Of course in recent years we’ve sort of become accustomed to hearing about GW, George HW, George W, or just W, all referring to our 41st and 43rd presidents. However, the original GW was the first president of the United States and a hero in the truest sense of the word.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about some of the early activities concerning George Washington. In that article I surmised that had there not been a George Washington, it is more than likely that the United States never would have been. If our nation had managed to emerge from under the British monarchy, without so preeminent a figure as George Washington, there would not have been “American Exceptionalism.”
The accounts of Washington drawn from in the previous article came from a book entitled, The Life of Washington, by Anna Reed, 1842. I will share more from this later in the article. But another book I picked up in a bookstore in the DC area is entitled, George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, Applewood Books, 1988. At the age of 14, George read an English translation of a French book of maxims. He was so impressed by this book that he developed 110 rules for proper behavior. Much has changed since those days, so reading some of the rules is comical, whereas other rules are simply discarded by our modern day society that has run amok when it comes to social graces and decent behavior.
The first of the 110 rules is perhaps the benchmark for all the rest: “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.” Rule number 15 reads, “Keep your nails clean and short, also your hands and teeth clean, yet without showing any great concern for them.” Number 22 says, “Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.” Number 24, “Do not laugh too much or too loud in public.” Here’s one that has nearly disappeared from our conversation and correspondence today, though the military remains a bastion to this courtesy – Number 39, “In writing or speaking, give every person his due title according to his degree & the custom of the place.”
I remember my parents saying that “You are known by the company you keep.” Well, this must have come from one of George Washington’s rules, Number 56, “Associate yourself with men of good quality, if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” And what parent has not admonished their child to “Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.” That was rule Number 73. Now consider this as a means to avoid embarrassment and trouble – Number 82, “Undertake not what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise.” Number 107 says, “If others talk at the table, be attentive; but talk not with meat in your mouth.”
The last three have to do with spiritual matters in life. Number 108 says, “When you speak of God or his attributes, let it be seriously & with reverence. Honour & obey your natural parents although they be poor.” The simplicity, yet the profoundness of Number 109, is staggering: “Let your recreations be manful not sinful.” And this final gem, Number 110: “Labour to keep alive in your breast that little celestial fire called conscience.”
Just as Washington had experienced divine protection during his several battles in the French/Indian Wars, he enjoyed the same protection during the Revolutionary War. The sheer size, strength and superior training of the British forces greatly disheartened the rag-tag American army. During one of the battles at Princeton, New Jersey, the American forces were being pressed hard by the British – so much so that the American general, Mercer, was killed while attempting to rally his weary forces. “Washington feeling assured that a defeat then would be ruinous to the interest of his country, rode forward with speed, placed himself between the enemy and his own troops, and by his commands and example restored them to order. He was between the fires of the two armies, but the protecting shield of his Creator was again on every side, to preserve him from the weapons of destruction.” After the battle, a mortally wounded British officer had written an account of the battle at Princeton in which he said in part, “I would wish to say a few words respecting the actions of that truly great man, General Washington, but it is not in my power to convey any just ideas of him. I shall never forget what I felt when I saw him brave all the dangers of the field, his important life hanging as it were by a single hair, with a thousand deaths flying around him. I thought not of myself. He is surely in Heaven’s peculiar care.”
George Washington was a genuine leader and hero of his men. At the time of the Revolution, the dreaded disease, small pox, was ravaging the ranks of the American army. “The blessing of vaccination was not then known; and inoculation had seldom been practised in this country. General Washington formed the bold, but judicious resolution, of having every officer and soldier who had not had the disease, inoculated. This was done very successfully, and the troops being undisturbed during the progress of the complaint, recovered under the care of Him who healeth all our diseases.”
Such was the man, George Washington, a man of faith, courage, and godliness. His birthday is February 22nd, so it is fitting that we remember him for the great man that he was. Little wonder that he was so beloved a leader of the fledgling nation known as the United States of America.
Happy Birthday, Mr. President!
(Some of the words used in the quotes – behaviour, honour, labour, practised – are the British spelling of our English words)