2016 is a banner year for America. On July 4th we will be celebrating our 240th birthday and on November 2 we will be electing our 45th President.
In a few days America will be celebrating Presidents Day and there is no better time to pay tribute to a man who by his accomplishments created the American Dream.
President George Washington will always be a tough act to follow, but one would hope that every Presidential Candidate would aspire to his level of integrity and every American may wish to expect their presidential candidates to do just that.
WASHINGTON & THE AMERICAN DREAM
He took his duty to his country seriously. He created and led the army during the Revolution, he served as President of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and was the nation’s first President under the Constitution.
George Washington is an inspiration and the blueprint for the American Dream! He stood in the face of a class system that favoured the wealthy and the appointments by the King and rose to his full potential such that by the end of the war King George III called him the Greatest Man Alive.
Washington proved, for the entire world to see, that a humble beginning was not a reflection of how you lived your life. It is as much because of him and his example that America is a country of immense opportunity as long as we cultivate a positive and determined attitude and constantly believe in our dreams.
America will always place President Washington on a pedestal, and yet did you know he only had about 8 years of formal schooling and was largely self-taught in various disciplines? He started school at 6 years old and left at 15 because his family could not afford to continue his education.
In spite of his limited education he had a gift for mathematics and became a paid surveyor at the age 16. Washington was one of the few major founders of the American nation who lacked a college education.
Given his background, his rise to the office of the first President of the United States is all the more remarkable! Not only that, he showed immense resources of character and determination to achieve his goals, and it was never easy.
Can you even imagine electing a leader who suffered from all sorts of ailments, including diphtheria, tuberculosis, smallpox, dysentery, malaria, quinsy (tonsillitis), carbuncle, pneumonia, and epiglottitis. America would certainly have missed the greatest leader of the world if they limited their respect for him based on his physical ailments.
WASHINGTON THE GENERAL
He learned from his mistakes and he was allowed to make mistakes. According to Joseph J. Ellis' His Excellency: George Washington, “he lost more battles than any victorious general in modern history.” His best skills were not so much his battlefield brilliance—after all, he committed some major strategic blunders—but more his ability to hold his army intact for more than eight, long years and winters, despite immense challenges in food, clothing and equipment, all the while keeping the desire for revolution alive.
Washington had the space and the ability to be creative by developing his own spy network during the revolutionary war and foreshadowed many techniques of modern espionage, including the use of misinformation and double agents.
WASHINGTON THE ENTREPRENEUR
His creativity expanded to his gift for business. Washington, quite the entrepreneur, became a very significant land owner. He was an agricultural innovator and supposedly introduced the idea of crop rotation.
He grew hemp as a cash crop, but its use was quite legitimate as many farmers grew and sold hemp to make rope, paper, and other products.
Washington also made what we would call "moonshine" today, but he paid taxes and had a license, so he was actually considered a legitimate distiller.
So considerable did Washington’s business interests become that the website Wall Street 24/7 in 2010 listed him as the most wealthy president of all time, based on what his assets would be worth today: more than $500 million. This included very significant land holdings and at least 800 slaves.
WASHINGTON THE PRESIDENT & PUBLIC SERVANT
Despite all of this, Washington was land-rich and cash-poor and even had to borrow money to attend his own inauguration in New York City in 1789. He then had to borrow money again when he moved back to Virginia after two terms as president.
His public life took a terrible toll on his finances as he refused payment for the 8 1/2 years as Commander in Chief. He only asked to be reimbursed for his expenses, but even these were not always fully covered by Congress as they only had an annual budget of $25,000 for the Executive Branch, from which all salaries of staff and Cabinet members, as well as expenses, were paid. Washington would even cover the shortfall when there was not enough money in the coffers!
Much of this came about because Washington never expected to serve even one term as president, much less two. He originally planned to serve no more than a couple of years to establish the legitimacy of the new government, intending to then resign as president. However, this never happened because one crisis constantly followed another and he ended up serving two full terms.
WASHINGTON THE SLAVE OWNER
By today’s standards Washington was by no means the perfect man, however. Like many of the other Founding Fathers he built his businesses on the backs of slave labor, as was the norm in those days.
Yet, as a man of his time, Washington stands out as the only founder who freed his slaves, at least the 124 who were under his personal control. (He couldn't free the so-called 'dower slaves' who came with his marriage to Martha.) In his will, he stipulated that the action was to take effect only after Martha died.
The job description of president was pretty much written for Washington, and he ran mostly unopposed for office. It was a difficult act to follow when he stepped down from office in 1797. By that time America had also seen the emergence of political parties and rival factions, so Washington was the only President who never had to run for office.
Washington’s Farewell Address warned against “the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party,” and encouraged a focus on education and morality. He also cautioned against sectionalism within the nation, and admonished against entangling foreign alliances. Needless to say, these recommendations ring familiar bells today!