February 16, 2016 6 Comments
There used to be two federal holidays in February (plus St. Valentines day!). They honored the two most iconic of Americans, Presidents Washington, and Lincoln. Some years ago they were combined into the insipid President’s day, so that instead of honoring the best presidents for their own individual achievements, we could lump them in with the rest, like Carter, and Buchanon. So now, our teachers (and parents) have still another excuse for not teaching about the great men we have produced.
Well, here we are conservative, if it ain’t broke, we don’t fix it. But this was broke intentionally, to give the lazy still another 3 day weekend, which now only the terminally lazy (government workers, mostly) get. In any case, on Sunday, I spoke of Lincoln’s achievement. Yesterday was out of sequence, but Justice Scalia was clearly cut from the same cloth.
But today, we’ll speak of the man who was, is, and always will be considered
With a military career spanning forty years, including three armies (British Colonial Militia, Continental Army, and United States Army) Including victory in the first of America’s wars, as an independent country, and that against the greatest empire of the age. Great Satan’s Girlfriend reminds us
Washington designed the American strategy for victory. It enabled Continental forces to Maintain their strength for six years and capture two major British armies at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781. Some historians have lauded Washington for the selection and supervision of his generals, preservation and command of the army, coordination with the Congress, with state governors and their militia, and attention to supplies, logistics, and training. On the day of battle, however, Washington was repeatedly outmaneuvered by British generals.
Washington was not a great battlefield tactician; he sometimes planned operations that were too complicated for his amateur officers to execute. However, his overall strategy proved to be successful: keep control of 90% of the population at all times (including suppression of the Loyalist civilian population); keep the army intact; avoid decisive battles; and look for an opportunity to capture an outnumbered enemy army. Washington was a military conservative: he preferred building a regular army on the European model and fighting a conventional war, and often complained about the undisciplined American militia
One of Washington’s most important contributions as commander-in-chief was to establish the precedent that civilian-elected officials, rather than military officers, possessed ultimate authority over the military. This was a key principle of Republicanism, but could easily have been violated by Washington. Throughout the war, he deferred to the authority of Congress and state officials, and he relinquished his considerable military power once the fighting was over.
That would seem to be enough for one man accomplishments. In fact, when King George, asked the American ambassador, John Adams, what General Washington would do at the end of the war. Adams told him, “He will retire to his farm.” The King then said, “Then he will be the greatest man in the world.” He did, and I see no reason to argue with the King on this one.
But that only about half of Washington’s life, the civic side. He was also as we noted above, a farmer.
It is as an entrepreneur, however, that Washington serves best to inspire Americans in the twenty-first century.
Industry was integral to Washington’s character. Denied a formal schooling because of the early death of his father, he devoted his early years to practical home-based learning in subjects like accounting, geometry and mathematics. His mother taught him thrift, self-discipline and a horror of debt. In his first teenage job as a surveyor, Washington demonstrated a passion for knowledge and—crucially—a willingness to work hard to attain it. Within a few years he became a skilled tradesman with the makings of a steady and potentially lucrative career. For a lesser man, this would have sufficed.
Beset by restless visions of a prosperous future for himself and his countrymen, however, Washington cast aside his nascent career as a surveyor and invested in America’s greatest natural resource: land. Military service during the French and Indian War had awakened him to the dimensions of America’s bounty, from the richness of its soil to the potential of its waterways as highways of commerce. By the time he was twenty-seven—thanks in part to his marriage in 1759 to the wealthy widow Martha Dandridge Custis—Washington had acquired a vast estate that spread across much of Virginia and pressed to the gateways of Appalachia.
A passion for improvement drove Washington to experiment with crops and new technologies to increase productivity. Almost immediately he recognized the evils of British colonial rule that forced Americans to work within a credit system that fostered wastefulness and debt. Craving self-sufficiency, he abandoned the tobacco economy that had nurtured generations of his ancestors and converted his farms to wheat. This allowed him to evade British oversight and buy and sell for cash on his own account. Being less labor-intensive than tobacco, wheat also allowed Washington to devote resources to industries like milling, spinning and weaving, ironwork, cobbling, and even large-scale fishing.
Morality and industry were for Washington two sides of the same coin. A moral man was industrious, and vice versa. British colonial rule thus appeared inherently immoral, for it denied Americans the right to pursue their own improvement in a free market.
As America, and her Army, grew, other men were appointed Lieutenant General, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Pershing. But Pershing was promoted far beyond that to General of the Armies (presumably 6 star). And the bevy of Generals of the Army (5 star) in World War Two. And so,
With effect from 4 July 1976, Washington was posthumously promoted to the same rank by authority of a congressional joint resolution. The resolution stated that Washington’s seniority had rank and precedence over all other grades of the Armed Forces, past or present, effectively making Washington the highest ranked U.S. officer of all time.
Which is as it should be, on George Washington Day!