West Territories.

    What was the man Washington after?

    Early as 1750 Washington saw the Head of the James River, Head of the Susquehanna River, and Head of the Potomac River as gateways for trade traveling east and west over the Alleghenies to the Ohio, Lake Erie and beyond. Eager for part of that action, he madly started buying up land.

    In 1759 he pressed upon members of the Virginia legislature a plan to improve the Potomac River for commerce into the Ohio River. By 1770 he was pushing on Maryland as well, proposing canals and locks and improved waterways of prodigious size and cutting edge technologies.

    War interrupted his commercial activities but not his planning for them. And the first thing Washington did after the war was head west in 1784. Traveling through his vast holdings he was looking for the best ways to connect the Great Lakes to a seaport he planned for a new Capital City that he also planned for his new nation. His seaport went from Alexandria to Georgetown, along both banks of his Potomac River to its fall line.

    Back east in 1785, after his arduous journey west, he starting pressuring States and cutting deals with merchants, and moguls. He was still at it in 1791. There at Suter’s Tavern in Georgetown, he horse traded stocks and bonds while negotiating political and business disputes with local movers and shakers. Men like Georgetown’s Benjamin Stoddert got stock in Washington’s new Potomac Company (to build a waterway from the tavern west to the Ohio) as an inducement to go along with Washington’s plan. The deals, favor swapping, and maneuvering were flying every which way.

    George Washington was a shewn, hard driving man of commerce. A man whose business acumen earned him huge wealth while giving a nation the Potomac Canal, Cumberland National Road (1st improved Federal highway), and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Along with giving his nation (and its people) independence, and a Capital City to go along with it.

    Great as he was, George Washington wasn’t the first and won’t be the last entrepreneur and business man to do good things for his neighborhood.

  8. Larry too is a man of action. I wanted to inform him the FBI has raided the Scooter Store for Medicaid and Medicare fraud. That should warm his heart this chilly February evening.

  9. but TMT… the man is a Republican trying to make an honest living in the free market!

    The scooter store always struck me as:

    1. – either a scam
    2. – an example of how MediCare and MedicAid should NEVER pay the full price for something and should almost always require a co-pay except for the most poor with the most serious mobility issues.

    the worst disaster to befall Medicare IMHO was when they created Part C and the govt subsidized it.

    The net effect of that was to remove the 20% co-pay required from seniors – and it was financed with govt subsidies and spurred businesses like the scooter store.

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