Happy 237th America (Thanks to George Washington!)

Earlier today the Egyptian military leader General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi announced that his country’s first democratically-elected leader, President Mohammed Morsi, was being ousted and the new constitution suspended until (ironically) a new election could be arranged.  Unrest and violence had escalated in the last week, until the Army finally stepped in to finish off the floundering Muslim Brotherhood leadership.  But Morsi himself was the benefactor of the so-called “Arab Spring” movement of 2011, in which the autocrat Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.  And the beat goes on…

The Egyptian de facto military coup is in sharp contrast to the American electoral system, in which we enjoy the security and complacence of a peaceful transition of power every four or eight years.  But since we are celebrating our nation’s birthday today, we do well (and I never miss an opportunity to remind us) to recall the transcendent leadership of the greatest of our Founding Fathers, which saved the new republic from becoming a military dictatorship.  And so, I reproduce the following passages from a post of mine from several years ago:

As the Treaty of Paris was nearing completion to end the Revolutionary War, General George Washington’s officers were in a state of discontent at the prospect of not getting paid, for the country was broke.  Anonymous letters were circulating at the camp at Newburgh, NY urging the army, in the event of a successful treaty, to remain formed in order to pressure Congress into paying them.  This action would essentially create a military government rather than a representative democracy.

Washington appeared before his officers at a meeting on March 15, 1783 and delivered a short prepared speech, dubbed the Newburgh Address.  In it he essentially made his case for patience with Congress and implored the officers to give it, and him, their trust.

“But as I was among the first who embarked in the cause of our common country.  As I have never left your side one moment, but when called from you, on public duty.  As I have been the constant companion and witness of your distresses, and not among the last to feel, and acknowledge your merits.  As I have ever considered my own military reputation as inseperably connected with that of the army…it can scarcely be supposed, at this late stage of the war, that I am indifferent to its interests.”

As he had done many times before, he put his own reputation on the line to avoid disaster for the fledgling nation.  After he concluded the speech, however, he sensed that the officers were still angry.  Then, from his coat he produced a note detailing Congress’ monetary dilemma.  He squinted and struggled to read the note, and was thus forced to dig out his spectacles.

 “Gentlemen, you must pardon me.  I have grown gray in your service and now find myself growing blind.”

This simple action and poignant statement reminded the officers of what Washington had done for the country through all of those war years, and that he indeed had been with them at every moment:  the night time retreat from General Howe’s British troops in New York; crossing the Delaware on Christmas Day 1776 to engage the Hessians at Trenton in a surprise counterattack, then success later at Princeton; enduring the miserable winter at Valley Forge in 1777; the training of the troops by Baron Von Steuben; and Washington’s inspirational rallying of the retreating American troops at Monmouth.

Having been reminded of their leader’s incredible courage and leadership, many wept in shame.  When Washington had left the meeting, the officers quickly resolved to follow his example and reaffirmed their loyalty to the American republic.

It would not be the first or last time that George Washington’s personal integrity saved the United States of America from short sighted folly.  We Americans owe this great man our unyielding gratitude and respect– and, if possible, our emulation of his feats of faith and his strength of character.  If only the world could realize a leader like him today.

6 comments

  1. J. Thorp says:

    I enjoyed this perspective on Washington. You sound like a big fan of his — is there a single best of definitive biography of the man that you would recommend? I didn’t see anything in this group’s recommended reading list…

  2. Spaniard says:

    Also, check out Joseph Ellis’ biography of Washington, as well as his book “Founding Brothers.” I’d also recommend watching “The Revolution” series from the History Channel. I have the DVD set if you’d like to borrow it. A few years ago I listened to “1776” audiobook from David McCoullough, thought it was pretty good.

  3. Spaniard says:

    Well, I hesitated on this one: “Citizen Washington,” a historical novel by William Martin. Read it several years ago, I recall enjoying reading it on a couple airplane rides, obviously some license taken with the facts.

  4. J. Thorp says:

    I went to the U’s bookstore and wound up picking up three books of interest:

    – Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow ($9.98, down from $40)
    – Seed of Discontent by J. Revell Carr (tracing the roots of the Revolution to the late 1600s and King James II, profiling the Founder’s “fathers” — $4.98, down from $28)
    – Theodore Roosevelt’s History of the United States, compiled and edited by Daniel Ruddy (essentially a collection of excerpts from Teddy Roosevelt’s writings providing his understanding of U.S. history, character, etc. — $5.98, down from $22)

    That’ll keep me busy for awhile…thanks for all the suggestions!

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