It sounds like a boring report on a man with a portrait hanging in the Whitehouse and dusty old museums, but George Washington was no fantasy figure. After reading what I have read looking for the dry facts of Washington, I will tell you now, there is more to the story than just the dates and places.
He was a living breathing man who brought common and extraordinary men together to build a new nation, one that has lasted 235 years. A country that needs rescue from tyranny today, just as badly as it needed rescuing over 200 years ago. We can learn much from the insight of his leadership.
His qualities of mind and character were beyond reproach. He was a wise and courageous man admired for his honesty and strength of character. He was indeed, The Father of Our Country, and that title is well deserved. From battle, he knew what it meant to be trounced, and how to make the best of it.
He was a great thinker, a man of deep faith and he loved his country. He was a surveyor, a general, a farmer, a builder, and architect. He was good husband to Martha and a good father to Martha’s two children.
He had lifetime friendships with great men and the common man. He had the admiration of his country and of the people.
Born in Westmoreland County, Va., on Feb. 22, 1732, of prosperous gentry parents from England.
His early education included the study of such subjects as mathematics, surveying, the classics, and “rules of civility.” Washington’s deep respect for every person and his never failing, except on very rare occasions, good manners and self control can be traced back in large part to his internalizing as a youth the “110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”
In 1769, Washington became a leader in Virginia’s opposition to Great Britain’s colonial policies. At first he hoped for reconciliation with Britain, although some British policies had touched him personally. Discrimination against colonial military officers had irritated him deeply. He also shared the usual planter’s dilemma in being continually in debt to his London agents. As a delegate (1774-75) to the First and Second Continental Congress, Washington did not participate actively in the deliberations, but his presence was undoubtedly a stabilizing influence. In June 1775 he was Congress’s unanimous choice as commander in chief of the Continental forces.
He fought valiantly in the American Revolution and led the Colonists to Freedom as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. George Washington was a methodical man. He gave a great deal of thought to every decision he made. Once his decision was made he did not waver in his resolve.
Valley Forge is a testimonial to that resolve. Valley Forge was a strategic location chosen because it separated the British forces in Philadelphia from the Colonial Congress located in York, Pennsylvania. It was there with a small army of 11,000 men through a freezing winter, with sparse supplies and many desertions that Washington was able to train his forces, with the help of Baron Frederick Van Steuben of Prussia.
After holding his bedraggled and dispirited army together during the difficult winter at Valley Forge, Washington learned that France had recognized American independence. With the aid of the Baron von Steuben and the addition of French marquis de LaFayette, he concentrated on turning the army into a viable fighting force. The sheer force of his belief in the Colonists right to freedom was what pulled him through these difficult hours of the American Revolution.
He began by accepting the advice of more experienced officers such as Gates and Charles Lee, but he quickly learned to trust his own judgment. On the battlefield Washington relied on a policy of trial and error, eventually becoming a master of improvisation. Often accused of being overly cautious, he could be bold when success seemed possible. He never asked his men to do what he would not do himself. He learned to use the short-term militia skillfully and to combine green troops with veterans to produce an efficient fighting force.
He developed what was perhaps his greatest strength in a society suspicious of the military-his ability to deal effectively with civil authority.
It was evident from historic writing, that he knew how to defuse an argument, when to pick up a sword and when to make words do the fighting for him. He bowed to God and loved our United States and its citizens.
Washington went on to win our independence. Lord Cornwallis, leader of the British forces, surrendered on October 19, 1781. It took two more years before a peace treaty was signed in 1783 recognizing the Colony’s independence.
After the war Washington returned to Mount Vernon, which had declined in his absence. Once at Mount Vernon, he added a greenhouse, a mill, an icehouse, and new land to the estate. He experimented with crop rotation, bred hunting dogs and horses, investigated the development of Potomac River navigation, undertook various commercial ventures, and traveled (1784) west to examine his land holdings near the Ohio River. His diary notes a steady stream of visitors, native and foreign; Mount Vernon, like its owner, had already become a national institution.
Washington lived and worked with brilliant philosophers, thinkers, writers, orators and organizers of his time, such as John and Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, almost all of whom were better educated than he. However, at the three major events in the founding of the nation, the Revolution, the Constitutional Convention and the selection of the first President, for each position the leader chosen was George Washington. In his own day he was seen as the indispensable man and a man of unquestionable integrity.
When being chosen for his position with the Convention, there was no question that physical size and presence, charisma, energy, multi-faceted experiences, charm, courage, character, temperament, being a Virginian, wealth, ambition, and his reputation as a stalwart patriot was a factor in anyone’s decision. Especially after the Revolution, the regard, admiration and affection of the people at all levels of society had for Washington been apparent.
His driving ambition, love of detail, patience, determination, sense of responsibility and other conspicuous traits made him an excellent choice for a leader. They trusted him because he had demonstrated a noble and incorruptible character and he had also shown himself to be an exceptional leader. The most commonly cited characteristic given for his emergence as the supreme leader is his character.
In May 1787, Washington headed the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and was unanimously elected presiding officer. His presence lent prestige to the proceedings, and although he made few direct contributions, he generally supported the advocates of a strong central government. After the new Constitution was submitted to the states for ratification and became legally operative, he was unanimously elected president (1789).
Taking office (Apr. 30, 1789) in New York City (after a unanimous vote of the Electoral College), Washington acted carefully and deliberately, aware of the need to build an executive structure that could accommodate future presidents. Washington was reelected president in 1792.
Washington refused to run for a third term and he left us with his much admired Farewell Address, with its warnings and with his wish and prayer that we all take our country to heart as much as he did.
He went home to his beloved Mount Vernon.
George Washington, Genius in Leadership
A presentation made by the Reverend Richard C. Stazesky at a meeting on February 22, 2000 of The George Washington Club, Ltd., Wilmington, Delaware. http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/articles/stazesky.html
Today we desperately need a rebirth of the ideas which he had which made our nation great and a renewal of Washington as our prime national hero and role model.
The future of our nation, to a large extent, depends upon Americans both personally and publicly developing the kind of character so fully and brilliantly seen in George Washington’s personal and public lives.
We can learn a great deal from studying the life of George Washington that would lead to personal and public renewal if we were to apply what we learn. Here are just a few items.
One, the need and importance to take responsibility for one’s own life by controlling one’s emotions; Washington had a volcanic temper which, with rare exceptions, he kept under control. Washington was able to control so much externally because he first learned to control himself from within.
Two, the importance of constant learning by observing, listening, reading and reflecting; Washington spent much time reflecting or pondering.
Three, the importance of civility (the ll0 rules), which means basic respect for everyone.
Four, the role that morality and emotional maturity can play in enhancing one’s natural intelligence.
Five, the ingredients of effective leadership.
Six, the inextricable relationship in a democracy between public and personal virtue; the absence of one will always cause a diminution in the other and vice versa.
Seven, the need in a democracy for all citizens to be good citizens and for the government to be administered in such a manner as to merit the trust of the citizens.