Ercille I. Christmas
George Washington...Still "First In Our
April 23, 2009
He is still "first” in the hearts of millions upon millions of the citizens of the country he successfully helped to create! If a child growing up in the Caribbean – including the US Virgin Islands (yours truly) – learned to appreciate the value of George Washington, a man of great mental, spiritual and physical fortitude, then imagine the gratitude of those fortunate enough to be born on the same soil that he liberated!
But this is not always the case. When people are accustomed to their environment, they tend to take it for granted. Its grandeur is looked upon much as we look at the sky and see the sun in its appointed place, and then move on to "more interesting” things. I only learned to appreciate the clement weather and the white sandy beaches of my island of birth after I immigrated to the US and, later, returned to St. Kitts for a visit.
When many of us woke up to the devastation in New York City, caused by terrorists who "hate us,” we dusted off both our religion and our patriotism, proudly waved our flags, and prayed to God. While another September 11, 2001, could be in our future, it is the less dramatic, but equally traumatic and insidious efforts underway to dismantle the nation of George Washington, which could prove much more devastating.
The scholarly work on our first president could probably stretch from "sea to shining sea.” My little article is not a scholarly treatise. It is a heartfelt homage of an admitted non-natural- born citizen to a man who was indeed a Christian gentleman, scholar, warrior, and politician, a man who came from an era when a man’s word was his bond. Even when he became a politician, he did not practice the art of "politicalese,” speaking a different version of the "truth” depending on his audience. Plain-spoken truth was his trademark.
I have always wondered why this first American President doesn’t have his own holiday, but is lumped in there on Presidents Day as one of many. I also resent the ads in which his image and that of President Lincoln are used to hawk merchandise, with their "speaking” lips graphically manipulated to sell mattresses, cars, and credit reports. It is so unseemly that I invariably end up boycotting the vendor!
I wanted to see if George Washington is "first” on the Internet search engines. In one, he is fifth, supplanted by Jorge Washington. I did a double take! Instead of George, there was the Hispanic version of the same name. But our George is so famous and larger than life that he doesn’t need a search engine to "optimize” him! We need only go to MountVernon.org .
When we look back at Revolutionary Times through the eyes of our ultra-modern 21st century, we wonder how George Washington led his army to victory over the mighty British Empire. The teleprompter had not yet been invented so he didn’t have anyone to put words in his mouth, but rather inspired his men with the soaring rhetoric that came from his heart and his commitment to freedom – with only Thomas Paine, pamphleteer extraordinaire, to spread his word. He did not have the Marines to help him fight from "the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli,” but a "ragtag” "army. He did not have CENTCOM – he, himself, was "central command.” I feel certain that he would be proud of our current Military, the finest in the world, as it blossomed from ‘ragtag” to first rate! But impressive as our modern military’s arsenal is, it is the spirit of patriotic pride and service to country that, above all, our modern warriors share with General Washington, despite the routine slurs they receive from those not fit to wear the uniform.
George Washington was the embodiment of courage and leadership. The Battle of Trenton could be considered the pivotal battle of those early Revolutionary times. Had Washington and his Continental Army not outmaneuvered the British Army, the rebellion could have been over. The times were arduous and punishing. The British had already taken New York, parts of New Jersey, and were no doubt planning to celebrate by taking Philadelphia, the capital of the colonists/rebels. Thomas Paine enunciated the outlook from the American side in the first of his "The American Crisis” pamphlets.
These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
The fact that we are not today singing "God Save the Queen” is proof positive that the tide turned in favor of the fledging nation. The hard-fought victory was achieved on the backs of the soldiers and patriots of all seasons, led by a man who surely had found favor with God. Yet George Washington did not bask in the glow of his military victory, but promptly retired from public life. King George III, whose forces had been soundly defeated by George Washington and his Continental Army, could not believe he had been forced to retreat from the limelight, pronouncing: "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” Even the enemy recognized the character of the man!
Retirement lasted about four years. By 1787, Washington was presiding over the Philadelphia Convention and overseeing the drafting of the Constitution, the marvelous and unique document that, today, is being nonchalantly discarded. Two years later, he became another "first,” – the President of the newly-formed United States of America. Modest as he was, George Washington was again ready to leave public life after his first term ended, but was persuaded to remain and serve a second term. He refused to serve a third term. Excerpts from his farewell address follow. In that address, he presciently warned his fellow citizens of the dangers – from both within and without our country – that our new nation could face. He warned about "unprincipled men” in government. He could have been speaking about the 21st century! I have highlighted the phrases that struck a deep chord in me. He warned us. We did not listen.
FRIENDS AND FELLOW-CITIZENS:
In looking forward to the moment, which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude, which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that Heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; than, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation, which is yet a stranger to it.
Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of american, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.
However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the constitution, alterations, which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments, as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard, by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country;
I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.
Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.
As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate.
Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government.
United States - September 17, 1796
In addition to those prescient words of warning and encouragement from a man of "firsts,” it is in our best interests to remember what Thomas Paine further entreated in his American Crisis pamphlet: "For though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the embers can never expire."
The embers are about to expire. We cannot let them! America – let us not forget who "brought us to the dance.” The flame of liberty is being encircled by a severe gale force as we watch our freedoms being swept away. It is our duty as citizens of this country to not be "sunshine patriots,” i.e., fair-weather citizens, but steadfast Washingtonian Patriots! Let us fight to uphold our Constitution! Yes, we can!