The Legacy of George Washington

President’s Day reminds us that history pivots on great men. Few in America have been greater than George Washington, Father of our Country. His contributions were monumental.

Washington had grave reservations when, as Jay Parry states in The Real George Washington, he was called to lead “an unorganized military force to fight an undeclared war…(for) a nation that did not yet exist”. He felt deficient and said so, but perseverance, humility and unfailing integrity overcame his shortfall. His men loved him, and he deserved their respect. He agonized as one-fourth of his men died of federal neglect at Valley Forge the winter of 1777. That crucible of freedom forged the fighting force for America’s David to defeat the world’s great superpower—the British Goliath. At war’s end, he refused his well-earned eight years of salary and returned home to Mount Vernon on the banks of the Potomac, intending to never leave again.

His sacrifices did not end, however. The infant United States was disintegrating. The governing Articles of Confederation were ineffectual: gutless and toothless. States squabbled like spoiled children, inflation raged, and foreign powers, like ravening wolves, awaited the breakup of the neophyte nation. Washington’s influence brought the sulking states to the Pennsylvania State House during the sweltering summer of 1787, and his strength of will helped keep them there through the sometimes chaotic deliberations of the Constitutional Convention.

With immense effort, a government of balance, symmetry and equality was born, and America quickly moved from chaos to prosperity, order, and strength. By 1905, 116 years after the document was born, the United States produced 50% of the world’s goods with just 6% of its population and 5% of its land mass.

A unanimous vote assured Washington’s first presidency, and he sacrificed, again. With so much invested, how could he do otherwise? His eight presidential years set essential precedents and protocols for the fledgling constitutional republic. Political power is rarely pretty, and the task was not easy. He reluctantly served a second term, but refused a third. It was time to go home.

His rest was short. Sixteen years of absence had left his large, prosperous estate depleted financially and agriculturally, and he had grown old. Seventeen days before the nineteenth century arrived, a meager 3 years after his return home, an infection claimed his life. The nation, gilded by his paternal affection and unfailing efforts, mourned him, and gave his name to our national capital.

Many now declare the document he sacrificed for to be tarnished and irrelevant. No; the more we leave it, the worse government gets. The answer is not more damage. “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” The answer is to restore constitutional principles under respectful leadership that follows its system. The ancient prophet Isaiah said, “Therefore, my people are gone into captivity because they have no knowledge”. We need knowledge of the Constitution; we need to study it, and teach it to our children and each other. There is no need for another document or system when the original worked so well.

When thirteen struggling colonies were desperate, a great man rose to lead. Throughout history that has been the pattern. Britain had Churchill, India had Ghandi, Israel had Moses. Today, a struggling nation, awash in excess and disobedience, needs help again. Where is our George Washington? Is he (or she) among us in Utah? It’s possible. We lead the nation in many ways. Perhaps we can lead the nation out of turmoil.

One thing is certain: only moral, upright people can return us to greatness and prosperity. Benjamin Franklin explained, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom”. The prescription to do so is the Constitution of the United States. No modern nation has crafted such balanced self-government, or found such prosperity. We have the blueprint. Now we must find the character, leadership, discipline, and sacrifice to return us to our birthright.