So Isaura and I decided to visit Mount Vernon while we were back in Virginia recently.
The layout of Mount Vernon is in a beautiful setting on the west side of the Potomac River just south of Washington DC. It’s all rolling farm land that rises between 50-100 feet above the Potomac. The view from the home is spectacular just at a turn in the river. We imagined what it must have been like for our nation’s first chief executive to sit and enjoy this lovely setting.
The character of a man was critical to Washington. Of the many quotes posted throughout the tour of Mount Vernon, this one said volumes. “Good moral character is the first essential in a man.” Washington’s gentlemanly qualities were extended to all people, regardless of position or station in life.
Two criticisms often heard about Washington during my life have been found to be questionable when presented with the facts. First, as a kid growing up in New England, there were (and I assume still are) countless numbers of towns that boast that “George Washington slept here.” This comes as no surprise because he was leading a revolutionary rag-tag Continental Army throughout the eight-and-a-half years of the American Revolutionary War. The fighting was all over New England and up and down the eastern seaboard. But what I often heard were disrespectful inferences implying that Washington was engaged in immoral, adulterous relationships. In truth, he was totally dedicated to his marriage to Martha, and also being a good father to her children from her first marriage, her husband having died.
Such nefarious insinuations cast upon Washington’s character were absurd. If those making the accusations had bothered to do even a cursory study of Washington’s life and character they would have easily concluded that their derogatory comments were unwise. But it’s much easier to snicker while destroying a person’s moral character.
Washington left his wife, Martha, at Mount Vernon in 1775 at the behest of the Continental Congress which had requested that he lead the newly formed Continental Army against the British. “My whole life has been dedicated to the service of my country in one shape or another.” He returned to his beloved home just one time in those eight years. Washington wrote, “We are a young nation and have a character to establish. It behooves us therefore to set out right, for first impressions will be lasting.” So true!
When the war was over in 1783 Washington did something that was unheard of – he resigned his commission as general, returning to the life of a gentleman farmer. Once again in 1785, the United States Congress called on him to consider being the first president of this new country. He again accepted, serving from 1789-97. “I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love." He would not serve more than two terms however, thus setting precedence for all future presidents to leave office after eight years. Nor would he accept any over-blown title as the head of the country. Congress eventually agreed to “Mr. President.” Robert Frost wrote, “George Washington was one of the few men in all of human history who was not carried away by power.” Once again Washington returned home to Mount Vernon where he took up farming. Two-and-a-half years later he died of a throat infection at age 67. Today such an illness could have easily been treated with antibiotics.
The second criticism leveled against Washington was his having been a slave owner. This is true enough. He had a large and prosperous farm requiring lots of workers to make it run. It was his desire to see slavery eliminated from this new country, but it was not to be. He did not believe he had the political clout to bring this about. So in his will, Washington stated that all his slaves were to be freed upon his death, or upon the death of his wife should she outlive him. Martha obviously shared her husband’s feelings about slavery as evidenced by her actions. In 1800, the year following her husband’s death, she set all slaves free, not realizing that she herself would be dead the next year at age 69. Washington also set aside considerable funds to provide for his slaves for the time when they would be set free.
George Washington was totally dedicated to the success of the United States. This new republic would be sorely tested, but Washington made his views clear: “That the Government, though not absolutely perfect, is one of the best in the world, I have little doubt.”
In the spirit of George Washington, let us as Americans, hold true to the character of our early nation and her first president and leader. We must fight to keep the values and rights that were passed to us by those willing to sacrifice everything so that we might have liberty.
God bless America!