(CCU Student) Any group of individuals that has faced a difficult task quickly comes to realize that a successful completion of their endeavors is impossible without solid leadership. Without effective leadership, any significant task will be torn asunder either from external pressures or internal strife.
No one understood this more than our Founding Fathers. The task of uniting thirteen stubborn and independent colonies against the most powerful economic and militaristic empire on the planet is a challenge that rivals the impossible. And yet it was through the guidance of leaders like George Washington that the greatest manifestation of freedom and natural law survived the violent throws of birth. With similar leadership, even the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing our nation today can be overcome.
The leaders needed in the coming struggle to regain our freedom and restore our Constitution must display the type of leadership and integrity embodied by George Washington. His tenants of propriety, fearlessness, selfless service, integrity, and humility make for an exceptional human being that stood as a bulwark against the storms of war and political turbulence.
Propriety: From an early age, George Washington lived in service to his country. At the age of fifteen, Washington set out to explore the frontier and survey territories belonging to the (at the time) colony of Virginia. In his early twenties, a young George Washington was given a commission as a colonel in the Virginia militia. Washington was forced to learn a critical facet of leadership the hard way: resilience. Even in the face of defeat by his French enemies, Washington handled himself in a manner that won him high esteem throughout Virginia and the other colonies. This air of propriety and dignity that Washington radiated not only earned him respect on the battlefield, but in his private life as well. Even as a young man Washington lived his life in a respectful and dignified manner. Through a copy of The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation (an enticing title, I know), Washington learned and began to build a foundation of civility and respectable behavior that further added to his ability to lead and turn heads in a room. Not only was Washington a physically imposing individual, he was a stoic and deliberate leader. Unlike many of his political counterparts, Washington preferred private conversation and behind the scenes deliberation to eloquent speeches and extensive writings. Even during his terms in the House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress, Washington rarely participated in open debate, but rather listened and processed a situation. This is a far cry from many of our political leaders who constantly seek the lime light and sign million–dollar–book deals. Washington simply sought to serve his constituents and make effective decisions rather than seek to get his opinion heard.
Fearlessness: Washington also operated on the battlefield with a fearlessness that only comes from a firm reliance and belief in God and His will. During the French and Indian War, Washington served as an aide to General Braddock; a by–the–book European style general that was completely unsuited to fight a war in the American frontier. During the British push to retake the Ohio Valley, Braddock marched his redcoats in rank and file straight into an ambush consisting of French soldiers and their Indian allies. Within minutes, almost a thousand of the fifteen hundred men under Braddock lay dead or dying. Included in these, were all of the officers (Braddock would succumb to his wounds a few days later) except for Washington. During the engagement Washington had two horses shot from under him and multiple bullets passed through his clothes. But Washington was never wounded and succeeded in leading the survivors back to defensible positions. During the Revolution, Washington was almost always in the fray and could be found close to the enemy. A one point during the Battle of Monmouth, Washington almost personally charged the British lines out of sheer rage. Such behavior on the part of a general was unheard of at the time. But in order to instill confidence in his men, Washington himself had to demonstrate fearlessness. If only political and military leaders of today displayed such raw courage and audacity. Instead, most modern politicians will pander to whoever they need to in order to advance their personal agenda or advance their party’s platform. And in spite of blatant acts of violence and war, political and military leadership seek to extend a handshake to our enemies to the very people who seek to wipe out our way of life.
Selfless Service: Ultimately it was Washington’s selfless service that sets him apart from the leaders of today. In today’s political climate, men and women campaign for office because they want to be a politician. And once they’re in office, the position is treated as a job rather than a position of servitude. At no point did Washington seek the military appointment granted to him by the Continental Congress. In fact, it is said that Washington darted from the room when it was motioned that he be given the position of commander–in–chief of the Continental Army. After the war, some of his officers sought to install him as a monarch over the United States by force if it need be. Washington flat out refused the offer and instead rode to Philadelphia to resign his command and return his power to the Congress. After that he simply sought to retire to his plantation and live as a gentleman farmer. But again down the road, Washington was called upon again to hold together the debates on what to do about the Articles of Confederation. By this time, it was obvious that the system put into place by the Articles of Confederation was falling apart. The Federal Government had little or no power at all over the states and the entire country was on the verge of being ripped apart because of internal disunity. When asked to attend what would become the Constitutional Convention, Washington lamented and asked “have I not yet done enough for my country”. Even at the Constitutional Convention, Washington said little but rather presided over the proceedings and played a significant role in holding together the delegates from the states that all had their own interest and agenda to advance. Through his leadership, Washington took an unwieldy confederation and guided the delegates to form what can only be described as a miracle. And in his presidency, Washington walked away after two terms despite the opportunity to keep the office for life. In fact, Washington was more than thrilled to walk away from public office in spite of the massive potential for supreme power.
Integrity: From beginning to end, George Washington placed integrity at the forefront of his mind. There is a reason that the reputation of Washington as an honest man has weathered hundreds of years and the tragedy of historical revisionism. Washington never succumbed to personal ambition or the temptations of power that followed his victory in the Revolutionary War; but such integrity is scarce in the American political landscape. Instead governors are selling senate seats. Politicians are no longer concerned with what is right but rather what is popular. This is a pervasive attitude that transcends party politics. One has only to look at the Republican Party from 2000–2006. How can a group of politicians claim to be conservative and continue to pile on public debt in record numbers? In contrast, Washington stood as a pillar and stuck to his bearing.
Humility: Above all, Washington’s humility made him a learned man that was able to lead. Until the Continental Congress, Washington had seen little of the Thirteen Colonies. So rather than act as if he was an expert on the combined interest of all colonies, Washington diverted his efforts to listening and learning about his fellow colonists. This knowledge he gained in Philadelphia was later priceless in creating unity between the different troops in the Continental Army. Washington had the humility to take time to learn from his mistakes and act in a manner that was genuine and effectively achieved a victory over the British. But too many politicians seek to build up a world of power and affluence rather than serve. Over the course of their time in office, too many political leaders have made millions from special interest and from political maneuvering.
A Call to Action: The time for leaders like Washington is now. The time for apathy and mindless opinions is long gone. Names such as Adams, Jefferson, and Washington have not stuck in our history because they were men who backed down in the face of adversity and peril. Instead they entrusted their lives, fortunes, and honor to the hands of God and the judgment of history. The need for such leaders to step up has never been greater.
This is not something to be feared. We can learn from the words of Patrick Henry, “If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable2 and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come … Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
For hope, we can look again to Washington’s words: “The ways of Providence being inscrutable, and the justice of it not to be scanned by the shallow eye of humanity, not to be counteracted by the utmost efforts of human power and wisdom, resignation, and, as far as the strength of our reason and religion can carry us, a cheerful acquiescence to the Divine Will is what we are to aim.”