There would be no U.S. presidential election today had it not been for him: George Washington, 1732-1799:
Since his death, he has been portrayed less as a man and more as a symbol. We see him on the U.S. dollar (based on the austere-looking man in the Gilbert Stuart portrait), or gazing out majestically from Mt. Rushmore, or as represented by the Washington Monument and so on…
But he was as human as all the rest of us are, of course.
I love this. In Pennsylvania during the war for American independence, his troops, only miles away from British forces commanded by his main adversary at the time, General William Howe… found a dog:
This is another one. He and his wife Martha had no children. She had been a widow and young mum when she married George.
Two of her children – a boy and a girl – became his step-children. (The girl would die when she was 17.) Washington eventually had a relationship with his step-grandchildren (children of the boy, who would also die young: at age 26) that he could write a letter like this to one of them. This one was a teenager away at school, and there were, well, rumors of… a girlfriend:
We should never “worship” historical figures. Rather, we should see them as a whole. More importantly, we must try to learn from the past…
We in our present are riddled with our own faults as well. None of us are ever all we could be. We should always aim to be better; and, to his credit, he always did:
He spent a life in a public service that included dangers that he need not have faced. He could have chosen to put his feet up and enjoy a life of relative wealth. Instead he decided to risk that life – he was almost killed several times – and also that of his wife and family.
As he wrote from Massachusetts in August 1775, two months after being named commander-in-chief of the new Continental Army:
I can hardly think that Lord Dunmore [the British royal governor of Virginia] can act so low, & unmanly a part, as to think of siezing Mrs Washington by way of revenge upon me…
We are often smugly sure we are “better” than our ancestors were in every way. Yet consider that observation of his. Would we ever assume that our more “advanced” and “civilized” world would function today by such “rules?”
From 1789-1797, he spent difficult years as the first U.S. president. He never lived in the White House. (That was completed in 1800.) However, he set the tone for what the role would be.
He essentially “created” the presidential office that two major candidates – one a woman – seek yet again today. For example, in a world in 1789 where there were not yet other “presidents” such as himself, but which was full of monarchs with lofty titles, when asked what he should be called, he suggested: “Mr. President.” That form of address is now commonly used for presidents everywhere.
Every four years on this day, we should take a moment and try to remember him a bit more than usual.
If he could see us now, what might he think of the U.S. presidential campaign that concludes today?
Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂