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What if George Washington Had Never Been Born?

What if George Washington had never been born? What if the “father of our country” was someone else? Would the French and Indian War have started? Would the Continental Army have defeated the British under someone else’s leadership? Would someone else have successfully thwarted a military coup at Newburgh? Would a different general refused opportunities and requests for supreme authority? Would the Constitutional Convention been successful without his authoritative presence? And who would have been the first President of the United States?

George Washington and the French and Indian War

Would the American Revolution have taken place, absent the French and Indian War? Most historians would probably say “no,” as the French and Indian War (aka “Seven Years’ War”) accelerated the cultural and political divide between the colonies and the Mother Country. Without the French and Indian War, Britain’s treasury would’ve been in a much healthier position in the 1760s. Thus, it’s unlikely Britain would’ve felt compelled to levy as many taxes on the colonies or station troops in North America.

Since George Washington was right in the thick of instigating the French and Indian War, it’s tempting to conclude that the Seven Years’ War might never have occurred. Thus, some might wonder if Washington was at least indirectly responsible for the Revolutionary War happening in the first place.

While the young, eager, and inexperienced Washington did indeed stumble his way into a skirmish that led to the French and Indian War, the nature in which that skirmish took place and the way in which tensions were already mounting between France and England leads one to believe that the French and Indian War was inevitable. It’s going much too far to conclude that Washington was solely responsible for starting the war or that the war never would’ve happened without him. In the case of the French and Indian War, George Washington rode events more than he drove them.

George Washington and the American Revolution

As with the French and Indian War, George Washington was incidental to the American Revolution starting. Sure, he helped fuel tensions against the Mother Country from his estate in Virginia and seat in the House of Burgesses. Sure, he co-wrote The Fairfax Resolves. Sure, he was part of the First and (initially) the Second Continental Congress. But, as with the French and Indian War, he rode events more than driving them. The American Revolution would’ve happened, even if George Washington had never been born.

That’s not to say, however, that the American Revolution would’ve been a victory for the Americans, had Washington not played his part in it. Yes, the Revolutionary War would’ve happened, but once it broke out, strong leadership was needed to see it through to a successful conclusion. And it’s difficult to imagine who else could’ve provided that leadership other than George Washington.

Had Washington not been alive, the Continental Congress would’ve had to consider the likes of Artemas Ward (health issues), Israel Putnam (age and health concerns, a stroke in 1779 ended his career), Charles Lee (issues with competence, character, and loyalty), John Hancock (an impressive signature and trader, but an effective general only in his imagination), or Horatio Gates (an ambitious, conniving opportunist who showed his true colors at Camden). Their best choices would likely have been Philip Schuyler or Richard Montgomery, but neither of these men were optimal choices. Some of my readers may be thinking Benedict Arnold (who, aside from the whole treason thing, was an excellent leader), Nathanael Greene, or Henry Knox, but these men flourished under Washington’s guidance and mentoring. The scenario we’re considering is 1775, not later in the war, when either Knox or Greene would’ve been an able replacement to Washington.

Even though Washington’s generalship in the Revolutionary War produced mixed results, he excelled in the areas that mattered most. His character was unimpeachable, thus he could be trusted with the army and the authority given him. He was brave, thus earning the just respect of his men and inspiring them to similar acts of courage. He was a superb strategist, in that he quickly grasped the nature of the “long game” and the need to keep his army in the field and not risk it in too many grandiose, stand-up engagements. He knew when he had to have a victory, such as a Trenton, and when to cut his losses, such as Germantown.

It’s very difficult to imagine any other person leading the Continental Army to victory over the British Empire in the American Revolution.

George Washington and the Revolution’s Aftermath

Washington’s indispensable nature becomes truly evident in the closing years and immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War. After Yorktown, what little public sentiment there was to support the war effort began to quickly evaporate, leaving Washington’s army in the field with poor supplies, inadequate pay, and broken promises. Washington didn’t dare support the dissolution of his forces, because that would remove any pressure on the British to grant American independence in the peace negotiations he knew were taking place in France. Washington therefore had the dangerous and unenviable task of keeping an increasingly frustrated, desperate, and disillusioned army in the field.

Washington knew when to be harsh in his discipline and when to make concessions. And he knew when to risk his own reputation and possible safety. His performance at Newburgh is the stuff of legend. Can anyone possibly imagine someone else other than George Washington pulling that off?

What’s more, when Washington was essentially offered the keys to the government and the ability to become a dictator, he refused. Would Horatio Gates have refused? Would Charles Lee have refused?

Without Washington’s character, fortitude, and calming presence, the American Revolution would likely have degenerated into civil unrest and a military dictatorship. The dream of freedom and a republican form of government would’ve been stillborn.

George Washington and the Constitutional Convention

In terms of the actual content of the Constitution, Washington’s participation at the Constitutional Convention was more symbolic than substantive. The members of the Convention understood Washington would likely be the first Chief Executive, so the way they hammered out the executive branch of government was likely influenced by this realization. In terms of actual discussion and debate, Washington said very little. It is certainly conceivable, though, that the Constitution would’ve been very close in content and composition to what it was, had Washington not been present.

Ratification of the new Constitution or the very fact that the Convention happened in the first place are different matters altogether. Washington was instrumental in laying the groundwork for Americans understanding that a stronger government, than the one provided for the Articles of Confederation, was necessary. And his attendance at the Constitutional Convention did much to allay fears and concerns that a monarchy or dictatorship was being erected in Philadelphia.

After the Constitution was signed, Washington lent his name and prestige to support ratification of the document. It’s unlikely the Constitution would’ve been ratified, had Washington been absent from the Convention or had he declined to support it.

George Washington and the First Presidency

Ask the average American what George Washington did as President and you will get a smattering of answers, most of them sparse. There is the impression that George Washington was more a figurehead than a substantive leader, and that his contributions as President were minimal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

President Washington created the Cabinet, appointed the first Supreme Court, presided over the adoption of the Bill of Rights, kept us out of a renewed (and costly) war with Great Britain, put down the Whiskey Rebellion, and supported the economic policies of Alexander Hamilton which were necessary to get the United States on a sound financial footing. He also supported moving the capital of the nation to its present location, and took an active part in its initial designs. Most historians rank Washington as at least our second or third greatest President, falling behind only Abraham Lincoln and sometimes Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Washington was Indispensable

When you consider all that George Washington did for the United States — and didn’t do (such as becoming dictator or king) — one has to agree with the late Washington biographer James Thomas Flexner, who wrote that George Washington was “the indispensable man.”

Remove George Washington from history and you remove quite possibly the very existence of the United States of America and most certainly its nature and identity as the world’s leading superpower and the greatest republic the world has ever known.


For more on George Washington, check on the latest biography Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow.

George Washington: The Reluctant President

This new article from Smithsonian Magazine talks about Washington’s election as President. The article starts with the fact Washington was not thrilled with the idea of being President:
The Congressional delay in certifying George Washington’s election as president only allowed more time for doubts to fester as he considered the herculean task ahead. He savored his wait as a welcome “reprieve,” he told his former comrade in arms and future Secretary of War Henry Knox, adding that his “movements to the chair of government will be accompanied with feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution.” His “peaceful abode” at Mount Vernon, his fears that he lacked the requisite skills for the presidency, the “ocean of difficulties” facing the country—all gave him pause on the eve of his momentous trip to New York. In a letter to his friend Edward Rutledge, he made it seem as if the presidency was little short of a death sentence and that, in accepting it, he had given up “all expectations of private happiness in this world.”

Charles Thomson, the secretary to Congress, arrived to inform Washington of his election:
Around noon on April 14, 1789, Washington flung open the door at Mount Vernon and greeted his visitor with a cordial embrace. Once in the privacy of the mansion, he and Thomson conducted a stiff verbal minuet, each man reading from a prepared statement. Thomson began by declaring, “I am honored with the commands of the Senate to wait upon your Excellency with the information of your being elected to the office of President of the United States of America” by a unanimous vote. He read aloud a letter from Senator John Langdon of New Hampshire, the president pro tempore. “Suffer me, sir, to indulge the hope that so auspicious a mark of public confidence will meet your approbation and be considered as a sure pledge of the affection and support you are to expect from a free and enlightened people.” There was something deferential, even slightly servile, in Langdon’s tone, as if he feared that Washington might renege on his promise and refuse to take the job. Thus was greatness once again thrust upon George Washington.

The article goes on to discuss Washington’s journey to and arrival in New York as well as his inauguration. I actually discussed his swearing in this fall as well.

George G. Meade

Early on the morning of June 28, 1863, General George Gordon Meade was awakened by a messenger with a letter from Abraham Lincoln. The President, the letter said, had appointed Meade the new commander of the Union’s Army of the Potomac. Five days later, the general won the greatest Northern victory of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg.

Meade was born in Spain, where his father was a US naval agent, and graduated from the US Military Academy in 1835. The next year, he resigned from the army to become a civil engineer. But he returned to duty during the Mexican War of 1846-1848, and then the Civil War broke out in 1861, he was given command of the brigade of Pennsylvania volunteers. An able leader and brave soldier, Meade fought in many of the war’s early battles and was severely wounded in one of them. When Lincoln put Meade in command of the Union army in June, 1863, the South’s General Robert E. Leehad just invaded Pennsylvania. Meade and Lee met at the small crossroads town of Gettysburg on July 1.

There the battle raged for three days, after which the defeatedLee was forced to retreat. “I think I have lived as much in this time as in the last thirty years,” Meade wrote his wife about the fierce struggle at Gettysburg. He continued to lead the Armey of the Potamac until the Confederate surrdender in April, 1865.

Meade died in 1872 from complications related to wounds he received during the Civil War.

George Dewey: Virtues of an “Ordinary” Naval Officer

Commodore George Dewey won an overwhelming victory at the Battle of Manila Bay against the Spanish squadron of Rear Admiral Patrico Montojo y Pasaron on 1 May 1898 at the onset of the Spanish-American War and went from obscurity to become the most widely recognized name in America. Although it is popular to view naval [...]

George Washington’s First War: His Early Military Adventures

George Washington’s First War: His Early Military Adventures, David A. Clary; Simon & Schuster; 352 p.

George Washington was a brash, self-confident, driven, and often daring and dashing young man, he was also at times indecisive and prone to make a bad judgment call or two. David A. Clary’s George Washington’s First War: His Early Military Adventures is a well balanced presentation of a young Colonel Washington who cut his teeth on the back-country of Virginia and the Ohio Valley, the future speculator and Revolutionary war hero thrived on achieving personal advancement and success. Washington earn some of what he wanted, but ultimately realized he could never get all of it as a “provincial” member of the British Army.

However, controversy did surrounded the young commander, such as the massacre of French soldiers near Tanaghrisson by Mingos after they had surrendered to Washington. Yet, by the end of his journey during the French and Indian War, and his heroic leadership during Braddock’s blunder, and the retreat, Washington had gained the confidence and learned what true leadership was.

George Washington’s First War: His Early Military Adventures is an excellent read and an insightful look at the growth of an American legend, though as the author notes, he was just a boy who became nothing more than just a man.

Something More: Secondhand Reflections on George Rable’s Religious History of the Civil War

Congratulations to our contributor Ed Blum for the birth of his son Elijah James Blum! What do the birth of his son, some pop music from Secondhand Serenade, and George Rable’s religious history of the Civil War have to do with each other? Nothing, you’re thinking? Au contraire; read on.

Secondhand Reflections on George Rable’s Religious History of the Civil War
by Edward J. Blum

There’s one and only one book I’m reading closely these days: What to Expect: The First Year. With Elijah James Blum joining our crazy world on December 12, it has been indispensable. Through this bible of all things baby, I’m learning how to feel, how to act, and how to speak a whole new vocabulary: bilirubin; snurgles; meconium are but a few of the words in my new lexicon. For me, fatherhood is a reactive art. My days and nights are mostly encompassed by Elijah acting, Jen responding, and me trying to keep up with the whirlwind.

In addition to an album that transformed the music of the Beatles into soothing lullabies, one other album and one history book have become my regular companions. Between feedings, changings, and tummy time, I’ve found a few minutes to soak in Secondhand Serenade’s Something More and George Rable’s God’s Almost Chosen People: A Religious History of the American Civil War. The two may seem worlds apart, but they’ve come together in my rocking-chair imagination, and I think for good reason.

Secondhand Serenade is named for the nature of their music. Songs first written, sung, and experienced in private are transformed into ballads purchased on i-tunes, thrust too quickly into commercials, and discarded in a matter of weeks. We encounter the music secondhand, distanced from original intent and expression. By far, their best song is “Something More” (also the name of the album). It’s a power ballad to rival the finest of Celine Dion’s, and we only need a “king of the world” cinematic scene for it to become part of our national consciousness. Like most power ballads, “Something More” is about love and pain, desire and disgust. The singer is confused, angry, lost, and ashamed: “I lie awake again, my bodies feeling paralyzed / I can’t remember when / I didn’t live through this disguise.” The singer is “paying for his sins” and thinks that no words can “set him free.” He’s at war with another and within himself. He repeatedly admits and asks: “I’m stuck here in this life I didn’t ask for, / There must be something more, / Do we know what we’re fighting for?” The only answer – the only way to live amid his frustration – is to breathe and to believe: “breathe in, breathe out, / breathe in, breathe out. … There must be something more.”

George Rable’s characters from the 1860s had such similar feelings and asked such similar questions. What were Americans fighting for in the Civil War, and why did they continue to fight for so long? What sins were they paying for? And what was the “something more” that they all seemed to believe in, but couldn’t quite nail down? Like Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, the belief in a shared “something more” failed to stop the fighting, and they couldn’t understand why.

By reading thousands of primary and secondary sources, Rable (far and away one of America’s greatest Civil War scholars living or dead) offers the biggest, most comprehensive religious history of the Civil War ever produced. He tackles the North and the South, men and women, Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, and Jews. He travels with chaplains, tents with privates, and eavesdrops on presidents. More descriptive than argumentative, God’s Almost Chosen People considers so many sources that it is almost impossible to provide one or two central arguments. Yet Rable does. He finds that throughout the war, all sorts of Americans turned to providence to explain what was happening around them. The “something more” they knew they were fighting for was only explainable by looking to the heavens and believing that somehow, someway, God truly had the whole world (or at least the United States or Confederate States) in his hands.

The brilliance of Rable’s book – and what differentiates it in many ways from Harry S. Stout’s Bellah-inspired Upon the Altar of the Nation – is its secondhand nature. Although Rable claims in his introduction that religion could be both “wind and weathervane,” he more often than not renders it as weathervane. Battles happen; women and men die; political documents are signed; legal decisions are rendered; slavery is abolished; and then Americans reflect on the events religiously. They seek God’s providence in response to other events, constantly playing catch up just as I play catch up to Elijah’s needs at home. With this approach, Rable is able to show how widely and diversely religion suffused American society in the 1860s. Whatever the problem, whatever the event, whatever the circumstance, Americans turned to God and God’s providence for answers. By rendering religion secondhand, Rable has shown in epic proportion the omnipresence of the supposedly omnipotent.

And for Rable, the secondhand quality of religion emanates from his approach to religion itself – that it can only be studied secondhand. In this way, Rable wonderfully acknowledges the limits of his study. He (and we) cannot know the firsthand experiences of the women who lost loved ones, the privates who accepted new testaments after losing a hand of cards, or the presidents and generals who anguished (or relished) every death. When he analyzes a diary, a fast sermon, or a newspaper story (all of which Rable read in abundance), he recognizes that he interprets from afar. In this way, Rable demonstrates an incredible respect for his subjects and the gravity of the events.

Yet there are other seconds to consider. When W. E. B. Du Bois turned to seconds, he conjured the idea of “second sight.” He claimed that African Americans could see themselves and their surroundings with a sacred vision that whites could not. And Du Bois thought that the religious expressions of those with second sight could reveal the deepest elements of the soul – the “spiritual strivings” of individuals and communities. When Du Bois turned to the slave spirituals, he found not secondhand expressions, but expressions that revealed the most intimate parts of longing, feeling, and expression. This type of religious history of the war – one that approaches religious creation as a prime mover in historical change – could compel other approaches to the war.

That was not Rable’s project, though, and he shouldn’t be criticized for the book he wrote. God’s Almost Chosen Peoples is outstanding. Scholars of American religious history and the Civil War will have to engage it. And I’m glad that it’s so voluminous that I couldn’t lose it amid the diapers and the onesies.

George Washington’s Teeth, Yet Again

There are only two more years to visit Mount Vernon and see the teeth that Boston native John Greenwood carved for George Washington out of hippopotamus bone!

The webpage says:

On loan from The New York Academy of Medicine, the denture was the first of several dentures that John Greenwood made for Washington and is dated 1789, the year that Washington took his oath of office in New York City. The denture is engraved with: Under jaw. This is Great Washington’s teeth by J. Greenwood. First one made by J. Greenwood, Year 1789.

Carved from hippopotamus ivory, the denture contains real human teeth fixed in the ivory by means of brass screws. The denture, which was anchored on the one remaining tooth in Washington’s mouth, has a hole which fit snugly around the tooth and probably contributed to the loosening and eventual loss of that tooth.

The Mount Vernon website notes that there is no extra cost to see these teeth.

George the Robot walks again after 45 years

Tony Sale walks with GeorgeAll it took was a little oil on his joints and a fresh pair of batteries. Durability and ease of repair is where rudimentary early technology spanks the fancy new stuff. (Also because it’s not connected to the network so when Skynet turns evil and the Cylons launch their attack, George will still be on our side. Walking. Very, very slowly.)

Royal Air Force officer Tony Sale built George in 1950 for £15 and scrap aluminium and duralumin he scavenged from a Wellington bomber that had crashed at RAF Debden air base where Sale taught student pilots how to use radar. The 6-foot robot is powered by two 12-volt motorcycle batteries in his legs. His eyes light up and he can walk, turn his head, move his arms, sit down. He used to be able to zero in on a specially-designed illuminated beer bottle with light sensitive cells in his eyes, but alas that functionality is no longer.

George's gutsMr. Sale is a robotics pioneer, and has been from a very young age.

Mr Sale has always been interested in mechanics and built his first George the robot using Meccano when he was just 12 years old. The instructions for making the robot were in the Meccano manual and it could walk at a steady pace by shuffling its feet.

In 1945 Mr Sale made a second George the robot and three years later at the age of 17 he improved it by making it bigger and controlling it by radio. This new 3ft version was also made from Meccano, but was covered with a silver cardboard skin and was considered so impressive it appeared on television.

“That summer I decided to build a fourth George, which was 5ft high and had a moving jaw to simulate speech,” he said. “He caused lots of excitement and was featured in the newspapers.”

But it was the 5th George that really made a splash with his impressive 6-foot height, 30 foot-range radio control, uncanny resemblance to the Tin Woodman and, of course, that sweet beer trick. Pathé made a classic 50s newsreel about him and his (fictional) housekeeping skills and he got a great deal of attention from the press for a while.

Shortly thereafter George’s 15 minutes were up and since the technology necessary to give George even rudimentary artificial intelligence was either non-existent or unminiaturizable, Sale packed George away in a corner of his garage where he remained for 45 years. When a BBC television show called Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention contacted him to ask after George, Sale dusted him off, gave his bearings a fresh coating of oil, put two new lithium batteries in his legs and he booted right back up like old days.

Now that he’s alive (ALIVE!) again, he’ll be going on display at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, the war-time home of the famous Colossus computer that broke Nazi Lorenz cipher. Sale helped found the museum, and he led the team which spent 10 years recreating the Colossus Mark 2 computer which now stands in the same exact place the original once stood, breaking German codes during the war.

Here’s some excellent footage of George, Tony and Colossus Mark 2 Mark 2 today:

You can see the full 1950 newsreel about George excerpted in the above video on British Pathé’s website.


George the Robot walks again after 45 years

Tony Sale walks with GeorgeAll it took was a little oil on his joints and a fresh pair of batteries. Durability and ease of repair is where rudimentary early technology spanks the fancy new stuff. (Also because it’s not connected to the network so when Skynet turns evil and the Cylons launch their attack, George will still be on our side. Walking. Very, very slowly.)

Royal Air Force officer Tony Sale built George in 1950 for £15 and scrap aluminium and duralumin he scavenged from a Wellington bomber that had crashed at RAF Debden air base where Sale taught student pilots how to use radar. The 6-foot robot is powered by two 12-volt motorcycle batteries in his legs. His eyes light up and he can walk, turn his head, move his arms, sit down. He used to be able to zero in on a specially-designed illuminated beer bottle with light sensitive cells in his eyes, but alas that functionality is no longer.

George's gutsMr. Sale is a robotics pioneer, and has been from a very young age.

Mr Sale has always been interested in mechanics and built his first George the robot using Meccano when he was just 12 years old. The instructions for making the robot were in the Meccano manual and it could walk at a steady pace by shuffling its feet.

In 1945 Mr Sale made a second George the robot and three years later at the age of 17 he improved it by making it bigger and controlling it by radio. This new 3ft version was also made from Meccano, but was covered with a silver cardboard skin and was considered so impressive it appeared on television.

“That summer I decided to build a fourth George, which was 5ft high and had a moving jaw to simulate speech,” he said. “He caused lots of excitement and was featured in the newspapers.”

But it was the 5th George that really made a splash with his impressive 6-foot height, 30 foot-range radio control, uncanny resemblance to the Tin Woodman and, of course, that sweet beer trick. Pathé made a classic 50s newsreel about him and his (fictional) housekeeping skills and he got a great deal of attention from the press for a while.

Shortly thereafter George’s 15 minutes were up and since the technology necessary to give George even rudimentary artificial intelligence was either non-existent or unminiaturizable, Sale packed George away in a corner of his garage where he remained for 45 years. When a BBC television show called Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention contacted him to ask after George, Sale dusted him off, gave his bearings a fresh coating of oil, put two new lithium batteries in his legs and he booted right back up like old days.

Now that he’s alive (ALIVE!) again, he’ll be going on display at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, the war-time home of the famous Colossus computer that broke Nazi Lorenz cipher. Sale helped found the museum, and he led the team which spent 10 years recreating the Colossus Mark 2 computer which now stands in the same exact place the original once stood, breaking German codes during the war.

Here’s some excellent footage of George, Tony and Colossus Mark 2 Mark 2 today:

You can see the full 1950 newsreel about George excerpted in the above video on British Pathé’s website.


George W Bush Library Ground-breaking

Ground was broke for the George W Bush Library on Tuesday. The library is scheduled to be open in February of 2013 and will be at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Some facts about the new library:
  • The Bush Center will sit on a 23-acre lot on the campus of SMU in Dallas, Texas, and include the George W. Bush Library, which includes the archives and museum, and the George W. Bush Institute.
  • The design includes a 15-acre urban park featuring native landscaping and includes a rainwater collection system that will provide 50 percent of the irrigation needed.
  • The site will feature a Texas Rose Garden, possessing the same proportions, solar orientation, and formal organization as the White House Rose Garden.
  • The Archives for President Bush, the first President of the 21″ Century, contain 80 terabytes of digital information, including 200 million e-mails.
  • There are more than 43,000 artifacts from the Bush Administration on file with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
  • The Bush Institute already has active fellows working in the areas of human freedom, education reform, global health, and economic growth.
  • The Bush Center was designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern and landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh.
  • The general contractor is Manhattan Construction Co., which also built the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.

George Washington Gets the Chernow Treatment

Ron Chernow, the award-winning biographer of John D. Rockefeller and Alexander Hamilton, turns his attention to the greatest, and in some ways, the most elusive, figure in American history: George Washington. With Washington: A Life, Chernow attempts to shatter the image of the “wooden, unemotional man” most Americans have in their minds when it comes to George Washington. In its place, Chernow paints America’s preeminent Founding Father as a dynamic, vibrant, and at-the-time wildly popular leader who was (in every way) larger than life and truly indispensable to early American history.

George Washington is not an easy person to write about. He kept much of himself private, remaining aloof quite often. Martha destroyed much of their correspondence upon his death, thus adding another security layer to Washington’s privacy. But Chernow had an advantage that many of Washington’s previous biographers did not. Since the late 1960s, the University of Virginia began to publish a new edition of Washington’s papers, based on 135,000 documents gathered from around the world. Chernow calls this collection a “veritable feast of scholarship,” and it was a feast not available to Douglas Southall Freeman and other notable biographers of Washington.

That Washington has been such a difficult and elusive subject for biographers is something Chernow conveys masterfully in his prelude, when he points out that Washington was also not the easiest person to paint. I found the introductory story about Gilbert Stuart to be a great “lead in” to the biography, as it truly set the stage for the daunting challenge of trying to understand Washington.

George H.W. Bush, the nation’s forty-first President, once famously remarked: “Don’t put me on the couch!” It was a reference to the increasingly popular tendency of 1990s talk shows to thoroughly unmask and psycho-analyze public figures. A man of his time, Bush was clearly uncomfortable with such brightly illuminated, often highly subjective analysis – an analysis that respected few, if any boundaries, as it probed deep into one’s private life, personal background, religious views, family upbringing, etc. In the Age of Oprah and Dr. Phil, this has become the norm, and it’s a world most unwelcome by people like George H.W. Bush – and, were he alive today, George Washington.

In his day, Washington went to great lengths to preserve some semblance of decorum and privacy. To James Madison, Washington wrote that he wished to avoid “too free an intercourse and too much familiarity.” This aspect of Washington is something Chernow explores in great detail in his biography, including how Washington, as President, cultivated a tightly scripted and highly effective persona. Yet even in this rigidly planned and enforced context, the personal side would occasionally come through. Chernow writes of Washington’s fondness for female company and how he clearly relished the attention he received from women admirers.

Chernow also dissects Washington’s personality. In fact, it was revelations concerning Washington’s personality that led Chernow to take on this project. While working on his previous biography on Alexander Hamilton, Chernow came across letters by Hamilton describing Washington as “moody, irritable, and temperamental.” It was a side of Washington that Chernow knew he had to explore more. And the result is this massively researched work.

Chernow sticks to the facts when dealing with his subject. In the case of Washington’s religious faith, for instance, Chernow doesn’t grind any axes or throw in with any particular camp to advance a personal or cultural agenda. He points out (correctly) that Washington was, in no way, the kind of Deist who sees God as a “watchmaker” who winds up the world and lets it run according to “natural laws” with little to no intervention. In Washington’s mind, God was decisively interventionist, with (writes Chernow of Washington’s view) “a keen interest in North American politics.” One need only look to Washington’s First Inaugural Address as evidence of this.

On the other hand, Chernow acknowledges that, while Washington was regarded by many of his peers as “a sincere believer in the Christian faith,” the man himself did not “directly affirm the deity of Jesus Christ.” Some historians, such as Peter Lillback, would dispute that last statement, arguing that Washington’s affiliation with the Anglican (and later Episcopal) Church constituted an affirmation on his part of Jesus’ deity. That may be true, but it’s also true that Washington wrote and spoke often of Providence, and rarely did so of Jesus.

Chernow’s portrait of Washington includes a detailed and comprehensive look at his relationship with his mother, his infatuation with Sally Fairfax, his exploits in the French and Indian War, his generalship in the Revolutionary War, critical presence at the Constitutional Convention (in which he was far more than the figurehead many Americans think of), and of course his presidency. In 817 pages, Chernow succeeds in bringing Washington to life.

1775 — Proclamation of Rebellion by King George III

August 23, 1775


Whereas many of our subjects in divers parts of our Colonies and Plantations in North America, misled by dangerous and ill designing men, and forgetting the allegiance which they owe to the power that has protected and supported them; after various disorderly acts committed in disturbance of the publick peace, to the obstruction of lawful commerce, and to the oppression of our loyal subjects carrying on the same; have at length proceeded to open and avowed rebellion, by arraying themselves in a hostile manner, to withstand the execution of the law, and traitorously preparing, ordering and levying war against us: And whereas, there is reason to apprehend that such rebellion hath been much promoted and encouraged by the traitorous correspondence, counsels and comfort of divers wicked and desperate persons within this realm: To the end therefore, that none of our subjects may neglect or violate their duty through ignorance thereof, or through any doubt of the protection which the law will afford to their loyalty and zeal, we have thought fit, by and with the advice of our Privy Council, to issue our Royal Proclamation, hereby declaring, that not only all our Officers, civil and military, are obliged to exert their utmost endeavours to suppress such rebellion, and to bring the traitors to justice, but that all our subjects of this Realm, and the dominions thereunto belonging, are bound by law to be aiding and assisting in the suppression of such rebellion, and to disclose and make known all traitorous conspiracies and attempts against us our crown and dignity; and we do accordingly strictly charge and command all our Officers, as well civil as military, and all others our obedient and loyal subjects, to use their utmost endeavours to withstand and suppress such rebellion, and to disclose and make known all treasons and traitorous conspiracies which they shall know to be against us, our crown and dignity; and for that purpose, that they transmit to one of our principal Secretaries of State, or other proper officer, due and full information of all persons who shall be found carrying on correspondence with, or in any manner or degree aiding or abetting the persons now in open arms and rebellion against our Government, within any of our Colonies and Plantations in North America, in order to bring to condign punishment the authors, perpetrators, and abetters of such traitorous designs.

Given at our Court at St. James’s the twenty-third day of August, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, in the fifteenth year of our reign.

GOD save the KING.

1890 — The Message of Jesus to Men of Wealth by George D. Herron

September 22, 1890

I am appointed to present to you, this evening, what I understand to be the message of Jesus to men of wealth, and to apply that message to the problems of society which the best thought and truest sympathy of our times are reaching out to solve. I assume, in what I shall say, that I am addressing an audience of Christ’s disciples.

In their essence, the social problems of to-day are not different from those of yesterday; they are as old as society itself. They date back to the infancy of the race, when sin couched at the door of Adam’s eldest son, to spring up within his heart as hatred for his younger groaner. Ever since Cain – whom President Hitchcock calls “that first godless political economist” – killed his brother Abel, the associability of human beings for good and common ends has been a problem; a problem, be it kept in mind, born in a heart of coveteousness, and set by the hand of hate for the race to solve. Cain’s murder of his brother Abel was the first bald, brutal assertion of self-interest as the law of human life – an assertion always potential with murder; an assertion whose acceptance involves the triumph of the brute man over the God-imaged man; an assertion which the divine heart of humanity has always denied; a theory of society which will be remembered as a frightful dream of the past when the race recovers its moral sanity. Cain’s hands were the first to group and wield competition as the weapon of progress; a weapon from which no economic theorists have ever been able to wash the blood of human suffering. When Cain replied to God, “Am I my brothers keeper?” he stated the question to which all past and present problems. of man’s earthly existence are reducible. The search for the final and comprehensive answer to Cain’s question has been the race’s sacred sorrow; and obedience to such an answer would carry in it the perfect solvent of all the problems that perplex the minds and hearts of men.

History and prophecy have always pointed toward a time of industrial peace and social brotherhood. The most unselfish aspirations of the noblest men have been along the line of the social unity of the race. About this hope statesman and philosophers have woven their sublimest theories of society and government. It has been the highest inspiration of poetry. It is the end toward which Moses and Plato looked. It is the lofty strain borne along from prophet to prophet through Israel’s glory and shame. Outside of Biblical prophecy there is no purer expression of this ancient hope than in John Stuart Mill’s autobiography: I yet looked forward,” he said, to a time . . . when the division of the produce of labor, instead of depending, as in so great a degree it now does, on the accident of birth, will be made by an acknowledged principle of justice; and when it will no longer be, or be thought to be, impossible for human beings to exert themselves strenuously in procuring benefits which are not to be exclusively their own, but to be shared by society to which they belong.”

And yet, with all the history and prophecy, the schools and temples, the philosophy and poetry, the governments and civilizations, the day of brotherhood seems no nearer than generations ago. The hope grows faint with age. The problems of society are still unsolved.

The question of Cain is the master question of our age. It has grown articulate with the greed and cruelty of history. It threatens our American day and nation with the crisis of the centuries. It must be answered; and answered with justice and righteousness. The blood of Abel cries out through toiling millions. The expectation of the poor shall not forever perish in hopeless toiling and longing for better days. As John Ruskin says,” There are voices of battle and famine through all the earth, which must be heard some day, whoever keeps silence.” No arrogant reply as to the historic and legal rights of private and corporate property will silence these voices.

The natural development of our civilization will not unfold the solution of our industrial problems. When we watch the mammoth enginery of this modern civilization through the assurances of a partisan press, or the mercenary declamation of the politician who estimates the moral stupidity of the people by his own, the movements of its great wheels seem wonderfully safe and perfect; but when we, in our sober, honest, thoughtful moments, view it through the sympathies and purposes of the divine Man of Sorrows, we see torn, bleeding, mangled, sorrowing, famishing multitudes beneath the wheels of its remorseless enginery; we see that greed and not love is the power that moves our civilization; we see politics, commerce, and the social club moving on the economic assumption that selfishness is the only considerable social force, and assuming that civilization can advance only through the equal balancing of warring selfish interests; we see men valuing brute cunning and the low instinct of shrewdness more than whiteness of soul. A civilization based on self-interest, and securing itself through competition, has no power within itself to secure justice. We speak to pitiless forces when we appeal to its processes to right the wrongs and inequalities of society. The world is not to be saved by civilization. It is civilization that needs saving. A civilization basing itself upon self-interest has a more dangerous foundation than dynamite. It is built upon falsehood. It carries in it the elements of anarchy because it has no ground in moral realities. It is atheistic because it treats God and his righteousness as external to itself. It is nihilistic because it thrives on destruction. It is a civilization which Bishop Huntington declares “leads by a sure course to barbarism.” It is a civilization tinder whose procession John Stuart Mill affirms the very idea of “justice, or any proportionality between success and merit, or between success and exertion,” to be “so chimerical as to be relegated to the region of romance.” The end to which the civilization of the present tends is material, and not moral; it tends to the enslavement of society and the smothering of its highest life. Civilization is the flower of the character of the dominant classes; it is an effect more than a cause; its forces originate in character; its activities are the expression of the people’s being. No civilization can be made righteous, or can make itself righteous, by any restraints or regulations external to itself. A righteous civilization can have no other source than the inward righteousness of those who originate and control its forces.

There is no power in abstract truth, either economic, ethical, or theological, to cure our social ills. Economic laws naturally deal with things external to man’s being; with principles which will be accepted or rejected according to inward forces of character which they can obey, but cannot control. Ethical truth taught to an unspiritualized race, or generation, or civilization, is a childish waste of time and strength. There is no ethics apart from religion. The springs of human virtue are all in God. There is no ethical truth other than the expression of the will of God. Socrates, Plato, and Shakespeare seem to have understood this better than some of us who teach our fellow-men to-day. Nearly all the warnings of the Old and Now Testament, which we so self-assuringly address to so-called unbelievers, were addressed in the first place to those who presumed themselves to be already in the kingdom of God: to those in the temple services and the churches. The ethical instructions of Jesus and the Apostles were all based upon and developed from the cross. Theological truth has repeatedly shown its barrenness of the fruit of righteousness. The darkest crimes of history have been committed by the conservators of religion. A jealousy for theological truth often accompanies a hatred of duty. The Pharisees were so orthodox that they crucified Christ for heresy. They alone possessed the oracles of God. Yet the truth did not save them from greedy, heartless, malignant, hypocritical lives. A slavish and enslaving conservatism has always joined hands with an indifferent worldlyism for the crucifixion of God’s perennial revelations of incarnate truth. I suspect the devil knows more truth than any of us; and he is all the more devilish for knowing it. Truth that does not strike its roots in love is a curse; and the truer the truth the more accursed its results. There is a pregnant thought, which the Church has yet to learn, in a saying of Mozoomdar’s in his “Oriental Christ:” “Unless our creeds fertilize the world, and our lives furnish meat and drink to mankind, the curse uttered on barrenness will descend on us.”

We cannot look to the State to solve our social woes and grant our social hopes. All the great political prophets, from Moses to Milton, and from Milton to Sumner and Mulford, recognize that tile people are tile makers of the State rather than the State the makers of the people. The State is the expression of the highest common thought of the people; it is the work of the people’s faith. Hegel says “the State is the realization of the moral idea” of the people. The people must be righteous before the State can be righteous. If we agree with Milton that the State ought to be but as one huge Christian personage, one mighty growth or stature of an honest man,” then the Christian State must be the offspring of a Christian people. If we regard the State, with Sumner, as a grand moral institution, it must be moral because the people build it with their moral thought and purpose. The best and strongest institutions have been powerless to restrain people whose moral conceptions they did not embody. The Mosaic legislation was never fully enforced. Roman law could find no expression in the thought and life of later Rome. Alfred the Great incorporated the Ten Commandments and Golden Rule in the early English constitution, but they are yet far from being the laws of English industrial and social life. Laws written on tables of stone and printed in statute books are but the playthings of politicians if they are not written in people’s hearts. Laws cannot make men unselfish. They can restrain; but all legal righteousness is but temporary. Police righteousness is not divine righteousness. Force-justice is unreal justice. The State cannot, by any possible process, make the rich man unselfish, or the poor man thrifty. The State cannot establish justice and righteousness on the earth; but justice and righteousness must establish the State.

The heart of all our social disputes is what Mulford calls “the crude assertion of an enlightened self-interest as a law of human activity.” This assertion is the essence of the gospel which Professor Sumner proclaimed from his chair in a great Christian University. Social classes, he decided, owe each other nothing; benevolence is simply barter, and “the yearning after equality the offspring of envy and covetousness.” This is a gospel which would have caused the proclaimer to be mobbed in the streets of Athens in the days of Pericles; a gospel which would have astounded Moses, and seemed ancient and barbarous to Abraham. The supremacy of the law of self-interest is the conclusion of Herbert Spencer’s materialistic philosophy; and of the wretched pessimism of Hartmann and Schopenhauer. It is the principle upon which Cain slew his brother. It was the seductive whisper of the serpent in Eve’s ear. It is the principle upon which crime is committed. It is the principle upon which the capitalist acts who treats labor as no more than a commodity subject to the lowest market rate and the law of supply and demand. It is the principle upon which railroads are bonded and bankrupted for private ends. It is the law by which the New England deacon chattels his money upon the Dakota farmer’s meager possessions at a usurious and impoverishing rate of interests – a deed which will not be obscured from the eyes of a just God by the endowment of a chair in a denominational college. It is the principle upon which a Chicago financier proceeds, with no more moral justification than the highwayman’s robbery of an express train, to “corner” the pork market, and thus force from the mouths of toiling families a million and a half of dollars into his private treasury – a deed for which the giving of some thousands to found city missions and orphans’ homes will be no atonement in the reckoning of the God who judges the world in righteousness and not by the ethics of the stock exchange. The law of self-interest is the eternal falsehood which mothers all social and private woes; for sin is pure individualism – the assertion of self against God and humanity.

God’s answer to Cain’s question, God’s solvent of the social problems of our day, is the cross. And the cross is more than a historic event. It is the law by which God acts, and expects men to act. It is the creed of God which will never be revised. It is the principle upon which creation and history proceed. It was the assertion intensified which God has been making through all history, of self-sacrifice as the law of human development and achievement. Self-sacrifice is the law which God asserts in Christ over against the law of self-interest which Satan asserts in Cain. The trial in progress is Christ versus Cain. The decision to which the times are hastening us is, Shall Christ or Cain reign in our American civilization? And well may the heavens await our decision in silent and awful wonder; for we are deciding the destiny of the earth!

The message of Jesus to every man, rich or poor, weak or strong, ignorant or wise, is the cross. In whatever form he puts it, whether in parable or principle, miracle or command, the cross is the heart of every in : not a cross, but his cross – the cross of absolute self-renunciation which he carried in his heart. In Christ’s teachings the cross was something else than an arbitrary contrivance for populating heaven. The Gospel of our Lord knows of no reconciliation by the cross that does not begin with a reconciliation to the cross. Being reconciled to God has a vaster meaning than being reconciled to the comfortable reception of certain benefits from God’s hand. It means the apprehension of the law of God’s life as the law of our lives. And sacrifice is the law of the life of God. The creation involved an infinite sacrifice. Out of the travail of God humanity was born. Before earth’s sinning, sorrowing ages began, with infinite sorrow God consented within himself to their beginning. The sorrow of Gethsemane was in God’s heart before he breathed life into man; and the suffering of the crow continues in the Father-heart till sin vanishes from the hearts of his children.

The moral progress of the race has been through sacrifice. It is the divine order of culture. The race’s divine types are always dying that the race may live. The world has thriven on the sufferings of those who have loved it and given themselves for it. Every new truth which men have learned has been read in the blaze of martyr fires. Every great reform has been won at unreckonable cost. A Calvary is the tribute Freedom always claims from men. Every commercial privilege which an American enjoys was purchased on Golgotha. We are not our own; and that which we have is not ours. Every breath of our bodies and every opportunity of our hands, hearts, and brains was bought for us with immeasurable sacrifice. Our little lives are surcharged with the blood-bought wealth of the centuries; and not one of us, if we could live to the age of Methuselah, and held in our grasp the wealth of the continents, could begin to pay the future the debt we owe the past. Sacrifice is not life’s accident, but life’s law. No man has a moral right to live other than a sacrificial life in this world of sin and sacrifice. Lotze affirms that no life is moral which is not self-sacrificed in the service of others. No Christian is true to his Christ, nor has grasped the meaning of the cross, who is not a vicarious sufferer for his fellow-men. The cross was not our release from, but our obligation to, sacrifice. And wherever there is a heart throbbing with the passion of Jesus there will be a life straitened till its mission be accomplished. Wherever there is a soul pulsing with the life of God there will always be sacrificial hands uplifting humanity to higher things.

Now, the reason this message of the cross has so much larger an application to men of wealth is that they have the larger opportunities and possessions to sacrifice. They have the weapons of love. Christ offers no different terms of discipleship to any American man of wealth than he offered to Matthew at his custom-table. The centuries have not bulged the needle’s eye. It is as hard to enter now as when Christ mentioned its smallness to the rich Pharisees. Christ was infinitely pitiful to the weak, the poor, the thriftless, the sinful, the ignorant; but to those who sought to hallow covetousness with religious forms, and convert piety into a cloak for greed, he had but wrath and scorn and scourges. The simple fact of our industrial situation is that the men of wealth in our American churches can begin to solve our pressing social problems any time they choose, by simply being disciples of the Lord Christ. As the Father sent Christ into the world to sacrifice himself in the service of man, so Christ sends the corporation manager, the merchant, the mill owner, the mine operator, the street-railway president, to be a living sacrifice in the service of men. Christ was under no more obligation to consecrate himself wholly to the world-saving, man-uplifting business than every business man in America. The uniqueness of Christ’s work has no bearing upon this fact. The claim of God to Christ’s service is the claim that rests upon us all. The Lord did not die to give us an opportunity for self-seeking. We are not here on a vacation from God. He sends every man of wealth forth to be a savior of his follow-men; and the business man who fails to be a little Christ to the world has made a disastrous and irreparable business failure. A man of business has no more right to make personal profit the supreme purpose of his store, his shop, his capital, his factory, big railway, than Jesus had to work miracles for personal profit. We have no more moral right than our Lord to direct our social, domestic, or financial affairs for personal ends. The Christian has no more right to an unconsecrated horse, or house, or dress, than Christ to an unconsecrated cross. We are not on own; we are bought with a price; and nothing short of an unreserved surrender of self-interest to God’s interest in humanity is moral or just. Not to be self-sacrificing in others’ service is injustice. To be unloving, even to the unlovable, is to be ungodly.

The day is coming when the homes, the shops, the stores, the social clubs, the newspapers, the corporations, the political caucuses, that have not for their sacred purpose the making of men divine will be regarded as out of place in a world that has been redeemed by the Son of God and nourished by the life-blood of his saints. There is no such thing as a secular affair in the universe of God. There is nothing but moral anarchy outside of the realm of God’s authority. God recognizes nothing as having a right to exist apart from a vital relation to himself. There is no affair which engages human passions, brains, hearts, bands, that is not a religious matter. Nothing has a moral right to an existence on the earth which has any other basic purpose than the uplifting and sustaining of men in righteousness. The basing of commerce, or education, or politics, or society, on the modern atheistic and mercantile idea of secularity is an assumption that violates the lesson of history, and is intolerable to the Scriptures. Christ is King! Unto him every knee shall bow. The freedom of the race is to be reached only through yielding to Christ’s moral despotism. As President Valentine has said, “There is nothing under the stars that is not amenable to his authority.” There are no exemptions provided for stock exchanges, or wholesale establishments, or railway corporations, or social leaders, or politicians, or teachers of natural sciences. Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. We have no moral right to dress simply with a view to pleasing ourselves; eat as we please; live in the kind of homes we please; ride in the carriages we please; have the company we please; buy the books, pictures, jewelry, luxuries, we please – no more than Christ had.

I am aware that what I am saying is irritating to this practical, anti-theocratic age an age which has small sense of the divineness of things. We have little practical use for things we cannot buy or sell; things that do not minister to our bodily comfort and social pride. We are apt to measure even the religious value of men by their market value. We are willing enough that Christ should have been crucified for us, but are angered at the thought of being crucified for him. It is so much easier to worship Christ than go up and share with him his cross. It is so much easier to be obsequious in saying Lord, Lord, than it is to do the things he tells us; so much easier to subscribe to creeds and repeat rituals than renounce selfish ownership to one’s possessions and deny one’s self. But only a crucified Christianity will ever be able to win a selfish world to the crucified Christ. And there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby society and civilization can be saved. Not until the race shall have been crucified with Christ’s crucifixion will it assemble with clasped hands and free spirits around the throne of the Lamb.

Men first quarreled with God, and they have been quarreling with each other ever since. And the reconciliation of men to each other must proceed through their reconciliation to God as he is revealed in Christ. Social unity must be the result of God-one-ness and God-in-ness. It will be the outgrowth of the incarnation of the divine sacrificial Christ-life in the life of humanity. When men touch each other with the touch of God, and love each other with the love of God, and serve each other with the sacrificial heart of God, then the race will be one concordant family. The solvent of every problem of society is the love of God. And the cross is the weapon which God took from his own heart to break open our hearts that he might pour therein the life-renewing balm of his love. Our hope for social freedom will reach its fulfillment, not through social mechanisms, but through our acting, as Frederick Maurice says, “in the faith that the constraining love of Christ is the mightiest power in the universe.” Society is to be saved by men and women who shall pour their lives and possessions as streams of love and service into the great current of Christ’s redeeming light, whose onflowing is hearing the nations. The whole question of labor and capital, and all the problems of our day, can be restated in this form: Is the Gospel of Jesus livable? God is calling to-day for able men who are willing to be financially crucified in order to establish the world’s market on a Golden Rule basis. He is calling for noble women who are willing to be socially crucified to make society the agency for uplifting instead of crushing the poor and ignorant and weak. “Whoever,” says Benjamin Franklin, “introduces into the public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.” It is for this work that God would anoint you, O Christian business men of America! History has never presented to man an opportunity richer than yours. You can make the market as sacred as the church. You can make the whirl of industrial wheels like the joyous music of worship. You can be the knights of the noblest chivalry the world has ever seen; not going forth “to recover the tomb of a buried god,” as Ruskin said of the crusaders of Richard Lionheart, but to fulfill the commands of the eternal Christ. And where you go, flowers of hope will spring in your footprints. You can bear the weak in your arms, and set the captives of poverty free. You can cause the deserts of human despair to blossom with the gladness of fulfilled prophecy, and hush the voices of discontent in the sweetness of fruitful toil. You can give work to the wageless; teach the thrifty and ignorant; seat the poor in the best pews of your churches. You need not strive nor cry, nor wear plumes and flaunt banners; but you can be the heralds of a new civilization, the creators of a Christian industry whose peaceful procession will reach round the globe. You need carry no crosses of wood or gold or silver; but you can bury the cross of your Christ deep within your hearts, and stretch forth consecrated hands to realize the life of humanity by raising it into the idealism of Jesus. You can draw the world’s trades and traffics within the onsweep of Christ’s redemptive purpose. You can plant everlasting peace underneath the feet of men, so that there shall be no more strife; and light earth’s night of toil with skies of love, so that there shall be no more night. You can be the makers of the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness in which the mm will be at last human because it is divine, and divine because it is human.

God’s new day of judgment is surely and swiftly dawning. Voices from out the future are crying repentance unto this mammon-worshiping generation. The ax is laid at the root of the trees. Now John Baptists are arising who will speak truth and justice to the Herods of finance, though their ecclesiastical heads be the price of the message.

In the lead of human progress I see the matchless figure of the Son of God -

“Toiling up new Calvaries ever with
the cross that turns not back.”

Let us close about him, O brother men, and keep step with the march of the cross!

“Till upon earth’s grateful sod
Rests the city of our God.”

1796 — Farewell Address by George Washington

September 19, 1796

Friends and Fellow-citizens: The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when our thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you at the same time to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that, in withdrawing the tender of service which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of and the continuance hitherto in the office to which your suffrages have twice called me have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled me to abandon the idea.

I rejoice that the state of our concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety, and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that in the present circumstances of our country you will not disapprove of my determination to retire.

The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust I will only say that I have with good intentions contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience, in my own eyes, – perhaps still more in the eyes of others, – has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it. In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me, and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment by services, faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead; amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging; in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing wishes that Heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free which is the work of your hands may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments, which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all – important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motives to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquillity at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point of your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively – though often covertly and insidiously – directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity, watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have, in a common cause, fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of your country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and while it contributes in different ways to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications, by land and water, will more and more find, a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find, in the united mass of means and efforts, greater strength, greater resource, proportionately greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same government, which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope that a proper organization of the whole, with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who, in any quarter, may endeavor to weaken its bands.

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as a matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations – Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western – whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourself too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head. They have seen in the negotiation by the Executive and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction of that event throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the general Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties – that with Great Britain and that with Spain – which secure to them everything they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the Union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren and connect them with aliens?

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay by the adoption of a Constitution of Government better calculated than your former for an intimate union and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter the Constitution of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, until changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacred and obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force, to put in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party – often a small, but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans, digested by common councils and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterward the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Toward the preservation of your government and the permanency of your present happy state it is requisite, not only that you speedily discountenance irregular opposition to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect in the forms of the Constitution alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing Constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion. And remember especially that for the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the States, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discrimination. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you, in the most solemn manner, against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed. But in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissensions, which, in different ages and countries, has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and, sooner or later, the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which, nevertheless, ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channel of party passion. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties, in free countries, are useful checks upon the administration of the government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This, within certain limits, is probably true; and, in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those intrusted with its administration to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding, in the exercise of the powers of one department, to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasion by the other, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern: some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be, in any particular, wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the destinies of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connection with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that natural morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives; but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment inseparable from the selection of the proper objects – which is always the choice of difficulties – ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the Government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all: religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great nation to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, in the course of time and things, that fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages that might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur.

Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, and sometimes, perhaps, the liberty of nations, has been the victim.

So, likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions: by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld; and it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence, in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions; to practice the arts of seduction; to mislead public opinion; to influence or awe the public councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak nation toward a great and powerful one dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defence against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships and enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury and external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own, to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?

‘Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary, and would be unwise, to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, in a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony and a liberal intercourse with all nations are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying, by gentle means, the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing, with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be, from time to time, abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish – that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good – that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit; to warn against the mischief of foreign intrigues; to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism – this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare by which they have been dictated.

How far, in the discharge of my official duties, I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the 22d of April, 1793, is the index to my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both Houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain; I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflection and experience. With me, a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am, nevertheless, too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence, and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its services with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this, as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love toward it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectations that retreat in which I promised myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government – that ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

1793 — Proclamation of Neutrality by George Washington

April 22, 1793

Whereas it appears that a state of war exists between Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great Britain, and the United Netherlands, of the one part, and France on the other; and the duty and interest of the United States require, that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerant Powers;

I have therefore thought fit by these presents to declare the disposition of the United States to observe the conduct aforesaid towards those Powers respectfully; and to exhort and warn the citizens of the United States carefully to avoid all acts and proceedings whatsoever, which may in any manner tend to contravene such disposition.

And I do hereby also make known, that whatsoever of the citizens of the United States shall render himself liable to punishment or forfeiture under the law of nations, by committing, aiding, or abetting hostilities against any of the said Powers, or by carrying to any of them those articles which are deemed contraband by the modern usage of nations, will not receive the protection of the United States, against such punishment or forfeiture; and further, that I have given instructions to those officers, to whom it belongs, to cause prosecutions to be instituted against all persons, who shall, within the cognizance of the courts of the United States, violate the law of nations, with respect to the Powers at war, or any of them.

In testimony whereof, I have caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed to these presents, and signed the same with my hand. Done at the city of Philadelphia, the twenty-second day of April, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the seventeenth.

George Washington

1789 — First Inaugural Address by George Washington

April 30, 1789

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the fourth day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision as the asylum of my declining years; a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time; on the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my country called me, being sufficient to awaken, in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens, a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence one who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature, and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions, all I dare aver is that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance by which it might be affected. All I dare hope is, that if, in executing this task, I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof of the confidence of my fellow-citizens and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me, my error will be palliated by the motives which misled me, and its consequences be judged by my country, with some share of the partiality in which they originated.

Such being the impression under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being, who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute, with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men, more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And, in the important revolution just accomplished, in the system of their united government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude, along with a humble anticipation of the future blessings, which the past seems to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence.

By the article establishing the Executive Department, it is made the duty of the President “to recommend to your consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The circumstances under which I now meet you will acquit me from entering into that subject further than to refer you to the great constitutional charter under which we are assembled; and which, in defining your powers, designates the objects to which your attention is to be given. It will be more consistent with those circumstances and far more congenial with the feelings which actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them. In these honorable qualifications, I behold the surest pledges, that as, on one side, no local prejudices or attachments, no separate views nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests – so, on another, that the foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; and the pre-eminence of a free government be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens and command the respect of the world.

I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my country can inspire: since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists, in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness – between duty and advantage – between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity – since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained – and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people.

Besides the ordinary objects submitted to your care, it will remain with your judgment to decide how far an exercise of the occasional power delegated by the fifth article of the Constitution is rendered expedient, at the present juncture, by the nature of objections which have been urged against the system, or by the degree of inquietude which has given birth to them. Instead of undertaking particular recommendations on this subject, in which I could be guided by no lights derived from official opportunities, I shall again give way to my entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good. For I assure myself that, whilst you carefully avoid every alteration which might endanger the benefits of a united and effective government, or which ought to await the future lessons of experience, a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen and a regard for the public harmony will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question how far the former can be more impregnably fortified, or the latter be safely and more advantageously promoted.

To the preceding observations I have one to add, which will be most properly addressed to the House of Representatives. It concerns myself, and will therefore be as brief as possible.

When I was first honored with a call into the service of my country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. From this resolution I have in no instance departed. And being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline, as inapplicable to myself, any share in the personal emoluments which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the Executive Department; and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the station in which I am placed may, during my continuation in it, be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.

Having thus imparted to you my sentiments, as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave, but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the human race, in humble supplication, that, since he has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquillity, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity, on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so his divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this government must depend.

1787 — Letter of Transmittal of the U.S. Constitution by Federal Convention President George Washington

September 17, 1787


We have now the honor to submit to the consideration of the United States in Congress assembled, that Constitution which has appeared to us the most advisable.

The friends of our country have long seen and desired, that the power of making war, peace, and treaties, that of levying money and regulating commerce, and the correspondent executive and judicial authorities should be fully and effectually vested in the general government of the Union: But the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident — Hence results the necessity of a different organization.

It is obviously impractical in the federal government of these states, to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all: Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. The magnitude of the sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstances, as on the object to be obtained. It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered, and those which may be reserved; and on the present occasion this difficulty was encreased by a difference among the several states as to their situation, extent, habits, and particular interests.

In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each state in the Convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude, than might have been otherwise expected; and thus the Constitution, which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.

That it will meet the full and entire approbation of every state is not perhaps to be expected; but each will doubtless consider that had her interest been alone consulted, the consequences might have been particularly disagreeable or injurious to others; that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish.

With great respect, We have the honor to be, Sir,
Your Excellency’s most obedient and humble servants,

George Washington, President
By unanimous Order of the Convention.

His Excellency, the President of Congress

George Washington Crossing The Delaware River

Civilization 5: Play as George Washington and Lead Your Civilization to Greatness

Sid Meier’s Civilization V has hit the marketplace, and it’s so popular that stores are having a tough time keeping copies in stock. Civilization V is literally flying off the shelves. And no one should be surprised. This fifth installment of what is perhaps the greatest PC strategy game franchise of all time is well worth the purchase price. And, yes, you can play as George Washington! (You could play as George Washington in Civilization IV as well, but the animations are even better in Civ V!)

As my readers know, I like to occasionally deviate from the serious stuff — and just have some fun. PC and board games are a great way to have fun with history. My dad and I used to play tabletop wargames all the time, as I was growing up. Among our favorites were the classics Gettysburg and Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. Unfortunately, Dad passed away in 1992, too soon to enjoy the wave of PC wargames that swept the marketplace in the 1990s and continue to be enormously popular today. Nevertheless, if Dad were alive today, I know he and I would be playing Age of Empires II, Age of Empires III, and now Civilization V quite a bit.

Those unfamiliar with Civilization may wonder why I’m blogging about it here. Well, as my readers know, I generally don’t blog about things, unless the topics relate directly with early American history. And this is no exception. While the Civilization games encompass all of history, that history includes the colonial period. In fact, you might say that the transition between the Renaissance-era Middle Ages and the Industrial Age is the most significant point of the game. If you don’t transition your civilization quickly and effectively from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Age, you will likely lose.

In fact, this period is so critical, that the Civilization franchise includes a standalone title called Civilization: Colonization. It plays similarly to Civilization IV, and features a great system of trade and economy as you settle a new continent and then try to break away from Europe. A word of warning…it’s very tough to successfully declare independence from Europe. But I digress.

With Civilization 5 (as in the previous installments), you take over a fledgling, nomadic, and primitive people – and lead them through the span of history to (hopefully) become a powerful, dynamic civilization. And did I mention that you can play as George Washington? In fact, you can play as a very long-living George Washington! This immortal aspect to your character is why Civilization is often called a “god game.” As a pastor, I’m of course uncomfortable looking at it that way. And, in fact, the only “divine” characteristic you possess in the game is an immortal lifespan. Still, however you want to accept (or not) that aspect of your game’s character, Civilization is a fun franchise to tackle.

Every single installment of Civilization has been addictive and immersive. Civilization V ups the ante with expanded visuals, absorbing audio (though Leonard Nimoy’s narration from Civilization IV is missed), and adjustments / improvements in game play. Two big changes from Civilization IV are the absence of religion and the shift to a hex-based map. The jury is still out on whether the former is a good change, but I definitely approve of the latter. Hexes make for a richer, more tactical experience than squares.

Civilization V gets a solid A+. 5 stars out of 5. Whatever grading system you want to use, Civilization V rocks the house. :-)  It’s well with your time. And, believe me, it will soak up LOTS of your time.

Important Facts About General George Washington

George Washington is perhaps the most familiar name in the United States and one of the best known names in the world. Yet few people actually know much about George Washington, beyond the basic, elementary facts of his resume and a few well-worn (largely discredited) cliches involving cherry trees and wooden teeth.

A few years ago, while teaching American history in high school, I used to challenge my students with the question: “Do you think you know a lot about George Washington?” Since Washington is one of my heroes (and my students thus had heard me talk about him a fair amount), they were convinced they did. So, I would have them take out a piece of paper and write ten of Washington’s specific deeds or accomplishments. I still recall how their confidence would inevitably and very quickly evaporate. Like most Americans, my students seemed unable to retain much in the way of specifics when it came to George Washington.

Several years ago, James Rees, resident director of Historic Mount Vernon, lamented this growing ignorance of America’s father. ”Among young people, and young adults, we find many who don’t know Washington was the first president and can’t say what century he lived in,” said Rees. “My fourth grade textbook had 10 times as many pages on Washington as the one the same school uses now. And there is a sizable fraction of our visitors who can’t tell you whose portrait is on the $1 bill.”

This particular post will look at the most important facts about George Washington’s military career. In a future post, we’ll look at Washington’s presidency.

Important Facts About General George Washington
So, what are the most important facts about George Washington’s military leadership? Here are the basics:

  • George Washington was a respected Virginia plantation owner, colonial politician, and French and Indian War (Seven  Years’ War) veteran on the eve of the American Revolution. (It is, of course, also important to know that the Seven Years’ War or French & Indian War preceded the American Revolution, and helped set the stage for it.)
  • Washington supported colonial rights during the buildup of tensions with Great Britain, serving in both the First Continental Congress (1774) and Second Continental Congress (1775). 
  • Based on John Adams’ recommendation, George Washington was appointed by the Second Continental Congress to command the Continental Army and lead armed resistance against the British Empire.
  • As Commander-in-Chief of the nascent and evolving Continental Army, Washington declined to be paid for his services, but kept meticulous records of his expenses during the war (which he submitted for reimbursement).
  • Washington became Continental Army general at age 43. Most movies and paintings show Washington leading American troops as an old man with white hair. In fact, Washington was tough, healthy, middle-aged man at the time of the Revolutionary War.
  • From 1775 until 1783, General Washington presided over the growth of a largely untrained, thoroughly ill-equipped and ill-prepared “army” into a formidable (albeit still inadequately paid and poorly supplied) fighting force.
  • Washington was a brave and courageous leader, risking his life under fire numerous times.
  • Washington was a creative, but inexperienced battlefield tactician. Though he made several battlefield mistakes, he nevertheless demonstrated great charisma, strong courage, dogged persistence, and a brilliant grasp of the strategic picture.
  • General Washington arguably saved the American Revolution with his famous, and quite audacious, crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Night 1776 to attack the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey.
  • The last major battle of the American Revolution was at Yorktown, Virginia (1781), where a combined French and American land force, supported by the French navy, bottled up Lord General Charles Cornwallis and his British forces. This resulted in a change-of-government in London and the beginnings of peace negotiations between Colonial America and the British Empire.
  • With peace negotiations ongoing, Washington kept his poorly supplied and insufficiently paid troops in the field for nearly two full years, working diligently to ease tensions and preserve domestic peace.
  • Washington flatly refused offers of any sort of dictatorship, and instead appealed to his officers at a famous speech in Newburgh to support the civilian government and stand down from any talk of insurrection.
  • Britain granted American independence in 1783, and George Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief, becoming one of the only revolutionary leaders in world history to walk away from power. 

George Washington would, of course, come out of retirement in 1787 to preside over the Constitutional Convention and would soon become the nation’s first President  under the new Constitution. But were it not for Washington’s military leadership during the Revolutionary War, there would’ve been no Constitution and no presidency.

George Washington’s generalship and his statesmanship (in the war’s final stages) are what made America possible. This is something that all Americans should appreciate and never forget.

Facts About George Washington’s Inauguration

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the President of the United States of America, the first person to serve in that capacity under the newly ratified Constitution of the United States.

Here are some facts about George Washington’s inauguration:

*George Washington was not the first person to bear the title “president of the United States.” That distinction goes to John Hanson, the first American president under the Articles of Confederation. The men who served as president under the Articles did not carry executive authority. Theirs was a very weak presidency. Washington was the first person sworn in as President under the new (and still current) Constitution of the United States.

*George Washington was inaugurated in New York City (the only President to be inaugurated in that city). The nation’s capital would soon move to Philadelphia and then, during the administration of John Adams, to the newly constructed city of Washington.

*Since there were no Supreme Court Justices as of yet, Robert Livingstone (New York’s highest ranking judge) administered the oath.

*Washington took the oath of office on a Bible, starting a tradition followed by virtually all Presidents since.

*Washington wore a sword to his inauguration, a tradition that did not have as much staying power.

*Though it is a matter of some dispute, historical tradition holds that Washington said the words “so help me God” after reciting the constitutional oath of office. While some researchers challenge this tradition, Washington’s First Inaugural was very religious. In his speech, he most pointedly asked for God’s help. Accordingly, most Presidents (certainly since the mid-1800s) have appended the words “so help me God” to the presidential oath – a tradition that probably (though we can’t say for certain) goes back to Washington.

*Washington’s second inauguration (1793) had much less fanfare, probably reflecting his lack of enthusiasm for accepting a second term. His Second Inaugural Address is a mere 135 words, the shorest in history!