By Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)
Today begins a short series in this weekly column about some of America’s greatest patriots, and we begin today with probably the greatest: George Washington.
At his funeral oration for George Washington, which was given to both houses of Congress on December 26, 1799, General “Light Horse Harry” Lee famously stated that Washington was “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of his Countrymen.” That was demonstrably true at that time, and it is, or should be, still true today. In fact, there is a good reason why every adult carries his portrait in their pockets (on the one-dollar bill).
Amazingly enough, Washington was elected to the presidency by a unanimous vote. The procedure was for each of the 69 electoral college voters to cast two votes, and each one cast one of their votes for Washington. Obviously, that will never occur again.
But how had he earned this honor and why is he our greatest patriot? As taken from Professor J. Rufus Fears’ lectures on “Life Lessons from the Great Books,” which is in The Teaching Company’s “The Great Courses” series, so many of Washington’s contributions to our country were well above extraordinary.
First of all Washington created an army, was somehow able to finance it, and then not only devise, but implement, a strategy to defeat the greatest empire in the world at that time. Furthermore, only a few years later he gave to us all probably the greatest gift our country has ever received. Because when our government didn’t even have the money to pay our military troops for their service, and there was great danger that it would collapse, many of his officers circulated a letter requesting Washington to assume the position of king.
But Washington flatly refused. Had he not, our experiment as a democratic republic would probably have been quelled forever. Instead, after arranging for the troops to be paid, Washington resigned his commission as general of the army, and went back to his private life in Mount Vernon. This makes him the exact opposite of Napoleon, Julius Caesar and so many other historical figures.
However, as time went on under the Articles of Confederation, the country continued to be in danger of collapsing. So James Madison and other leaders asked him to come to Philadelphia and chair the Constitutional Convention. Scholars today still generally agree that it was only by Washington’s prestige and presence that enough delegates were persuaded to come to the convention from the various states, and eventually vote in favor of the proposed Constitution. And without that greatest political document in the history of the world being ratified, our country would not have survived.
But even when Washington assumed the presidency our country was still in danger: it was financially unstable, could not protect its frontiers from the Native American tribes, and would have been vulnerable for a successful attack by any European power. Yet by the end of his eight years in office, our country was strong in all of those important areas.
So it surprised most people in the country when George Washing declined to run for a third term as president. And as he voluntarily stepped down, he not only gave us an almost revolutionary gift by peaceably handing over power to another president, he also gave us the gift of his parting, lasting and impartial thoughts.
On September 19, 1797, Washington published a letter in the Philadelphia American Daily Advertiser, which we now know as Washington’s Farewell Address. In this he gave us a testament to the importance of a limited government, and a list of Libertarian principles that, in many ways, our “leaders” since that time have all-to-frequently ignored. Among other things, he said that:
- Our country is great because of our freedoms, and supporting the Constitution is our best foundation for that freedom;
- We must be aware of – and vigilant against – the encroachments of power by the government itself;
- We must guard against political parties becoming too strong, because there is an inherent danger in “partisan strife;”
- No nation will endure unless it is moral, and to be moral it must be based upon the virtues of patriotism, frugality, honesty and justice; and,
- While trade with other countries is a good thing, we must avoid “foreign entanglements” or alliances with other nations.
Today our freedoms are literally under attack by our own government; too much power is vested in both the government and the two largest political parties, which too often put their interests ahead of those of the country; we have strayed away from the virtues of patriotism, frugality, honesty and justice; and we are still using our military forces in too many areas around the world in which neither our security nor national interests are at stake.
So, for the sake of our country, children and grandchildren, let us once again listen to our greatest patriot and most effective president, and work together to re-vitalize George Washington’s Libertarian principles.
James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of “A Voter’s Handbook: Effective Solutions to America’s Problems” (The Forum Press, 2010), and the 2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President. Judge Gray can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net.