Dr. Bill Atwood

Celebrating George Washington

President George Washington, who considered lengthy portrait sittings for artists mind numbing, is seen in a 1795 oil painting by Rembrandt Peal. The painting is one of a number of pieces of art seen in the "George And Martha Washington: Portraits for the Presidential Years" exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The show runs through Aug. 8, 1999. (AP Photo/National Portrait Gallery) 1795 OIL ON CANVAS BY R. PEAL
President George Washington, who considered lengthy portrait sittings for artists mind numbing, is seen in a 1795 oil painting by Rembrandt Peal. The painting is one of a number of pieces of art seen in the "George And Martha Washington: Portraits for the Presidential Years" exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The show runs through Aug. 8, 1999. (AP Photo/National Portrait Gallery) 1795 OIL ON CANVAS BY R. PEAL AP Photo/National Portrait Gallery

Tomorrow, Feb. 22, George Washington’s birthday should be celebrated.

It has been 287 years since his birth and 220 years since he died. A great life was lived during those 67 years. His childhood was tough by today’s standards without the modern conveniences that we enjoy. He studied to become a surveyor and would also study how to be a farmer. Later, he decided to join the military and proved to be a great soldier and an even better leader of soldiers.

His abilities as a commander did not impress the leadership command of the British Army or Navy and that fact was an additional weapon that Washington could use. The British underestimated his troops and his talents and were caught off guard enough times to tip the scales toward the ultimate victory at Yorktown over England which secured our independence.

However, this nation wasn’t through with General Washington after his military career was finished. As this young nation was forming, there were representatives from each of the colonies who gathered to establish the new nation.

This column lacks the length to discuss the entire history of the founding of this great nation but there were difficulties along the way as citizens who had lived under the rule of a monarch their entire lives now faced the challenge of creating a new form of government. They tried the confederation approach and had written the Articles of Confederation. Over just a few years that arrangement was falling apart so the Continental Congress decided to form a committee to draft the Constitution to create what we have today.

James Madison, charged with drafting the Constitution, knew that with so many differing opinions and many different factions he would need to have as the president of the Constitutional Convention a man that everyone would trust and have faith in that man’s word and judgment. Thus, George Washington was asked to head that committee. His mere association with that committee lent it the credibility for people to accept what was finally presented. It would be after the Constitution was ratified that the Bill of Rights was added as the first ten amendments.

Once the new form of governance was developed the need to have a leader was present and the election of George Washington as our first president occurred. He was re-elected for a second term and he declined to serve a third term which established the practice of limiting a presidency to two terms by custom. Only after FDR decided that he needed to lead for a third and then fourth term was the law changed to the current two term limit.

Washington was such a great man of integrity with a commanding presence that inspired many tales about him. Parson Weems developed the cherry tree story of young George telling his father, “I cannot tell a lie,” which was a total fabrication. Weems offered the story to inspire young Americans about their great leader. But the stories that were true required zero embellishments to demonstrate his greatness.

I wonder what Washington would think of what has developed in the United States since his death. To be sure, our nation has prospered and we have the greatest standard of living in the world. Our nation’s leadership seems to lack the thinking and the standards of our nation’s first president.

Richard Henry “Light Horse” Lee in his eulogy for the general stated it best with these words, “ First in War, First in Peace, First in the hearts of his countrymen.”

We sure could use some of the integrity and statesmanship of George Washington.

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