For the blessings of religious liberty, political freedom and economic prosperity you and I enjoy today, we can thank one man more than all others. The contributions of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and others of our founders likely would not have taken root had it not been for the character and sacrifices of George Washington.
So at a time when all three of these blessings seem to be threatened, it is a good time to look at the qualities that made our first president. Today Washington seems to be forgotten. He set our country on a firm foundation that made possible the exceptionalism that has made this nation the envy of the world.
Washington was a man of unquestioned integrity, a strong and charismatic leader, and a devout Christian man of faith. He was courageous and perseverant. He had a gift of bringing people together. He believed in deeds not words. Character and honor were vitally important to him. Character is mentioned 1,500 times in his writings.
His personal sacrifice is really quite extraordinary. During the six years of the Revolutionary War, he only came home to Mt. Vernon once.
The American Revolution was all about sacrifice and hardship. Valley Forge was one of the toughest challenges for Washington. His army had shrunk from sickness and desertions. Food was scarce. Many days the soldiers lived on fire cakes and water. Many soldiers had no shoes, blankets or complete uniforms. For shelter they constructed primitive log huts with dirt floors.
Washington had to constantly petition congress for food, uniforms and supplies. Here Washington showed his remarkable patience, perseverance and his compassion for his men. But despite these hardships Washington used Valley Forge to build a cohesive fighting force. Valley Forge’s hardships built character and perseverance in the commander.
One of Washington’s most audacious and daring efforts was his victory at Trenton. For raw courage and unrelenting focus it is hard to surpass.
In December of 1776, the revolutionary cause was at its lowest ebb. Washington had just been defeated in Long Island and Manhattan and the remnants of his army were in full retreat in Pennsylvania. He knew he had to take the offensive or the quest for independence would be over.
He decided to attack Trenton and was so determined he scribbled a note to himself which said, “Victory or death.” This campaign was launched on Christmas night amidst a raging blizzard. The soldiers had to be transported at night across the Delaware and then march for 9 miles to reach Trenton. It was so cold that two soldiers froze to death. All night Washington rode up and down the line of marchers encouraging them. The attack was successful and the tide of war changed.
When the war was won, Washington retired only briefly to his home at Mount Vernon. He was persuaded by Benjamin Franklin to again leave home and serve as president of the Constitutional Convention. There Washington's patience and respected integrity held the delegates together through difficult negotiations and momentous decisions that produced the most copied governing document in history. This may have been Washington’s greatest contribution to our nation.
When the Constitution was ratified, Washington was unanimously elected as our first president. While many wanted to call him “Your Excellency,” Washington showed his humility by asking that he simply be called “Mr. President.” Humility in a president is a precious gift.
As our first president Washington had to set executive precedent. He knew the Constitution well and faithfully adhered to it. He was careful not to usurp the role of Congress. He was distrustful of government and said, “Government is like fire, a good servant and a poor master.”
And as president, Washington continued his lifelong practice of daily prayer and acknowledged God in all his addresses, notably his farewell address, in which he said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.”
After Washington’s death John Adams said, “His example is now complete, and it will teach wisdom and virtue to magistrates, citizens and men, not only in the present age, but in future generations, as long as history shall be read.”
Bob Rosasco is a longtime resident of Miami. He is an active member of Florida Faith and Freedom .