By Jeff Olson
This week we continue to honor another of our presidents born in February: our nation’s first president – George Washington. There is no way I can do this great man justice in just one column or even one book for that matter, but I will honor him here as best I can. Born February 22, 1732, Washington is known as the “Father of our country” and has been described as “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
When he was leaving home to begin what would become a lifelong service to his country, the parting words of his mother, Mrs. Mary Washington, included: “Remember that God is our only sure trust. To Him, I commend you…..My son, neglect not the duty of secret prayer.” Washington would later say: “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.
Through his creation of a personal prayer book at age 20, his witnessed prayers at Valley Forge, and his many supplications to Almighty God as President on behalf of his beloved nation, Washington was indeed faithful in heeding his mother’s admonition. This was never more revealing than in his “Earnest Prayer” as expressed in his Circular Letter Addressed to the Governors of all the States on Disbanding of the Army, June 14, 1783 from Newburgh, New York as he sought retirement and refuge from public service. In it Washington stated, “Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.” Washington continued, “I have thus freely declared what I wished to make known, before I surrendered up my public trust to those who committed it to me. The task is now accomplished. I now bid adieu to your Excellency, as the chief magistrate of your State, at the same time I bid a last farewell to the cares of office and all the employments of public life.”
When King George III heard that Washington would resign his commission to a powerless Congress (essentially refusing the opportunity to be a king), he told the painter Benjamin West: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” It has been said that Washington was less eloquent than [Thomas] Jefferson; less educated than [James] Madison; less experienced than [Benjamin] Franklin; and less talented than [Alexander] Hamilton. Yet, these men and many others looked to Washington for wisdom and leadership. They knew from his personal virtue and character that he could accept, exercise and relinquish power – all with assurance, humility and purpose guided by religious principle and tempered by moral restraint rooted in his Christian faith.
There are four important ways George Washington contributed to our nation. First, he was an ambassador and major in the French and Indian War. Second, he was the commanding general of the Continental Army during the War of Independence. Third, he presided over the writing of our Constitution. And fourth, he served as our first president under the U.S. Constitution. However, even beyond these most notable contributions to his country, there are less-known facets about him. Washington was a successful farmer and entrepreneur. He owned and operated an integrated farming operation in which his own innovation and designs constantly improved the efficiency of his operation and the quality of his products. A part of his vision for America was a country of both freedom and prosperity, a republic driven by innovation, self-reliance, and the use of its own resources. George Washington didn’t just believe in these principles – he lived by them.
After Washington’s death, Reverend J.T. Kirkland said of him, “….no one could express, more fully, his sense of the Providence of God, and the dependence of man.” Washington was, as biographer James Flexner called him, the “Indispensable Man” of the American founding. Another author described Washington as the quintessential American. Without George Washington, there probably would never have been a United States of America.
In this day in time some of our greatest leaders, including George Washington, have been victims of slanderous and false accusations and the subjects of rewritten history. Unfortunately, this is rapidly becoming more common and institutionalized. A prime example, and perhaps the most notable and potent, is the 1619 Project. This slickly-packaged, award-winning piece of propaganda re-frames American history around the idea that the United States is not an exceptional country but an evil one. It’s underlying premise is the false narrative that the American founding should be defined by slavery, not freedom. Of course, this is easily refutable and proven otherwise for those who don’t have an agenda and who honestly seek a fair and objective view of history. The President’s Advisory 1776 Commission Report, released in January 2021, presents such a view – a definitive chronicle of the American founding, a powerful description of the effect of the principles of the Declaration of Independence have had on our Nation’s history, and a conclusive rebuttal of reckless “re-education” attempts such as the 1619 Project. I hope and pray that those who aren’t familiar with the 1776 Commission Report – especially parents of school children of all ages, educators at all levels, and local school boards and state legislators – will read it as a predicate, reference and call for a firm response, refutation, and rejection of the 1619 Project. This project’s strategy of exploiting ignorance and impressionability among the American people in order to transform school curriculum and indoctrinate our young is already making headway into some state legislatures and classrooms across our land. Unfortunately, it’s ultimate goal of contributing toward “fundamentally transforming the United States”, a campaign slogan and goal of the forty-fourth president of the United States, will be accomplished if we choose to do nothing. Remember, so far this is still a choice for many and it is one we cannot afford to ignore, put off, or get wrong.
I can’t help but be reminded of one of humorist Will Rogers quotes, one which may pose as much truth as humor.“I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for calling him “father.” I seriously doubt that he would, but I think he would be sensing a father’s deep disappointment and hurt from our generation’s poor stewardship of the legacy he and others of our founding generation bequeathed to us. “The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world that a Freeman, contending for liberty on his own ground, is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.”