Monday, February 4, 2013

George Washington: In His Own Words

The official, first US flag.
 Our nation's first president did not believe in swearing, nor did he find it acceptable that soldiers felt a right to steal during a time of war – even if (especially if?) it was livestock to feed them.  

George Washington believed in personal discipline, good judgement, and moral accountability. Perhaps it makes him sound like a bit of a bore or, perhaps, it helps define a leader who knew the weight of his responsibility. 

Washington also believed in the power or education as something to be pursued, this during a time when libraries were not free and books were luxuries. In his later years, he would describe the power of government as something to be overseen "like fire." 

He also believed not only in the power of love, but in the strength of women. In his life, he benefited from the wisdom, the strength, and the unwavering support of his mother and also his wife. Perhaps this makes Washington sound corny or naive or simple. Or, perhaps, he simply was a smart man.

February 22 is George Washington's actual birth date although the federal celebration is the third Monday in February, otherwise known as President's Day.

Washington reading the Declaration of Independence to his troops.
Our first general was a reluctant president, a private man, and a dedicated public servant whose front door was, literally, open to travelers passing by.  

At the age of 16, he had already embraced a clear code of ethics, 110 rules by which he tried to live.  Washington's Rules of Civility
are a quick and useful read.

But as he lived through his letters, speeches, and through the correspondence that surrounded him, we can discern a picture of the man who ultimately did possess what he considered "the most enviable of titles", that of an honest man.

Here is a look at Washington through his own words:
... That little spark of celestial fire called conscience

* Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

* Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.

* It is better to be alone than in bad company.

* I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.

* A slender acquaintance with the world must convince every man that actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of friends.

* Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those be well-tried before you give them your confidence.

* Truth will ultimately prevail where there are pains to bring it to light.

... A sensible woman can never be happy with a fool 
George and Martha Washington (Library of Congress)
* Happiness depends more upon the internal frame of a person’s own mind, than on the externals in the world.

* Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.
* All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.

* I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also – if you love them enough.

* A sensible woman can never be happy with a fool. (Advice to his step-granddaughter, Eleanor Parke Custis)

... The surest basis of public happiness

* Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.

* There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature.

* A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? What duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?

* It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty upon the supposition he may abuse it.

* Laws made by common consent cannot be trampled upon by individuals. 
Washington before Valley Forge (by Friburg)

... I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country

* Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for, I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country. (Washington's preamble in a speech to officers about to strike over unmet pay and pensions – and chose not to – the Newburgh Conspiracy, 1783)

* I shall not be deprived of a comfort in the worst event, if I retain a consciousness of having acted to the best of my judgment.

* Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and fearful master.

* The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.

* Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.

George Washington with the "Betsy Ross flag"

  George Washington's official White House biography.

Let if fly!


Foundations Magazine

Library of Congress

The Papers of George Washington (UVA)

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