Happy Birthday, George Washington

“The hour is fast approaching, on which the Honor and Success of this army, and the safety of our bleeding Country depend. Remember officers and Soldiers, that you are free men, fighting for the blessings of Liberty — that slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men.” 
George Washington

Geroge Washington
“His Excellency: George Washington” by Joseph J. Ellis

Today is George Washington’s 284th birthday.  I am reminded of a book that I read in 2009 that was especially meaningful: “His Excellency: George Washington” by Joseph J. Ellis, which I read via audio-book on my walks to and from work.  Over the couple of weeks of “walking with George,” as I came to think of that time, I found that I formed a friendship with someone I had never met, who lived nearly 300 hundreds years before me.

The greatest gift of books is their ability to suspend our reality to allow other narratives to find a place in our hearts. They allow us to break through barriers of time and location to experience life through the eyes of another. We are living the story, feeling the joys, sorrows and identifying with the hopes and ambitions of the central characters.

Beginnings are marked by remarkable people doing remarkable deeds. As time goes by, these events take on a mythical aura while the individuals become the “stuff of legends.” We do not see them as mortal beings; rather, we elevate them to a reverential status that separates them from the ordinary. The Founding Fathers of the United States fit into this category. Benjamin Franklin was considered the wisest, Thomas Jefferson the intellectual, John Adams the scholar, and Alexander Hamilton the most brilliant; yet they all recognized George Washington as their superior. In 1775, he was unanimously elected by the Continental Congress to be commander-in-chief. He lost many battles, but continued, undaunted until the war was won.

Portraits of George Washington show him as distant, even intimidating and cold. Yet, as his life unfolded, I envisioned him at 11 when he lost his father, at 21 when he was appointed emissary for the governor of Virginia, and at 23 as a brave young officer who gained recognition for his valour in the French and Indian War. I imagined him years later at Valley Forge, where he shared the cold winter months with his men.  As a president, I saw him exercise sound judgment as he led a fledgling nation. At the end, he embraced death with grace and equanimity.

I treasure those days when I “walked” with George Washington. He reminded me that one person, in the midst of conflict and complexity, can make a difference, be a force for good, an advocate for peaceful outcomes. His legacy will continue to inspire new generations.

 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. Ms Frances

    A very important and worthy post. We are still reaping the accomplishments of George Washington and the Founding Fathers. I am wondering just what our heritage would look like now, if not for the great men of that day. I remember Valley Forge as a child and how it reached into my heart. Our little one room school house in the middle of the prairies took time to remember George Washington. We made art work to paste on the school windows and took time especially to respect this great man. Interesting for me, his birthday is a day before mine. That was especially dear and important to me.

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    1. Clanmother

      Thank you, Ms Frances for adding depth and breadth to this discussion. What a wonderful memory – to go to a one room school house in the middle of the prairies. I just read that George Washington was home-schooled; he also studied with the local church. He had a strong affection for his mother and was inspired by the education he received from his home studies.
      “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.” George Washington

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    1. Clanmother

      He was indeed, Gallivanta. This is when I changed my reading from fiction to non-fiction. While I love fiction, I found that I loved how biographers brought real people to life. I am fascinated by how biographers use diaries, letters, public documents to bring a story together. I have been using these same techniques to piece together my family’s history. It has been fun.

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  2. Martina Ramsauer

    It’s a real pleasure to read what books represent to you and I fully heartedly agree with you that good books find forever a place in our hearts.I also think that the world needs exceptional people, who show as that positive goals for everybody can be achieved, despite the many difficulties.
    What I also consider as very important is that, when George Washington had time, he devoted himself to the care and development of his land holdings, attending the rotation of crops, managing livestock and keeping up with the latest scientific advances and was in this way nearer to the workman.
    Thank you very much, Rebecca, for having me reminded of George Washington. All the best Martina

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    1. Clanmother

      I agree – George Washington had a special bond to his land. And what was so interesting to me was they way in which he treated his slaves – yes, he did have slaves. But in the end, he took care of them into their old age, and according to his biographer, much like a long term care organization. It is well known that he struggled with the idea of slavery and wanted to end the practice. At the end of his life he did, in fact free his slaves in 1799, the only slave-owning Founding Father to do so. Thank you for adding depth to the discussion – very much appreciated.

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