LESSONS LEARNED #33: “The Founding Fathers weren’t perfect but they were closer than most.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 30th, 2010

Anarchy Averted

Washington men didn’t live long.  And George Washington thought about that.  A lot.  He loved his Mount Vernon.  His garden.  And he longed to retire there to spend out his years in peace under his vine and fig tree.  But he gave up that dream when he accepted command of the Continental Army.  He was already at that age when a lot of Washington men died.  So when he left, no doubt he thought he may not return.

The Revolutionary War lasted 8 long years.  And Washington spent those years with the army.  In the field.  He was at Valley Forge.  He didn’t leave to go home to see Martha.  No.  His wife came to Valley Forge to see him.

Washington was a wealthy man.  He didn’t need to make these sacrifices.  A lot of wealthy men didn’t.  But he did.  And he sacrificed a lot.  Even his eyesight.  When the army officer’s wanted to mutiny over a long list of failed promises (pay, pensions, etc.), Washington pleaded with them.  To not throw away the thing they’ve fought so long and hard for.  As poorly as the Continental Army was treated, those words did not move them much.  Then Washington pulled out a letter from a congressman to read to them.  But couldn’t.  After stumbling over a couple of words, he stopped.  He then pulled out a pair of spectacles.  No one had ever seen the great George Washington in such a public display of weakness.

“Gentlemen, you must pardon me,” he said.  “I have grown gray in the service of my country, and now find myself growing blind.”

Some cried for the old man who had given so much.  When he no doubt had so few years left to live.  If their commanding general could make such sacrifices, so could they.  So there would be no Caesar.  No Cromwell.  No armies would march to the seat of power.  This republic would not collapse into anarchy as history often scripted her republics.

The Most Powerful Man in America Surrenders His Power         

But would he be king?  He could have.  Easily.  He had the power.  And the love and adoration of the people.  In fact, some were begging him to become king.  Others, though, questioned his intentions.  They looked at the army with a nervous unease.  They were, after all, a nation built primarily from English stock.  And they knew their English history.  Of Oliver Cromwell.  The New Model Army.  Just what were his intentions?

He still stayed in touch with his officers (and later would go on to be the first president of the Society of the Cincinnati).  This seemed a bit ominous to some.  This is why once the war was over, people tried to forget about and disband the army as quickly as possible.  To renege on the promises they made to these veterans.  They just wanted these soldiers to go away.  There were too many bad memories of standing armies in their midst.  Whether they wore a red coat or a rag, they just wanted them gone.

Even King George questioned his intentions.  Few give up power.  If he did, it would place him in the pantheon of greats.  But would he?  Yes.  He would.  And did.  Washington would be a Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who walked away from his plow to assume dictatorial powers to help save his nation.  When the threat was past, he returned power to the Senate and returned to his plow.  And so did Washington.

Answering the Call of Duty.  Again.

Then the nation called for their Cincinnatus once again.  There were problems with the Confederate Congress.  It was having difficulty governing the peace.  There were state rivalries.  Their finances were in a mess.  And there was no national identity.  There used to be.  British.  And the European nations treated with that singular entity.  Great Britain.  Now that the mother country was gone, there was no singular entity.  No unity.  Everyone was for themselves.  And the European powers had to make multiple treaties with the multiple states.  If they wanted to go through that headache.  And many did not.

Some called for a revision to the Articles of Confederation.  But it was difficult to get the states on board.  A weak confederacy favored the individual states.  And the individual states liked that.  But it also limited their potential as a nation.  Some feared the inter-state rivalries would balkanize the nation.  Make the New World a repeat of the Old World.  To bring the nation together would take an extraordinary effort.  Or an extraordinary man.  George Washington.  Who agreed to attend the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. 

After a long and hot summer, the Philadelphia delegates produced a constitution.  With James Madison being the primary architect.  They then sent it to the states for ratification.  At which time James Madison and Alexander Hamilton began a writing campaign to urge its ratification.  (John Jay contributed to this campaign, too, but not as much as Madison and Hamilton).  Once ratified, it came time to populate the new government.  Some competed with each other for some positions.  But for one of the positions there was unanimity.    There was but one man the people would trust with the most powerful office in the land.  Their Cincinnatus.  George Washington.  But would he do it?  Would he leave his blissful retirement beneath his vine and fig tree?

Yes.  Not because he wanted to.  More than 10 years had passed since this old man had agreed to command the Continental Army.  He had outlived many Washington men.  The way he saw it, he was living on borrowed time as it was.  And there was another consideration.  Against the greatest of odds, he did NOT lose the Revolutionary War.  He had made mistakes in his life, but his name was safe for posterity.  But if he took a risk now he could lose the good name he built.  And if there was anything soldiers (and politicians) worry about, it’s their legacy.  (That’s why they write memoirs.)

Another Long 8 Years

When it was clear that he was, in fact, the indispensable one, he sacrificed his personal want for the public need.  Again.  And again, serving a second term as president.  He was ready (and looking forward to) retirement after one term.  But the party politics were threatening to tear apart the new nation.  The rift between Jefferson and Hamilton had grown.  It was splitting the government into two camps.  The Federalists (led by Hamilton) and the anti-Federalists (led by Jefferson).  They pleaded for Washington to serve a second term as he was the only one who could hold them together.  He consented.

That second term was particularly unpleasant for Washington.  Party attacks turned into personal attacks.  Even against Washington.  And the ugliness got really ugly over the Jay Treaty.  Many wanted war with Great Britain.  But having actually fought a war with Great Britain, Washington favored peace.  Yes, the treaty favored Great Britain.  And, yes, it tied American interests to Great Britain, not her war time ally.  France.  The Jeffersonians unleashed an unfettered vitriol on the Federalists.  Including Washington.  But Washington bet on the right horse.  Great Britain proved to be the dominant European power.  And her Royal Navy came in handy protecting U.S. trade with her.  Over a decade of peace and prosperity followed. 

After 8 years, though, there was no persuading Washington for another 4-year term.  He had grown ever older in the continued service of his country.  Now he felt it more than ever that his days were few.  Rarely did he know happiness like he felt at the inauguration of the 2nd president, his vice president, John Adams.  Adams wrote that after he took the oath of office, Washington said, “Ay! I am fairly out and you fairly in!  See which of us will be happiest!”  He may not have actually said this but he no doubt felt the sentiment.  And with that, he returned to his plow.  Cincinnatus had come home.  Where he would happily live out his remaining years.  All two of them.

Where is Our Cincinnatus?

Today it’s about money and power.  Not duty.  Today, people want to be full-time politicians.  For the money and power.  And the elitist status.  People get into Congress and they just don’t want to leave.  Should we vote them out of office, they have a tantrum.  They call their constituents stupid for not knowing who the better candidate was.  And they won’t go quietly.  Some will change parties.  Or run as an independent.  Or as a write-in candidate.  Anything to stay in Washington.  To hold on to their power.  To stay among the elite.

The nation has deviated far from the path of disinterested public service of the Founding Fathers.  The anti-Federalists would be shocked to see what became of the government they helped create.  Even the Federalists.  Even Hamilton.  Not even he, the champion of a strong federal government, would approve of the federal government today.  His mercantilist polices had the goal of making the nation rich and powerful.  Not to suck the wealth out from the private sector.  Which began in earnest with Wilson.  Then picked with FDR.  Then ramped up further with LBJ/Nixon/Ford/Carter.  Had Hamilton lived in the 20th century, he would have earnestly campaigned for Ronald Reagan.  To put an end to the public sector’s pillage of the private sector.

And now we find our nation adrift again.  But who will step in and stop it today?  Who is out there?  Willing to put down their plow for disinterested public service.  And by ‘plow’ I mean any real job.  Worked by someone who is not part of the Washington establishment.  Where is our George Washington?

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Blog Home