Revolutionary War Historical Article
Thoughts on the Greatness of Washington
The Rev. Dr. Gary Alan Dickey's Keynote Address at the February 1997 Massing of the Colors Held in Los Angeles California
Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the March 1997 Edition of the The Liberty Tree and Valley Compatriot Newsletter
How do we speak of General George Washington, Founding Patriot of our nation and first President of these United States without a sense of awe at who he was?
Above us in the Court of Liberty are to be found depictions of some of the greatest events of the Revolutionary War; portrayed amongst these pictures are those of General Washington at important junctures of that war which would determine the destiny of the United States. One shows Washington on bended knee praying at Valley Forge, turned to the best source for victory; another yet shows Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas Day 1776 when he defeated the Hessians at Trenton; and another shows Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777. Directly above us stands the magnificent Washington Monument created by Thomas Ball. In the niches are busts of Washington's best generals: The Marquis de LaFayette, Henry Knox, Nathanael Greene, and Benjamin Lincoln. Around the base are found the symbolic figures of Oppression, Revolution, Victory, and Cincinnatus (the legendary statesman called from obscurity twice to lead Rome). Atop this magnificent monument towering sixty feet above us is the statute of Washington whose shadow is cast over us. But we stand far more in the shadow of Washington today than just from the shadow of this statue. Rather, we stand today in the shadow of his stature as an extraordinary man for whom we owe more to our country and its history than perhaps any other single person in our great past. His name is given to our nation's capitol, one state, 33 counties, seven mountains, nine colleges and 121 post offices, not to mention countless millions of quarters and dollar bills! Indeed, this is a shadow that has lingered over our country for more than two hundred years and a shadow which I pray we shall never lose.
George Washington was undoubtedly a strong leader in a struggling nation. It would have taken very little to have s toppled this country at its beginning. However, Washington's vision for America's future was in many ways an extension of his own character. Washington saw that there were interests greater than self interest and causes nobler than personal advancement. Washington's vision for America's nationhood, rooted in the then almost unheard of idea that a free people could be entrusted to govern themselves, still speaks to us more than 200 years later.
If we were to try to pinpoint Washington's greatest achievement, what or which event would we choose? To me it was hot just winning the Revolution, remarkable as that was, nor even establishing the American presidency which he did with great diplomacy and valor. I believe that the ultimate significance of George Washington's life lies in the fact that he personally redefined the idea of greatness. To his everlasting credit, George Washington, though powerful, did not abuse his power. The man who could have been king insisted that ultimate sovereignty lay with the people. At the end of the war, and again at the end of his presidency, he walked away from the power of his office and never looked back. When the Treaty of Paris was signed and the war was officially over, some of Washington's officers wanted him to seize power and have the army establish a monarchy that would make him king. It could have happened if Washington would have allowed it. Washington was loved by his troops and he had great personal prestige in the hearts of the people. Instead, he resigned as Commander-in-Chief, disbanded the Army, and went home to Mount Vernon where he would have been glad to lived the rest of his life just as a private citizen. However, this was not to be. The 13 new states did not work well together and soon a Constitutional Convention was called. General Washington was asked to preside over it to solve the problems the new nation faced. from this struggle, Washington was able to effect many accomplishments, foremost of which was a constitution for the nation. When the time came to elect a leader for the new government, George Washington was the unanimous choice. And well it should have been, for Washington was alone responsible more than other person for bringing the states together by the sheer weight of his reputation and his personal integrity. Perhaps Washington's greatest example of personal sacrifice and humility came in 1797, more than 200 years ago, when with a handshake, he handed over to the new President, John Adams, the office of the presidency and all its power. With a single gesture he assured the peaceful change of the nation's highest office for all times. Never before had the reigns of government ever been handed over in such a fashion. Two hundred years later, our first President remains an example of all that is, and can be, best for our nation. The acts of his life only confirm his greatness to us once again. His greatest strengths were in his qualities of leadership, personal character, and the ability to inspire those around himself to a higher goal and aspiration for freedom and patriotism. Indeed, George Washington was, is, and shall ever be, "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
The Rev. Dr. Gary Alan Dickey, State Chaplain,
California Society, S.A.R.