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Whatever Happened to George Washington?

By Phyllis Schlafly, National Chairman, National Defense

Until recent years, every school-child was taught to observe February 22 as the birthday of George Washington. Unfortunately, the national holiday once dedicated to the George Washington as the preeminent figure in America's heritage has been submerged into an impersonal holiday called Presidents' Day, and school textbooks reveal a declining emphasis on the importance and influence of the Father of Our country.

George Washington's greatest biographer, Douglas Southall Freeman, was once asked what was the most important single thing he had learned from his lifetime of historical study. He replied, "The influence of personality on history."

Of no person in American history was that more true than of the man whom schoolchildren used to be taught is "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." The sheer power of his character and personality made him the acknowledged leader among many men of extraordinary intellect, learning, and diplomatic skills.

Mr. Freeman concluded that Washington gave the American cause what it needed most: "patience and determination, inexhaustible and inextinguishable. " Several years ago, the DAR American History Month essay contest for junior high school students used George Washington as the subject. The winning essayist understood Freeman's point. "I admire George Washington," the student wrote, "because he never gave up."

In his first Inaugural Address, Washington acknowledged our country's dependence on Almighty God: "It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe-who presides in the council of nations." After serving two terms as President, he advised us again that, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."

The famous story about not telling a lie about chopping down the cherry tree has been demoted in modem times to apocryphal status, but Washington did write: "I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs that honesty is always the best policy." As a schoolboy, Washington had written in his copybook, "Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire &emdash; conscience."

It is frequently forgotten that Washington was the president of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 which wrote our great United States Constitution. His leadership held together that assemblage of strong-minded men with conflicting sectional interests.

One of the few times he spoke during those four hot months in Independence Hall in Philadelphia was to say: "If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the event is in the hand of God."

Doesn't this sound like a modern warning against both judicial activism and an Imperial Congress? "If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed."

In his Fifth Annual Address to Congress in 1793, Washington gave us the most succinct two-part formula for peace ever devised: (a) be ready for war and (b) let it be known that we are ready. "There is a rank due to the United States among nations, which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness. If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure the peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war."

Everything we know about 20th century events confirms the strong warnings that President Washington gave us about keeping ourselves removed from foreign wars and factions. In his Farewell Address, he said: "History and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government."

In advising us against becoming entangled with foreign problems, Washington cautioned us against giving favors to other nations in the hope of receiving favors in return. He warned that we will be "reproached with ingratitude for not giving them more," and we will have to "pay with a portion of our independence" for placing ourselves in such a position.

His Farewell Address summarized it like this: "There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard."

Freeman, who authored a monumental and definitive six-volume biography of our first president, concluded: "The more I study George Washington, the more am I convinced that the great reputation he enjoyed with his contemporaries and with men of the next generation was entirely justified. He was greater than any of us believed he was."

DAR 90 Feb


Other Articles on George Washington:
The Premier American Hero George Washington
Whatever Happened to George Washington?
Washington's Rules of Conduct
George Washington's Advice
Washington's Farewell Address

The Papers of George Washington,
University of Virginia.

Library of Congress:
George Washington Papers


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