Sunday, June 4, 2023

The Hand of Providence in the U. S. Constitution

When the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in May 1787, George Washington was elected to preside by an unanimous vote. He sought to do this in an impartial manner and took no active part in its debates, although his support was widely known and had a significant influence. Privately, he urged certain delegates to support the Constitution, writing “it is the best constitution that can be obtained...and...this, or a dissolution of the union awaits our choice.” (Papers of George Washington (University of Virginia), Letter to Edmund Randolph, January 8, 1788). 

On one of the few occasions he spoke publicly prior to the four months of meetings and debate in Independence Hall, Washington said: “It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. 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.” (quoted by Gouverneur Morris, Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, March 25, 1787). Other Founding Fathers also acknowledged the hand of Providence in the Constitution that resulted from the Convention on September 17, 1787:

“All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?” 
--Benjamin Franklin, Speech at the Constitutional Convention, June 28, 1787 

“The real wonder is that so many difficulties should have been surmounted, and surmounted with a unanimity almost as unprecedented as it must have been unexpected. It is impossible for any man of candor to reflect on this circumstance without partaking of the astonishment. It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it [the Constitution] a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.” 
--James Madison, Federalist No. 37, January 11, 1788 

“For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interest.” 
 --Alexander Hamilton, Letter to Mr. Childs, October 17, 1787 

“When the general convention met, no citizen of the United States could expect less from it than I did, so many jarring interests and prejudices to reconcile! The variety of pressing dangers at our doors, even during the war, were barely sufficient to force us to act in concert and necessarily give way at times to each other. But when the great work was done and published, I was not only most agreeably disappointed, but struck with amazement. Nothing less than that superintending hand of Providence, that so miraculously carried us through the war (in my humble opinion), could have brought it [the Constitution] about so complete, upon the whole.” 
--Charles Pinckney (signer), Letter in State Gazette of South Carolina, May 2, 1788 

“I am as perfectly satisfied that the Union of the States in its form and adoption is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament were the effects of a Divine power.” 
--Benjamin Rush, Letter to Elias Boudinot, July 9, 1788 

Washington concluded: “We may, with a kind of grateful and pious exultation, trace the finger of Providence through those dark and mysterious events, which first induced the States to appoint a general [Constitutional] Convention and then led them one after another into an adoption of the system recommended by that general Convention; thereby in all human probability, laying a lasting foundation for tranquility and happiness.”
--George Washington, Letter to Governor John Trumbull of Connecticut, June 30, 1788

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

What is the Meaning Behind the Statue of Liberty?

“The Statue of Liberty is recognized around the world as the universal symbol of freedom, liberty and progress, as outlined in the statue’s formal name: “La liberte eclairant le monde”, or “Liberty enlightening the world.” This colossal statue depicts Lady Liberty, with her arm held high carrying a glistening gold torch, a wide, seven-pronged crown, and strident legs pacing towards the future. Originally conceived as a gift from the people of France to the United States to commemorate the Declaration of Independence, the public monument has also accrued new societal significance since its completion in 1886. Here are just a handful of the most significant meanings invested into this American icon.

The Statue of Liberty Was a Gift from the People of France to America

The idea for the Statue of Liberty came from Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, who conceived the idea of a monument gifted to America from France, as a symbol of their strong ties forged during the American Civil War. He hoped the statue could represent a centenary since America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776, along with the abolition of slavery in the same year, and could strengthen the relationship between the two nations. Laboulaye commissioned the renowned French sculptor and architect Frederic Auguste Bartholdi to design a colossal statue of profound significance, loaded with symbolism related to American history. A tablet in her left hand is inscribed with the date of the United States Declaration of Independence, while a broken shackle and chains at her feet represent liberty breaking the chains of bondage, or slavery in the United States.

A Symbol of the United States’ Multicultural Heritage

In the early 1900s, Georgina Shuyler was one of many to point out that the statue’s proximity to Ellis Island, and its visibility for ships and boats coming ashore, made it a powerful, welcoming symbol for immigrants entering the United States. In response to this new interpretation, the words from Emma Lazarus’s poem The New Colossus were famously etched into a plaque at the base of the statue in 1903, including the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” It became recognized as a symbol of America’s rich multicultural history, founded by people from around the world...

The Statue of Liberty Is a Universal Symbol of Freedom and Liberty

Despite the complicated history of the United States, the statue has become universally recognized as a signifier for freedom and liberty around the world. Bartholdi designed his Lady Liberty to resemble Libertas, the Roman Goddess of Liberty. Many also believe he included a series of important, politically significant symbols to continue the theme. For example, the crown, with its rays extending outwards like the light of the sun, is believed to represent an open, welcoming light. Originally intended to be a lighthouse, the crown is now a viewing platform which visitors can enter to look out across the harbor. Some historians have argued the seven rays of the crown represent the seven seas and the seven continents, implying the global importance of liberty for all. Others believe the seven rays of her crown represent a series of seven vital freedoms: civil, moral, national, natural, personal, political and religious liberty. 

Meanwhile, the shimmering torch, which is covered in a layer of gold leaf in order to catch the rays of the sun throughout the day, is a widely accepted symbol of enlightenment and the path to freedom.”

Photo credit CNN

Read more about the history of the Statue of Liberty: 

Sunday, April 23, 2023

John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the thirty-fifth President of the United States of America and delivered his Inaugural Address. His acknowledgement that our rights come from the hand of God, his call for us to pay the price to assure the success of the cause of liberty and to serve our country, all ring true today. Following are significant excerpts from his memorable speech:

“We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom — symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning — signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago. 

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God. 

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans — born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage — and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. 

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty… 

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe. 

Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation" — a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. 

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort? 

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. 

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. 

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. 

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.”

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Samuel Adams, Founding Father of the United States

Samuel Adams (1722-1803), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was one of Boston’s most prominent revolutionary leaders. He was known for his ability to harness popular resentment against Parliament’s authority to tax the colonies in a productive manner. His role in the origins of the American War of Independence cannot be understated. His unique perspective and his ability to galvanize popular support were pivotal in the success of his efforts towards resistance to Britain and eventual independence.  

Considered the leader of the protest movement against Parliament’s authority in Massachusetts, Samuel Adams was instrumental in convincing people to join the Sons of Liberty (including John Adams and Paul Revere, among others). As a British citizen, he often referenced the Magna Carta of 1215 which effectively ended arbitrary taxation of barons in England. In the eighteenth century, Boston’s struggle against Parliament’s Acts of taxation seemed all too familiar. 

John Adams described his cousin as a plain, modest, and virtuous man. But in addition, Samuel Adams was a propagandist who was not overscrupulous in his attacks upon British officials and policies, and a passionate politician as well. In innumerable newspaper letters and essays over various signatures, he described British measures and the behavior of royal governors, judges, and customs men in the darkest colors. He was a master of organization, arranging for the election of men who agreed with him, procuring committees that would act as he wished, and securing the passage of resolutions that he desired.

Adams was born in Boston, brought up in a religious and politically active family. A graduate of Harvard College, he was an unsuccessful businessman and tax collector before concentrating on politics. He was an influential official of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Boston Town Meeting in the 1760s, and he became a part of a movement opposed to the British Parliament's efforts to tax the British American colonies without their consent. His 1768 Massachusetts Circular Letter calling for colonial non-cooperation prompted the occupation of Boston by British soldiers, eventually resulting in the Boston Massacre of 1770. Adams and his colleagues devised a committee of correspondence system in 1772 to help coordinate resistance to what he saw as the British government's attempts to violate the British Constitution at the expense of the colonies, which linked like-minded Patriots throughout the Thirteen Colonies. Continued resistance to British policy resulted in the 1773 Boston Tea Party and the coming of the American Revolution. 

Adams was actively involved with colonial newspapers publishing accounts of colonial sentiment over British colonial rule, which were fundamental in uniting the colonies. Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774, at which time Adams attended the Continental Congress in Philadelphia which was convened to coordinate a colonial response. He helped guide Congress towards issuing the Continental Association in 1774 and the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and he helped draft the Articles of Confederation and the Massachusetts Constitution. Adams returned to Massachusetts after the American Revolution, where he served in the state senate and was eventually elected governor.

On October 17, 1749 Adams married his pastor’s daughter, Elizabeth Checkley. Together they had six children of which only two survived; Samuel and Hannah. On July 25, 1757 Elizabeth passed away after she lingered 19 days following the birth of their sixth child, a stillborn boy. Adams wrote in his family Bible, “To her husband she was a sincere a Friend as she was a faithful Wife ... She ran her Christian race with remarkable steadiness and finished in triumph. She left two small children. God grant that they may inherit her graces.”  Eleven years later at age 42 he married Elizabeth Wells age 28 with whom he had no children. Abigail Adams described them as a “charming pair” with the “tenderest affection toward each other.”  


“Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man. We must not conclude merely upon a man's haranguing upon liberty, and using the charming sound, that he is fit to be trusted with the liberties of his country. It is not unfrequent to hear men declaim loudly upon liberty, who, if we may judge by the whole tenor of their actions, mean nothing else by it but their own liberty, — to oppress without control or the restraint of laws all who are poorer or weaker than themselves… The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people.” 
Essay published in The Advertiser (1748) and later reprinted in The Life and Public Service of Samuel Adams, Volume 1 (1865), by William Vincent Wells 

“Property is admitted to have an existence, even in the savage state of nature. The bow, the arrow, and the tomahawk; the hunting and the fishing ground, are species of property, as important to an American savage, as pearls, rubies, and diamonds are to the Mogul, or a Nabob in the East, or the lands, tenements, hereditaments, messuages, gold and silver of the Europeans. And if property is necessary for the support of savage life, it is by no means less so in civil society. The Utopian schemes of levelling, and a community of goods, are as visionary and impracticable, as those which vest all property in the Crown, are arbitrary, despotic, and in our government unconstitutional. Now, what property can the colonists be conceived to have, if their money may be granted away by others, without their consent?” 
House of Representatives of Massachusetts to Dennys De Berdt (12 January 1768) 

“The liberties of our Country, the freedom of our civil constitution are worth defending at all hazards: And it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair Inheritance from our worthy Ancestors: They purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood; and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle; or be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men. Of the latter we are in most danger at present: Let us therefore be aware of it. Let us contemplate our forefathers and posterity; and resolve to maintain the rights bequeathed to us from the former, for the sake of the latter. — Instead of sitting down satisfied with the efforts we have already made, which is the wish of our enemies, the necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance. Let us remember that "if we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon our liberty, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom." It is a very serious consideration, which should deeply impress our minds, that millions yet unborn may be the miserable sharers of the event.”
Essay, written under the pseudonym "Candidus," in The Boston Gazette (14 October 1771), later published in The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams (1865) by William Vincent Wells, p. 425 

“He who is void of virtuous Attachments in private Life, is, or very soon will be void of all Regard for his Country. There is seldom an Instance of a Man guilty of betraying his Country, who had not before lost the Feeling of moral Obligations in his private Connections.” 
Letter to James Warren (4 November 1775), reprinted in The Writings of Samuel Adams, ed. Harry Alonzo Cushing, vol. III (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1907), p. 236. 

“The eyes of the people are upon us. [...] If we despond, public confidence is destroyed, the people will no longer yield their support to a hopeless contest, and American liberty is no more. [...] Despondency becomes not the dignity of our cause, nor the character of those who are its supporters. Let us awaken then, and evince a different spirit, -- a spirit that shall inspire the people with confidence in themselves and in us, -- a spirit that will encourage them to persevere in this glorious struggle, until their rights and liberties shall be established on a rock. We have proclaimed to the world our determination 'to die freemen, rather than to live slaves.' We have appealed to Heaven for the justice of our cause, and in Heaven we have placed our trust. [...] We shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we act worthy of its aid and protection.” 
Addressing a meeting of delegates to the Continental Congress, assembled at Yorktown, Pennsylvania, September 1777; as quoted in The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, Volume 2, by William Vincent Wells; Little, Brown, and Company; Boston, 1865 ; pp. 492-493. 

“A general Dissolution of Principles & Manners will more surely overthrow the Liberties of America than the whole Force of the Common Enemy. While the People are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their Virtue they will be ready to surrender their Liberties to the first external or internal Invader. How necessary then is it for those who are determined to transmit the Blessings of Liberty as a fair Inheritance to Posterity, to associate on public Principles in Support of public Virtue.” 
Letter to James Warren (12 February 1779) 

“If Virtue & Knowledge are diffused among the People, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great Security.” 
Letter to James Warren (12 February 1779) 

“If ever the Time should come, when vain & aspiring Men shall possess the highest Seats in Government, our Country will stand in Need of its experienced Patriots to prevent its Ruin.” 
Letter to James Warren (24 October 1780) 

“I firmly believe that the benevolent Creator designed the republican Form of Government for Man.” 
Statement of (14 April 1785), quoted in The Writings of Samuel Adams (1904) edited by Harry A. Cushing 

“Let Divines, and Philosophers, Statesmen and Patriots unite their endeavors to renovate the Age, by impressing the Minds of Men with the importance of educating their little boys, and girls — of inculcating in the Minds of youth the fear, and Love of the Deity, and universal Philanthropy; and in subordination to these great principles, the Love of their Country — of instructing them in the Art of self-government, without which they never can act a wise part in the Government of Societies great, or small — in short of leading them in the Study, and Practice of the exalted Virtues of the Christian system.” 
Letter to John Adams (4 October 1790)

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Fall Teacher Workshop: "A New Birth of Freedom"

The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute is pleased to announce its next teacher education workshop -- "A New Birth of Freedom." The program will include three one-hour class sessions. Along with presentations, the format will include a “roundtable” discussion with participation by all. The outline of the sessions and agenda are as follows:

8:30–9:00 a.m. Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:00–10:00 a.m. First Classroom Session -- "The 1619 Project: Pros & Cons"

10:15–11:15 a.m. Second Classroom Session -- “Abraham Lincoln's Lyceum Address"

11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Third Classroom Session -- “Lincoln's Gettysburg Address"

12:30 - 1:30 p.m. Luncheon

The workshop is designed for public and private Virginia secondary school teachers and home school teachers who teach Social Studies, U.S. Government, Virginia Government, or U. S. History. Teachers from other states are also welcome. The workshop, meals and class materials all complimentary (no cost) to teachers.

The event will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, November 11th, 2022 to be held at Prospect Hill Plantation Inn. The Seminar qualifies for four Virginia recertification points or 4 hours. 

Prospect Hill Plantation Inn, Louisa, Virginia

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Battle of the Bulge and Patton’s Prayer

France: October 22, 1944
"Lieutenant General George Patton met with his commander, General Omar Bradley, and Bradley’s chief of staff to discuss plans for taking the French city of Metz and then pushing east into the Saar River Valley, a center of Germany’s armaments industry. Bradley, believing that a strong push might well end the war, argued for a simultaneous attack by all of the Allied armies in Europe. Patton pointed out that there was not enough ammunition, food, or gasoline to support all the armies. There were enough supplies, however, for one army. Patton’s Third Army could attack twenty-four hours after getting the signal. After a vigorous debate, Bradley conceded. Patton was told that the attack could take place any time after November 5, and that aerial bombardment would be available before-hand.

The Allies were really fighting three enemies, Patton told Bradley—the Germans, time, and the weather. The weather was the most serious threat. The Third Army’s sick rate equaled its battle casualty rate. Patton was never one to delay an attack, convinced that each day’s delay gave the enemy more time to prepare. “The best is the enemy of the good” was one of his favorite maxims. It would be better to attack as soon as Bradley could provide him with supplies.

But Patton could not control the weather, which affected weapons, aircraft, and the movement of troops… Only four months earlier the fate of the Allied invasion of Europe hung on the course of a storm in the English Channel. A break in the weather on June 6 allowed the amphibious assault on Normandy to proceed. Two weeks later, one of the most severe storms ever to strike Normandy sank or disabled a number of Allied ships and wiped out the American Mulberry artificial harbor off Omaha Beach. The Allied war effort was virtually shut down for five days.

When Patton had completed all his preparations for battle, he turned to the Bible and entrusted everything, including the weather, to God. His diary entry for November 7, 1944, reads: “Two years ago today we were on the Augusta approaching Africa, and it was blowing hard. Then about 1600 it stopped. It is now 0230 and raining hard. I hope that too stops. Know of nothing more I can do to prepare for this attack except to read the Bible and pray.”

The Saar campaign was launched on November 8, 1944. After one month’s fighting, Patton’s Third Army had liberated 873 towns and 1,600 square miles. In addition, they had killed or wounded an estimated 88,000 enemy soldiers and taken another 30,000 prisoner. Patton next prepared for the breakthrough to the River Rhine, a formidable natural obstacle to the invasion of Germany by the Allies. The attack was set for December 19th. In early December 1944, the headquarters of the Third Army was in the Caserne Molifor, an old French military barracks in Nancy in the region of Lorraine, a ninety-minute train ride from Paris. At eleven o’clock on the morning of December 8, Patton telephoned the head chaplain, Monsignor James H. O’Neill: “This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.”

O’Neill later recounted what Patton said to him:

Chaplain, I am a strong believer in Prayer. There are three ways that men get what they want; by planning, by working, and by Praying. Any great military operation takes careful planning, or thinking. Then you must have well-trained troops to carry it out: that’s working. But between the plan and the operation there is always an unknown. That unknown spells defeat or victory, success or failure. It is the reaction of the actors to the ordeal when it actually comes. Some people call that getting the breaks; I call it God. God has His part, or margin, in everything. That’s where prayer comes in. Up to now, in the Third Army, God has been very good to us. We have never retreated; we have suffered no defeats, no famine, no epidemics. This is because a lot of people back home are praying for us. We were lucky in Africa, in Sicily, and in Italy. Simply because people prayed. But we have to pray for ourselves, too. A good soldier is not made merely by making him think and work. There is something in every soldier that goes deeper than thinking or working—it’s his ‘guts.’ It is something that he has built in there: it is a world of truth and power that is higher than himself. Great living is not all output of thought and work. A man has to have intake as well. I don’t know what you call it, but I call it religion, prayer, or God.

O’Neill could find no formal prayers pertaining to weather, so he composed an original prayer which he typed on a three-by-five-inch card. Speaking again to O’Neill, “I wish,” said Patton, “you would put out a Training Letter on this subject of Prayer to all the chaplains; write about nothing else, just the importance of prayer. Let me see it before you send it. We’ve got to get not only the chaplains but every man in the Third Army to pray. We must ask God to stop these rains. These rains are that margin that holds defeat or victory. If we all pray, it will be like what Dr. Carrel said, it will be like plugging in on a current whose source is in Heaven. I believe that prayer completes that circuit. It is power.”

The 664th Engineer Topographical Company worked around the clock to reproduce 250,000 cards bearing the prayer for fair weather and Patton’s Christmas greeting. The cards and Training Letter No. 5 were distributed to the entire Third Army by December 14th, as follows:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.
To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. May God’s blessing rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day. 
G. S. Patton, Jr. 
Lieutenant General Commanding, 
Third United States Army 

Two days later, the U.S. armies in Europe were engaged in the greatest battle ever fought by American forces. The outcome of that battle, the Battle of the Bulge, and possibly of the entire Allied war effort in Europe, would turn on the weather...

Patton’s adjutant, Colonel Harkins, later wrote: “Whether it was the help of the Divine guidance asked for in the prayer or just the normal course of human events, we never knew; at any rate, on the twenty-third, the day after the prayer was issued, the weather cleared and remained perfect for about six days. Enough to allow the Allies to break the backbone of the Von Runstedt offensive and turn a temporary setback into a crushing defeat for the enemy.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Rediscovering George Washington

In a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, John Adams wrote: "The history of our revolution will be ... that Dr. Franklin's electric rod smote the earth and out sprang General Washington. That Franklin electricized him with his rodand hence-forward these two conducted all the policy negotiations, legislatures and war." 


"George Washington lived sixty-seven years, from 1732 to 1799. During his last twenty-four years—more than a third of his life—he was the foremost man in America, the man on whom the fate of his country depended more than on any other man. 

And these were fateful years. From 1775 to 1783—the years of the American War of Independence—Washington was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army upon whose victory the thirteen colonies depended to secure their separate and equal station among the powers of the earth. In the summer of 1787, he presided over America's Constitutional Convention. His presence lent decisive significance to the document drafted there, which continues in force in the twenty-first century as the oldest written constitution in the world. From 1789-1796, he held the highest office in the land as the first president of the United States of America under this constitution. The office of president had in fact been designed with his virtues in mind. 

In each of these capacities, and as a private citizen between and after his several public offices, Washington, more than any American contemporary, was the necessary condition, the sine qua non, of the independence and enduring union of the American states. It was in mere honest recognition of this that time bestowed upon him the epithet, Father of our Country, and that upon his death, the memorial address presented on behalf of the Congress of the United States named him "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." 

The pre-eminent positions that he held, the unrivalled honors he received, can only hint at the greatness of Washington. They are rays cast by the light of his greatness itself, the qualities of mind and character that shone brilliantly in all these positions and fully deserved all these honors—and more. The three sections here introduce readers to Washington's greatness, call attention to some of his most striking qualities of mind and character, and suggest the significance of this great man for our generation, and for every generation, of Americans. 
George Washington and our World 

Why should young Americans who care about their country and aspire to do something worthwhile with their lives be interested in the greatness of George Washington? For at least two reasons: First, although knowing what is worthwhile and what is possible is essential to living a good life and doing some good for our country, we are not born knowing these things. 

We learn these things in three ways: by experience, reflection, and study. If we are fortunate, our family and our friends provide us with examples of what is worthwhile, what is good. A hard-working father, a wise and loving mother, a friend who stands up for us in a pinch teaches us by his example. Knowing them--experiencing their goodness and reflecting upon it--is one of our most important educations. It introduces us to both what is good and what is possible, and it inspires us to be like those we love and admire. 

Greatness, however, is by definition extraordinary, and what is extraordinary is by definition rare. It takes nothing away from parents or friends to say that most of us do not know personally someone with truly extraordinary gifts or capacities. And yet, it is extraordinary qualities that most clearly reveal what is good--what is the standard of excellence in any field--by revealing more clearly the limits of what is possible. We see more clearly what baseball is, so to speak, when we see Babe Ruth swing the bat...  After seeing him play--after studying him--those of us who play the game know better what to aspire to and the rest of us understand more fully the highest standards by which the game should be judged. 

Like Babe Ruth..., a Socrates, a Shakespeare, a Mozart, displays qualities or capacities that would have been difficult or impossible to imagine without his example. In this way, those with the greatest gifts reveal to the rest of us—they make visible—human potential that we might otherwise never have realized on our own. This means that they help reveal to us human nature itself, since we cannot understand human nature until we have some idea what human beings are capable of. 

What Shakespeare is to poetry, Mozart to music, or Babe Ruth to baseball, George Washington is to life itself. He possessed and displayed in his life courage, self-control, justice, judgment and an array of other virtues in such full harmony and to such a degree, and he surmounted such great challenges in so many circumstances of war and peace, that to see how he lived his life is to see much more vividly what it means to be a man. This is by no means to say that he was flawless any more than Babe Ruth was a perfect baseball player. It is merely to say that, if he had not lived, such greatness could hardly have been believed possible. 

This, then, is the first reason to be interested in the greatness of Washington. 

The second reason has particularly to do with America. In the course of his life, Washington’s fate became inseparable from the fate of his country. By the time of his death he was identified in the eyes of the world with America and the cause of liberty for which America stood. His greatness was a testament to America’s promise. The significance of that testament has not diminished with time. To the contrary, for anyone who wants to understand this country and help fulfill its promise, it is, if anything, more necessary today than at any time in the past to understand the greatness of George Washington. It is still true, 200 years after it was first said by Fisher Ames in a eulogy of Washington, that "Our history is but a transcript of his claims on our gratitude." 
George Washington and His World 

When Washington was a mere twenty-two years old, he had already been appointed commander of the armies of Virginia (such as they were). His actions in the field had already won him notoriety in Europe and fame in Virginia. By the time he retired from military service at the age of twenty-six and returned to private life, his commanding presence, courage, resolution, incorruptible justice, and firm sense of duty were widely known throughout Virginia. Already, his destiny seemed to fellow citizens to be tied to the destiny of his "country" (that is, Virginia). 

Twenty-seven of the officers who served under the young Washington presented an Address to him (December 31, 1758) upon his retirement, expressing their gratitude for his leadership and imploring him not to resign. Their youthful tribute to the youthful Washington anticipates the man whose destiny would become inseparable from the destiny of a greater country, when it called him from his private station some seventeen years later. 

"In our earliest infancy, you took us under your tuition, trained us up in the practice of that discipline which alone can constitute good troops . . . . Your steady adherence to impartial justice, your quick discernment and invariable regard to merit, wisely intended to inculcate those genuine sentiments of true honor and passion for glory, . . . first heightened our natural emulation and our desire to excel. How much we improved by those regulations and your own example, with what cheerfulness we have encountered the several toils, especially while under your particular direction, we submit to yourself . . . . Judge then how sensibly we must be affected with the loss of such an excellent commander, . . . How great the loss of such a man? . . . It gives us additional sorrow, when we reflect, to find our unhappy country will receive a loss no less irreparable than ourselves. Where will it meet a man . . . so able to support the military character of Virginia? . . . In you we place the most implicit confidence. Your presence only will cause a steady firmness and vigor to actuate in every breast, despising the greatest dangers and thinking light of toils and hardships, while led on by the man we know and love."[1] 

Such were the impressions and the sentiments of men who knew and served under Washington in his early twenties. 

When George Washington died, on December 14, 1799, there was throughout America a profound outpouring of grief at our loss, gratitude for his life, and deep reverence for his memory. "For two months after Washington’s burial at Mount Vernon, his countrymen continuously expressed their bereavement in private correspondence, in resolutions of Congress and of State legislatures, in town meetings, in the pages of newspapers and, most singularly, in hundreds of funeral processions and solemn eulogies in every corner of the nation."[2] America’s greatest orators vied with one another to do justice to the greatness of this great man. 

From the Senate of the United States: "With patriotic pride, we review the life of our Washington, and compare him with those of other countries who have been pre-eminent in fame. Ancient and modern names are diminished before him. Greatness and guilt have too often been allied, but his fame is whiter than it is brilliant. . . . Let his countrymen consecrate the memory of the heroic General Washington, the patriotic statesman and the virtuous sage. Let them teach their children never to forget that the fruit of his labors and his example are their inheritance."[3] Congressman Henry Lee, on behalf of the House of Representatives: "First in war--first in peace--and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate and sincere; uniform, dignified and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. . . . [C]orrect throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his [public] virtues. . . . Such was the man for whom our nation mourns."[4] 

Nor were the memorials confined within American shores. "The whole range of history," wrote the editor of the Morning Chronicle in London, "does not present to our view a character upon which we can dwell with such entire and unmixed admiration. The long life of General Washington is not stained by a single blot. . . . His fame, bounded by no country, will be confined to no age."[5]  Even Napoleon delivered a public eulogy of Washington at the Temple of Mars and ordered ten days of national mourning in France. 

Abigail Adams was right in saying: "Simple truth is his best, his greatest eulogy. She alone can render his fame immortal."[6] 

George Washington the Man 

Countless witnesses attest that, however astonishing Washington’s many particular qualities of mind and character might be, the sum was even greater than the parts: The whole man somehow magnified the individual virtues of which he was composed. His courage, energy, high principles, and steadfastness; his impartial justice and utter trustworthiness; that he was calm in the face of danger and dauntless in adversity; that he would sacrifice repose for fame and fame to duty; his thoroughness in deliberation and mastery over his strong passions—these and his other distinguishing characteristics, laudable in themselves, are elevated still further as they are harmonized in the mind and character of Washington."

The verbal portrait of Washington that follows draws together several of the most widely noted qualities of Washington’s mind and character into a picture of the man himself as he acted on the stage of America’s destiny (from a private letter by a Virginia Republican—Thomas Jefferson). 

Thomas Jefferson remembered Washington fourteen years after his death, in a letter of January 2, 1814, to Dr. Walter Jones.[7] 

". . . I think I knew General Washington intimately and thoroughly; and were I called on to delineate his character, it should be in terms like these. 

"His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though, not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion. Hence the common remark of his officers, of the advantage he derived from councils of war, where hearing all suggestions, he selected whatever was best; and certainly no General ever planned his battles more judiciously. But if deranged during the course of the action, if any member of his plan was dislocated by sudden circumstance, he was slow in re-adjustment. The consequence was, that he often failed in the field, and rarely against an enemy in station, as at Boston and York. He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man. His temper was naturally high toned; but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendancy over it. If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath. In his expenses he was honorable, but exact; liberal in contributions to whatever promised utility; but frowning and unyielding on all visionary projects and all unworthy calls on his charity. His heart was not warm in its affections; but he exactly calculated every man’s value, and gave him a solid esteem proportioned to it. His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble; the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback. . . . "

On the whole, his character was, in its mass, perfect, in nothing bad, in few points indifferent; and it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance. For his was the singular destiny and merit, of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example... "

These are my opinions of General Washington, which I would vouch at the judgment seat of God, having been formed on an acquaintance of thirty years. . . . "

I felt on his death, with my countrymen, that ‘verily a great man hath fallen this day in Israel.’" 
Source: The Claremont Institute (originally published on PBS) - no longer available online.
For further reading see: Brookhiser, Richard, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (Free Press, 1997)
[1] James Thomas Flexner, George Washington: The Forge of Experience (1732-1775) (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1965), 222. Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington: A Biography, Volume Two (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948), 380-381. 
[2] John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth, George Washington, Volume seven: First in Peace (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), 648. 
[3] Albert Bushnell Hart, ed., Tributes to Washington, Pamphlet No. 3 (Washington, D.C.: George Washington Bicentennial Commission, 1931), 21. 
[4] The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States. Sixth Congress (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1851), 1310-1311. 
[5] John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth, George Washington, Volume seven: First in Peace (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), 648. 
[6] John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth, George Washington, Volume seven: First in Peace (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), 653. 
[7] Thomas Jefferson, Writings, ed. Merrill Peterson (New York: The Library of America, 1984), 1318-1321.