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