February 15, 2016

The Man Who Could Have Been King

Posted by Adam Graham in : American History


Many Americans have romantic ideas about revolutions. We cheer the overthrow of bad regimes by violent force to bring change in other parts of the globe. In recent years, revolutions that Americans have cheered have led to the rise of state sponsors of terrorism. In the past, “the people” declaring revolutions led to the reign of terror in the eighteenth century, and the mass genocide of Stalinism and Mao that left tens of millions dead.

Most revolutions don’t end quite so horrifically. But too often, after thousands of men have given their lives for liberty, those they left behind discover the new boss is the same as the old boss as powerful “freedom fighters” take power over others as the spoils of war.

Imagine, an incompetent government that can’t even pay its own soldiers with a beloved general who was popular both with soldiers and the people. The general could easily exploit his way into leading the disgruntled soldiers to overthrow the government and install him as the new ruler.

George Washington faced the same opportunity as the Continental Congress had failed to make provision to pay its long suffering victorious army.  Washington could have seized power from the weak Congress. Instead, he visited the soldiers and appealed to the soldiers to give Congress more time. As he was reading a letter from Congress, he stumbled over several words. It was then, that he removed from his coat pocket, a pair of spectacles and offered an apology.  “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”  This simple gesture moved the soldiers who voted unanimously to except civilian rule.

Washington resigned his commission and returned to Mount Vernon to private life, with the respect of his country who would call him to Chair the Constitutional Convention and then to be President of the United States. President, and not king as he could have been.

February 15th will be heralded in most places as, “Presidents Day,” a time for sales on couches and mattresses with talking Washington and Lincoln cartoons to hawk their wares. However, the Federal Holiday isn’t President’s Day. The federal Holiday is still listed as Washington’s Birthday.  It’s not a day to honor the good and bad of the more than forty men who’ve come after him, but a day to honor the greatest of our Founding Fathers.

The Presidency is defined today by a never-ending quest to obtain the office and to maintain it. Yet, Washington’s birthday points us back to an extraordinary man who was quite different. He won a Revolution, but that’s not why he’s remarkable. What’s remarkable is that he won the Revolution, resigned his commission, and returned home.

A bad man would have been tempted to take power for ego and a lust to rule over others. Even a good man could decide that he would make a fine king and do a much better job running this country for the people than those idiots in Congress. Yet, Washington went back to his farm, which is why America is a republic today.

Washington was flawed and imperfect like all of us, but his selfless service to country and his dedication to the principle of republican government raise a standard which more of our politicians should aspire to.

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