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George Washington Revisited

George Washington was a remarkable founding father.

 

 

President’s Day Again

When I was a kid, we would always celebrate the birthdays of dead presidents individually and not as a group. Fortunately, not everyone of this continuously growing club, got a special Shout Out, but for those who did, February was an especially busy month, for it contained the birthdays of a two of the greatest, Lincoln and Washington. At the time, February also contained the birth date of the shortest-lived presidency of all times. William Henry Harrison, who only served 31 days before dying of pneumonia. Since then Ronald Reagan has joined this unique club, but despite Reagan’s current popularity, President’s day still seems to focus on Washington and Lincoln. Not surprisingly, this year’s President’s Day features a TV special on the life and times of George Washington, perhaps are most enigmatic president.

First and Foremost a General

On the first segment aired, the History Channel and portrayed a young Washington, who wanted nothing more than become a military officer in the British Army. For better or worse, fate did not cooperate and so Washington was forced out of Great Britain’s military, eventually coming to fulfill a very important role as first General of the Continental Army. The fact that George and all the rest of the Continental Army succeeded is now the stuff of history, but no matter how you look at it, the Patriot’s victory is one of the most improbable events of all time. No wonder, so many of the Founding Fathers contributed their unlikely success due to the presence of a very benevolent higher being.

The Whiskey Rebellion

When Washington became president, he gave up his military colors, but not for good, because before long the fledgling federal government was facing a violent tax revolt on the Western frontier. So it seems that Western farmers were used to distilling their excess grain and selling off the finished product to make an extra buck or two. And as a result, they did not take kindly to a new tax on whiskey.

By today’s standards, President Washington responded in a very unusual way. He rounded thousands of volunteers and conscripted a few non-volunteers to go after the culprits of Western Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. In the ensuing standoff, the farmers backed down, but at the same time the federal government abandoned its notion to tax whiskey. At least for the near future. Nonetheless, the die had been cast, the U.S. was destined to be lead by a strong central government, even though we have governed by numerous Jeffersonian presidents, who favored a weaker central government along with stronger individual states.

Like Washington, Hercules, one of Washington’s slave was also an enigma. The president’s cook charmed Philadelphia with his culinary skills, had his portrait done by Stuart Gilbert and then abandoned Mt. Vernon during a joyous birthday celebration (for George), never to return again.

 

 

Washington Surprises Almost Everyone

Just before he died Washington decreed that all his slaves would be freed upon his death. Perhaps, he was tired of chasing down runaways and coming back empty-handed. However appealing this idea is, it is more likely that he saw the handwriting on the wall. Slavery could hold hold its enormous weight. The institution was bound to die. Unfortunately, it took fifty years and a bloody civil war for the nation to come to this way of thinking.

 

Want to read more, Check out these two articles about the Whiskey Rebellion and Washington’s Runaway Slaves.

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