Tag Archives: George Washington

Talk about the Spirit of the Founding Fathers

If it were later in the day, I’d describe the following as a palate cleanser to chase away the bad taste of contemporary politics. But, I am posting this before noon, so suffice it to say most of us don’t know that the Father of Our Country was one of the leading distillers in the United States. Washington’s business venture as a whiskey distiller was a success, too. He made up to 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey annually and sold nearly every drop. Turns out he was a savvy businessman — a nice economic contrast when we recall that fellow Virginian and founder Thomas Jefferson struggled with debt his entire adult life. However, don’t try to buy this booze on the Internet. Apparently, it is for sale only at Mount Vernon.

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February 18, 2014 · 6:02 am

George Washington Wishes You A Happy Thanksgiving

0903declaraFirst of all, Happy Thanksgiving to my loyal readers. There are now hundreds of you, and your genuine interest in my take on U.S. history and current events is the reason why I write. I am grateful for your support.

Secondly, George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation (1789) speaks for itself. Enjoy the Father of Our Country’s words about the Mother of All American National Holidays.

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

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Yorktown and the End of the American Revolution

Cornwallis surrenderThe United States is the only nation to defeat the British Empire in war for the purpose of securing its independence.  Six years of battle that killed or wounded more than 25,000 Americans came to an end after the combined forces of the Continental Army and the French defeated Gen. Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown, leading to the British forces’ surrender on this date in 1781.

John Ferling explains the profound significance of this event in an excerpt from one his books posted at Command Posts, the military history blog.

Today, we look at the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence as reasons enough for the existence of the United States. However, the thought of the British abandoning one of the wealthiest parts of their empire simply because of the political sentiments of the American colonists is not supported by history. The British in the 18th century did not relinquish their hold on Scotland, Ireland, or India for similar reasons. It took a war not always expertly fought but but fought to win independence. No wonder George Washington commented, “You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”

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What the Founders Would Have Thought of the Debt Crisis

For Washington, the issue of national debt was a moral question.

For Washington, the issue of national debt was a moral question.

First, a statement of historical fact: the United States has never defaulted on its debt. In other words, in the entirety of the republic’s history from the Washington administration until now the nation has always paid at least the interest on what we borrowed. Even during the Civil War and World War II. Even during the Great Depression. Even when there was no Federal Reserve and the money we needed to use to pay our debts was gold and silver rather than the tons of fiat money issued by the Federal Reserve.

Depending on the news reports I read, as early as midnight tonight if Congress and the president do not agree on some compromise that  does something — extends the debt ceiling, reins in the federal budget, or works a fiscal miracle for a nation strapped with $15 trillion of debt — the United States will default. For the ordinary person, that means the Treasury Department won’t have the revenue to transfer to programs like Social Security and food stamps i.e. SNAP. Those two entitlements alone cover nearly 40 percent of the American population.  God knows what will happen to stock markets and individual investments.

As I am fond of asking, “What would the Founders say?” It is safe to say that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, the two men most responsible for first sailing the fiscal ship of state, would be alarmed at not only the amount of debt but the immorality of the debt. Debt was mainly a moral question to the Founding generation, a group who often did not live up to the ideal of paying as you go (note the fiscal disasters that marked the life of Thomas Jefferson, for example) but who understood that virtuous people did not remain virtuous if you trained them to receive something for (apparently) nothing. When a nation collects $2 in taxes for every $5 it spends on programs, it has made the decision to live on credit. And, eventually, borrowers hit a wall when they live a life of excess.

An article from Stratfor does an amazing job explaining the Founders’ moral outlook on debt.  One quote worth pondering:

The Founding Father who best reflects these values is, of course, George Washington. Among the founders, it is he whom we should heed as we ponder the paralysis-by-design of the founders’ system and the current conundrum threatening an American debt default. He understood that the public would be reluctant to repay debt and that the federal government would lack the will to tax the public to pay debt on its behalf. He stressed the importance of redeeming and discharging public debt. He discouraged accruing additional debt and warned against overusing debt.

As we ponder the gridlock in Washington, D.C., perhaps we will recall that the generation who created this nation, though often maligned today for their lack of modern “values,” understood the timeless truths regarding human greed and human behavior far better than our current lawmakers and voters who have saddled this nation with inescapable debt.

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For Perspective on the Government Shutdown, Look to Washington — The Man, Not the City

Ramirez Founding Father's DayGeorge Washington was a model of civility and selfless dedication to his new nation. An article in today’s on-line edition of the Christian Science Monitor reminds us that lawmakers could use a reminder or two about how our first president dealt with the contentious issues in the first federal government.

” … As in war so in peace, the stoic leader kept his civility and self-restraint, always seeking a greater good while finding a way to give political opponents a way to save face,” writes the Monitor‘s editorial board. “His actions often spoke loudly, such as when he did not seek a third term. He thus set a precedent on the peaceful transfer of power in a democracy and in sending a signal that the country should not put too much stock in one person.”

Perhaps President Obama could improve things by not putting so much stock in one person, namely himself. He could walk away from his adamant refusal to negotiate with his political opposition. Democrats and Republicans could then at least toy with the idea of discussing compromises that could resolve a situation that is an embarrassment to the citizens of this nation, once considered an example of working democracy to the rest of the globe.

Or, perhaps the president and key leaders in Congress could meet at Mount Vernon, Washington’s home. His new presidential library recently opened a leadership institute for the training of civic leaders. All parties could benefit from a refresher course.

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A Review of “George Washington’s Westchester Gamble” by Richard Borkow

George Washington's Westchester GambleFrontCoverGeorge Washington was a gambling man.  Although the Father of Our Country once called gambling “the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief,” that did not stop him from testing the odds in all manner of pursuits such card playing and lotteries.  His willingness to take risks, however, did not end at the card table. As a general, Washington used feints, intelligence networks, and strategic deception whenever he could to eke out an advantage over his enemy the British, then the most potent military power in the world. Little wonder that one of the phrases he wrote to a disheartened fellow officer during the American Revolution was, “Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.” 

One of Washington’s greatest gambles resulted in ultimate victory over British forces — in fact, some historians suggest it was the most important decision he ever made as a military man. In 1781, General Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau led French troops that joined with the Continental Army during its summer encampment on the Hudson River near the town of Dobbs Ferry, New York.  The French believed the American army was running out of time as it lost men and the ability to remain adequately supplied in a war that could not continue much longer.  An attack on Manhattan and the British forces there was the more feasible and logical target for the combined armies. But, it was also where the British expected the blow to fall. A long-shot, but a long-shot worth taking, was the strategy of marching the combined armies out of New York and then head for Virginia where Washington and Rochambeau could trap General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. Washington’s joint armed forces would be supported by the French Navy under Admiral Francois de Grasse, whose armada would take possession of Chesapeake Bay and leave Cornwallis with no escape.  The result was “the world turned upside down” American victory familiar to any school kid who paid attention in his U.S. History class.  Cornwallis surrendered, the British were in shock, and George III’s government began negotiations that led to the end of the war and recognition of American independence.

Richard Borkow, a pediatrician who is also the village historian of Dobbs Ferry, in his book George Washington’s Westchester Gamble: The Encampment on the Hudson & the Trapping of Cornwallis (The History Press, 2011) admirably explains how Washington fooled the British with a campaign that defied long military odds yet won the American Revolution.  On the face of things, some would argue that the Battle of Yorktown is familiar territory well-examined by historians with little new to tell.  Borkow’s book, though, is written in an episodic fashion that explains the events that led to the “Westchester gamble” including decisions and actions from the very beginning of the armed conflict between American Patriots and the British army that had more far-reaching effects than the main players of the time realized.  The strength of Borkow’s examination is the way the author reminds us that Washington’s career as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army was fraught with disasters and near defeat.  Despite his unquestionable bravery and superb leadership, Washington faced mutinies, a Continental Congress that vacillated between praise of achievements and open discussion of replacing him with a better general, French allies who (rightly) saw that the American cause constantly teetered on the edge of annihilation, and even serious discussion whether the war should be about securing a United States comprised of only the New England and Middle Atlantic states, a plan that would abandon General Washington’s native Virginia and the rest of the South. No wonder Washington wrote after the war in 1783 of challenges he blandly called “distressing circumstances” that might make it hard to believe a rag-tag army of former colonials defeated a global superpower during eight years of terrible war.

Although Borkow’s book is brief and readable, it is an impressive work of depth and insight by a writer who is really an amateur historian. He clearly explains the importance of key events in the American Revolution that had direct bearing on Washington’s decision. The book is particularly strong in its description of the importance of the French alliance, why the French decided to back the Americans in the fight against the British, the military goals of French forces, and the constant stream of French reports on the outlook for American forces during the war. (The tone of those reports can be summed up in one word: grim.) One fascinating section of the book also relates how George Washington dealt with mutiny in the ranks of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania contingents of the Continental Army. Congress wanted to negotiate with the mutineers; Washington knew that mutiny would spread and destroy the American cause, so he had the offenders confronted and the unrepentant ringleaders executed. As Washington once wrote, “Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.”

 Occasionally, the detailed background sections detract from the main story in the book but a thematic outline at the beginning will help the reader keep track of Borkow’s narrative.  On the whole, it is an excellent account of what was more than the march of American and French troops to Virginia for what we today might mistakenly think was inevitable victory, but was actually one of the greatest rolls of the dice in American military history.

UPDATE: In a video interview, Borkow discussed what could be the most the important decision George Washington ever made during the Revolutionary War with David Hackett Fischer, Earl Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Washington’s Crossing. The video is here

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Happy Founding Fathers’ Day

Ramirez Founding Father's DayFrom two-time Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Michael Ramirez comes a cartoon too puckishly delightful to ignore on a day like today. Whether you are honoring a father of our country or the father that made your life possible, enjoy your Father’s Day.

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