OPINION – Looking at the ranks of American leadership today, we’d be hard-pressed to find a single individual that could be described as indispensable. This has not always been the case.
As we celebrate the birthday of George Washington, we are celebrating the life of one of the most remarkable men to ever live on this planet. His personal character and insights were instrumental in shaping the republic that emerged following the War for Independence.
Washington’s unique combination of greatness and humility becomes immediately apparent upon reading his writings and examining his role in our nation’s founding.
Notwithstanding familiar apocryphal stories of the young boy who chopped down his father’s cherry tree and could not tell a lie, Washington’s contributions as a statesman and leader are undeniable. Among his most admirable traits was an unshakeable faith in Divine Providence.
A story from his early adulthood helps illustrate why his convictions were so deeply ingrained.
In 1755, during the French and Indian War, Washington took part in a battle near what is now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The military force to which he was assigned was ambushed from two sides while caught out in the open.
As a 23 year old colonel in the Virginia militia, Washington was among the officers specifically targeted by the ambushers. Miraculously, he was spared while hundreds of his fellow soldiers were slaughtered in the attack.
Washington, writing of the battle in a letter to his brother, explained:
By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet (I) escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!
Years later, Washington is said to have been approached by an American Indian chief who described how time and again he and his braves tried to shoot the young colonel and how they were unable to hit him. Eventually the chief instructed his braves to stop firing at the warrior to whom he referred as “the particular favorite of Heaven.”
When the time came for the colonies to declare their independence from Great Britain and to govern themselves, the Crown, or British Monarchy, declared war upon them to prevent their leaving. Facing down a foe that was economically and militarily superior called for a leader who could inspire his troops to remain steadfast in spite of the odds.
Washington was not eager to leave his home and his farmlands for the ravages of war. When writing to his wife, Martha, about his decision to serve as general and commander in chief of the Continental Army, his humility was noteworthy.
In her book “America’s Invisible Guidance,” Corrine Helline noted that Washington told Martha:
“Destiny has thrown me into this service”. He added that he had a sudden desire to weep upon his acceptance, but that he mounted a horse instead, “because a man on horseback does not weep”.
With poorly trained and equipped troops and overwhelming forces being brought to bear by the Crown, the burden borne by Washington was considerable.
As his men suffered through the bitter winter in Valley Forge, Washington drew closer to Divine Providence. He ordered that prayer be observed among his troops each morning. He also led by spiritual example.
Numerous accounts exist of the commander of the American armies on his knees in prayer. He forbid profane cursing, swearing and drunkenness among his soldiers. He ordered or encouraged days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving.
It is to Washington’s credit that his faith was never expressed in a divisive manner.
Because of his noble example, Washington’s men persevered through some of the darkest days of our nation’s history. They secured their independence from Great Britain and when the conflict was over, Washington resigned his commission in 1783 with another statement of his dependence upon the Almighty.
When his countrymen sought to have him serve as their king, Washington successfully resisted the temptation to seek power and instead returned to his home.
He was called upon to lead the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and a year later was elected president. At the end of his terms he offered a masterpiece of wisdom and encouragement to his fellow Americans in his Farewell Address.
More than two centuries later, his words still ring true. Washington advised against the dangers of foreign entanglements. He warned against the dangers of becoming too attached to faction or party.
Most importantly, he described how a free republic requires virtuous citizens and warned that those who are enemies to religion and morality are also enemies to freedom.
America could never have become as great a nation without the influence of the indispensable George Washington. We cannot remain a great nation by discarding his counsel.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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