Today is George Washington's birthday. Now there's a new book out which has lots of interesting things to say about his leadership, his early life, his military career, and his continuing contribution to our great nation.
The Making of the (First) President says this in part:
" “Washington’s Revolution,” by Robert Middlekauff, ... recounts the American Revolution as it was experienced by Washington himself. . . .
What interests him is how Washington’s formative years molded the later man, how this conservative planter became a revolutionary leader, and how the war itself brought out innate qualities of character, resilience and fortitude in a provincial landowner that made him, in the historian James Thomas Flexner’s words, “the indispensable man” in the struggle for American independence....
Washington was a military prodigy. He became adjutant of the Virginia militia with the rank of major at the age of 20. Shortly after, he confronted the French in the Ohio Valley in support of Virginia’s claims to that territory. By the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1754, Washington was a lieutenant colonel of militia. He was all of 22. This conflict served as Washington’s training for the proving ground of the Revolution.
Three seminal events occurred at this time that were to anticipate his tenure as commander of the Continental Army. He was defeated by the French in an ill-considered clash at Fort Necessity in Pennsylvania, but he was resolute in defeat and learned from his mistakes. A year later, he fought bravely under Gen. Edward Braddock in the British debacle against a force of French and Indians near Fort Duquesne but saw that British regulars could be beaten. He had won Braddock’s respect, but, given the innate British disdain for colonials, Washington could not gain a commission in the Royal Army, a rebuff that instilled a lifelong resentment against the British. Their failure to make Washington an officer in their military would cost England an empire. . . .
As Mr. Middlekauff reminds us, the odds against Washington were overwhelming. . . . His crossing of the Delaware in December 1776 was as much a political stroke as a military one, since it heartened a dispirited patriot cause and marred British hopes for a quick victory.
His men adored him; they also respected him and feared his wrath. . . .
The American Revolution took more than eight years . . . . Washington was there for the duration. It was only by sheer will that he outlasted the formidable power of the British Empire. To be sure, he was fortunate in his foes: dilatory British generals who won battles but failed to forcefully pursue and crush a wounded enemy. And he was lucky in battle, appearing almost invincible to the bullets whizzing around him.
Imposing in stature, Washington faced down mutinies of sergeants in Pennsylvania and officers in Newburgh, N.Y., both over the lack of pay and pensions. It was at Newburgh in March 1783, as the war wound down, where his mastery of the grand gesture was manifested to dramatic effect. Mr. Middlekauff’s rendition is compelling: Washington “feared that if the army moved against the Congress, the Revolution and the new nation might be lost.” In assuring his officers that they would receive just compensation, Washington presented a letter from a congressman. But he had difficulty reading the text, causing him to stumble over the words. “He then stopped and pulled his spectacles from his pocket, saying as he did so, ‘Gentleman, 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.’ ” He left his men in tears.
The mutiny was over. . . . His triumph over the British was a feat that probably no one else could have achieved.
Without his inspired leadership, the Declaration of Independence might have been little more than a piece of paper. Mr. Middlekauff concludes by reminding us that the greatest thing Washington accomplished was what he didn’t do. At war’s end in 1783, he handed his commission back to Congress and went home. . . . His insistence on civil supremacy over the military during the war carried through to the peace, providing the cornerstone for the future democratic republic, the glorious cause for which he had fought."
The Father of our country and our nation's First President was also a great military leader.
We are indeed fortunate for his devoted, long and unselfish leadership and service to help make our country what it is today --- the world's leading democracy.
We aren't turning out men like Washington these days, and that's to the disadvantage of all of us.
Happy Birthday, Mr. President.