George Washington, the Father of our Country, set us on a path of prosperity through his integrity. Just as a family needs a father, a nation does, as well. We see him as a general and president, but Washington, the man, was equally remarkable. His patriot friend, Benjamin Rush, said of him, “Washington… [is] one of those illustrious heroes whom Providence raises up once in three of four hundred years to save a nation…” Authors Parry and Allison, in The Real George Washington, show us his moral disposition.
He was described as “a young man of extraordinary…character…destined to make no inconsiderable figure in our country,” He was large boned and strong, mature for his age and modest. He was also an excellent horseman, which was important in his day, and a good student. He was naturally deliberate and sober, and others said his mind “reached just conclusions”. He demanded discipline—from himself and those he led.
Washington was a family man, though the eight difficult revolutionary war years took him from home. He and Martha never had children, but he loved her son and daughter from a previous marriage and made them his own. He remodeled Mount Vernon, his Virginia home, for his new family, and designed the broad two story porch with columns that later graced Southern plantations in the Scarlett O’Hara years.
He “was not much of a talker” and did poorly speaking before groups. When honored by the Virginia House of Representatives, he fumbled his thanks. The Speaker eased his embarrassment, saying, “your modesty is equal to your valor, and that surpasses the power of any language that I possess.”
The unfortunate were helped by his generosity. His overseer said: “I had orders from General Washington to fill a corn house every year for the sole use of the poor…(saving) poor women and children from extreme want”. He kept one of his best fishing stations on the Potomac outfitted with fishing gear for use by the poor, supported many nieces and nephews through college, and contributed generously, and anonymously, to charities.
He was a God-fearing man; he called Him by the name of Providence. He was sometimes seen in private prayer, where he often retired to a grove of trees. He believed God presided over America, guiding events for the ultimate good of the Union. Two days before the Declaration of Independence was signed, the general told his troops: “Let us therefore rely upon…the Supreme Being in whose hand victory is”. During the war, he wrote a colleague: “If I shall be able to rise superior to …these difficulties…I shall most religiously believe that the finger of Providence is in it.”
Washington could have been King of America. When soldiers’ pay was delayed after the war, some rebelled and wanted to put him on a throne. He was horrified. He wrote the perpetrators: “If you have any… regard for me…banish these thoughts”. During the two years needed to ratify the Constitution, he saw with concern the growing sentiment to press the presidency on him. He didn’t want the honor. “May Heaven assist me…my refusal might induce a belief that I preferred…my own private ease to the good of my country.” At 56, he wanted only family and Mount Vernon, where he often stripped off his coat and worked alongside his men.
Integrity guided his life. As he gave a heartfelt farewell to his troops at the end of the war, he counseled them to “prove themselves [as] virtuous and useful as citizens” as they had been “persevering and victorious as soldiers”. He stressed the “virtues of economy, prudence and industry” and reminded them that, under Divine guidance, they had “secured innumerable blessing for others.” He refused an ample salary for his eight years of war service and later said the “affection of a free people… will be a full compensation for all my toils and sufferings in the long and painful contest”.
Washington’s integrity was soul-satisfying, and his character fed America on greatness, as well. Early America was prosperous and strong—this has been our legacy. We owe that, in part, to the extraordinary man we call the Father of our Country.