While we set aside today to honor those great and not-so-great men who, despite their personal foibles, raised the next generation of humans, there is one father who we rarely hear about outside the classroom: the father of our country.
In an egalitarian society such as ours, no one should be placed on a pedestal above the rest. However, there is nothing wrong with giving credit where credit is due. And President George Washington certainly deserves some credit, as well as some criticism.
Washington’s parents were of modest wealth and considered part of the lower gentry in the Virginia colony. Washington’s father died when the future president was just 11 years old.
Ironically, the father of our country had no biological children himself. However, he did raise his two stepchildren and two stepgrandchildren as his own.
Unlike most of the other Founding Fathers, Washington had very little formal education and was more a man of action than a philosopher. He wrote no weighty political treatises. He did not travel the world and only spoke English. He was a surveyor, soldier and politician.
And a revolutionary.
Despite his lack of formal education, Washington was a brilliant man driven to success. But above that, Washington was a man of character, which he valued above all else.
One of his earliest writings was as an adolescent, “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” The copybook was a list of 110 etiquette rules.
Washington is proof that whether you are raising a family, founding a nation, or anything in between, character counts. This is a view shared by many of the Founding Fathers but something that seems lost on today’s crop of politicians and captains of industry.
Washington held virtue as a trait on par with education.
“It may be proper to observe that a good moral character is the first essential of man, and … [i]t is therefore highly important that you should endeavor not only to be learned but virtuous,” he wrote.
Washington, like all men before and since, was not perfect. His early military career with the British, while honorable, was not always successful.
Washington served the British during the French and Indian War, a world war that began as a dispute over the occupation of the Ohio Country and the French belief that Washington assassinated a diplomat.
In one example, Washington’s unit was routed at the Battle of the Monongahela, but Washington was credited with organizing the men into an orderly retreat. Then there was a friendly fire incident in which Washington’s unit fought a brief battle with another British unit.
Washington left the military and entered politics from 1758 to 1774. During his time in politics, Washington supported and proposed many anti-British measures. He was a delegate at the First Continental Congress and when he showed up at the Second Continental Congress in military uniform, he was selected to lead the Continental Army.
During the Revolutionary War, Washington became famous for retreating. He knew he didn’t have to beat the British, he only had to prevent the British from winning. So his strategy, for the most part, was one strategic retreat after another.
As president, he was an able administrator and served with honor despite the difficulties of being the first one to hold the position.
No conversation about Washington would be complete without talking about slavery.
He became a slave owner at the age of 11 when his father died and remained one until the day he died.
Washington grew to hate slavery and wanted eventual abolition. Several times he planned to free his slaves but was unable to for various reasons, including laws that prevented it and his vow to never break up a slave family. He did free his slaves in his will, the only prominent slave-owning Founding Father to do so.
Also, he was somewhat of a snobbish elitist with a military mind-set when it came to the fraternizing with those of different socioeconomic classes.
Still, as fathers of countries go, we couldn’t have asked for a much better person than George Washington. His character and his ambition brought him a measure of success that would make any father proud.