Each year I look forward to celebrating the birthday of George Washington. This February is Washington’s 288th birthday.
I thank professor Peter Henriques, a Washington scholar, for introducing me to a more nuanced President Washington. Henriques describes Washington in Realistic Visionary as “the rarest of men, a realistic visionary who combined a relentlessly realistic view of human nature with a vision of what a free and united America could be for ‘millions unborn.’” Washington dedicated his public life to making that vision a reality.
Washington was an ambitious man. Ambitious for himself and for the newly created United States. He purposely worked to achieve what was in his mind best for his nation and himself. Washington provides a model that would serve our leaders well today.
He was a man of action. Washington saw that the nation’s first government, The Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1871, left the newly independent states, loosely called the United States, a fractious people. There was no central government to coordinate activities between states or to prevent states from acting as independent countries. He sought a new government that would bring order to the relations between states, authority to the nation and with authority, the financial resources to govern. At the same time, he believed that the people who identified themselves by state would come to see themselves as Americans.
George Washington organized the writing of a new constitution in 1787. It was completed that year but not ratified until 1789. Once in effect, when problems challenged the federal government’s authority, Washington took action to keep the 13 states under its authority.
Contrary to what some may think, Washington was a partisan, passionate person, but he learned how to keep his passions in check so that he would be seen as a person of virtue. Exercising self-discipline, he became in fact a more tolerant yet principled gentleman and a person of virtue.
One of his ambitions had been to be a leader of men, to be Commander-in-Chief during the American Revolution. He understood that leadership required vision, endurance and concern for those who fought for and with you. He was committed to the American cause and recruited the best men available to serve as officers and advisors. Washington endured Valley Forge alongside his soldiers. He soldiered on for over six years and then, with the war won, relinquished his position as military leader, a very rare event.
Washington believed in work, duty, diligence, respect and responsibility. He was a commendable person and president.