Written by Senior Fellow Bob Morrison from the Family Research Council. Bob’s research has been featured in some of Dr. Bill Bennett’s most recent books, including the series: America: The Last Best Hope. Check out Bill’s The American Patriot’s Almanac for daily stories about our great country.
By Act of Congress, this is still George Washington’s Birthday. Although car dealers and shopping malls have told us over and over again it’s Presidents Day, the law is clear: We are honoring today our first president, the Father of our Country.
George Washington has been described as “the gentlest of Christendom’s captains.” As a military man, he was incredibly brave, facing enemy bullets not once, but many times. But when he put away his sword, he placed a dove of peace–a biblical symbol–atop his beloved Virginia home, Mount Vernon. He was eulogized at his death in 1799 by Gen. Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, the father of Robert E. Lee. The elder Lee called Washington “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Washington was an inspiration to virtually all the presidents who came after him.
Thomas Jefferson, our third President, said of George Washington:
For his was the singular destiny and merit, of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example. . . . These are my opinions of General Washington, which I would vouch at the judgment seat of God, having been formed on an acquaintance of thirty years. . . .I felt on his death, with my countrymen, that ‘verily a great man hath fallen this day in Israel.’
Abraham Lincoln sought to model his own conduct on that of George Washington. Leaving Springfield by train for Washington, D.C. 150 years ago this month, President-elect Lincoln bade farewell to his Illinois neighbors with these touching words:
I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
So impressed with Washington’s conduct was Lincoln that he made a point of kissing the Bible at this own inauguration–just as Washington had done in 1789. Washington’s reliance on the Bible was fully shared by Lincoln, who called it “the best gift God has ever given to man…But for it we could not know right from wrong.”
Through the centuries, some few Americans have sought to pull themselves up by pulling Washington down. This tendency was most exaggerated in the 1920s, when so-called Progressives thought they could “de-bunk” American history by giving it a Marxist slant. But when a book purporting to show that Washington was a failure was published, President Calvin Coolidge was asked what he thought of it. “Silent Cal” wasted few words on the muckraking book. He looked out the window of the White House toward the Washington Monument and drawled: “He’s still there.”
Ronald Reagan surely admired George Washington. When Ed Meese, Reagan’s loyal lieutenant, was informed several years ago that Americans in an online poll had voted Reagan the greatest of all Americans, Mr. Meese was stunned. “He didn’t think so,” the former Attorney General said, “Ronald Reagan thought George Washington was the greatest American.”
Today, let us thank God for the life of George Washington, the Father of our Country.