George Washington achieved iconic status during… his lifetime. His peers held him in such esteem that by the time of his death most Americans were left unaware of the life he led. Washington quickly faded in the collective memory- he became a statue, figuratively as well as literally. This dehumanization has caused Washington’s name and reputation to plummet in our national remembrance. Recent polls of some 600 historians show Washington ranking #3 behind Lincoln and FDR. Many of the same writers cite unwarranted “hero worship” as the reason for the decline.
What troubles many delusional historians… is that Washington was aware of his image as the great patriot-hero. This was an image he went to great lengths to protect. This type of self-awareness irks 21st century sensibilities, but was common and accepted in the 18th century. Washington was not as well read, educated or worldly as his peers, but he always acted appropriately, worked efficiently, and governed wisely.
- His decision to resign and turn the Continental Army over to Congress was unexpected and unprecedented. George III observed across the Atlantic, “He is the greatest man in the history of the world.”
- He helped shape the Presidency and our republican form of government at a time the world was in turmoil. Revolutionary zeal was spreading across Europe, but Washington’s leadership helped keep our fledgling republic alive during uncertain times.
- Voluntarily leaving office in 1796 set an example for the world– a statesman walking away from power- the epitome of American republicanism. The monarchical world fully expected the American experiment to slide back to absolutism and Washington’s example prevented it.
Washington should still be first… in the hearts and minds of his countrymen. His great strength was character- the ability to lead men without ruling them. The example he set has endured through the trials and tribulations of our republic- he is truly, the essential American.