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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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The Government George Washington Fought For

We all have heard some of the generally unimportant legends about George Washington. However, the truth about George Washington is even more fantastic than legend. We must ask why oh why can’t our political leaders learn something from the character of our first President. Matthew Spalding, Ph.D. and Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies provides us with more insight into the character of this amazing man:

A soldier by profession and a surveyor by trade, [George] Washington was first and foremost a man of action. He was at every important intersection of the American founding; his decisions and practical wisdom were crucial to the success of the effort at every stage. . . .

From 1775 onward, when the Continental Congress appointed him military commander of continental forces, Washington personified the American Revolution and was the de-facto leader of the colonial struggle. . . .

After the war, Washington was the central hub of correspondence among the most thoughtful men of the day, leading the effort in nation-building. He was instrumental in bringing about the Constitutional Convention, and his widely publicized participation gave the resulting document a credibility and legitimacy it would otherwise have lacked. Having been immediately and unanimously elected president of the convention, he worked actively throughout the proceedings to create the new Constitution. “Be assured,” James Monroe once reminded Thomas Jefferson, “his influence carried this government.”

As our first president, he set the precedents that define what it means to be a constitutional executive: strong and energetic, aware of the limits of authority but guarding the prerogatives of office. The vast powers of the presidency, as one Convention delegate wrote, would not have been made as great “had not many of the members cast their eyes towards General Washington as president; and shaped their ideas of the powers to be given to a president by their opinions of his virtue.”

And the key ingredient in all of these things was moral character, something that Washington took very seriously and which gave to his decision-making a deeply prudential quality and to his authority an unmatched magnanimity. “His integrity was 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,” Jefferson later observed. “He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man.”

It is no coincidence, then, that Washington’s most important legacy comes during moments of temptation, when the lure of power was before him. Twice during the Revolution, in 1776 and again in 1777 when Congress was forced to abandon Philadelphia in the face of advancing British troops, Gen. Washington was granted virtually unlimited powers to maintain the war effort and preserve civil society, powers not unlike those assumed in an earlier era by Roman dictators. He shouldered the responsibility but gave the authority back as soon as possible.

After the war, there were calls for Washington to claim formal political power. Indeed, seven months after the victory at Yorktown, one of his officers suggested what many thought only reasonable in the context of the 18th century: that America should establish a monarchy and that Washington should become king. A shocked Washington immediately rejected the offer out of hand as both inappropriate and dishonorable, and demanded the topic never be raised again. . . .

Washington, victorious in war, proceeded voluntarily to resign his military commission. When he stepped down again, after his second term as president, a dumbfounded King George III proclaimed him “the greatest character of the age.” His peaceful transfer of the presidency to John Adams in 1797 inaugurated one of America’s greatest democratic traditions. . . .

No one did more to put the United States on the path to success than Washington. No one did more to assure a government with sufficient power to function but sufficient limits to allow freedom to flourish. No one walked away from power with more dignity or did more to assure the prosperous society we enjoy today. This is why Washington and Washington alone – not Jefferson, not Madison, not Hamilton – is the father of this country.

Read more here. . . .

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