We paid tribute to Lincoln in an editorial on his birthday. Today we remember both of these great presidents, but take this occasion to especially pay homage to Washington.
Time is the severest judge of greatness. Though the debunking school of historians performs a useful service by cutting folk heroes down to human size occasionally, the men that a nation reveres for generation after generation are usually deserving of that honor.
It is 247 years since the birth of George Washington. In our kindergartens, walls are decorated with cutouts of hatchets and cherry trees, mythical symbols of Washington’s unswerving rectitude. Older students learn that he commanded the Continental Army during the War of Independence, that he later became first president of the United States.
American history majors in college may make more detailed study of his military campaigns, his contribution to the writing of the Constitution, the actual crises he faced as chief executive.
But for most of us, Washington was the name who won the Revolution, the wealthy but democratic aristocrat who lived at Mount Vernon and became the Father of his Country, the man whose birthday is an excuse for a holiday. We are content to let it go at that.
If that were all there was to it, why then should Washington be as equally respected by professional students of history? Because his greatness holds up even under the most critical examination of his life and works.
There may have been abler generals in American history, more successful businessmen, more energetic and innovative presidents. The simple fact remains, however, that without Washington there would have been no Revolution, no Constitution, probably no United States as we know it today.
Washington’s leadership alone virtually held together the tiny ragtag American army during the long years of the war. He was the only man respected enough by all factions to preside over the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was the only man who towered above partisanship, the only possible choice for president of a new federal government that no one was at all sure could work.
We venerate him not only because of his place in history, however. His memory is a continuing inspiration to living men, who must face the crises and changes of their own times. Because of this, Americans 247 years from now will honor George Washington.