Your View: Why we honor George Washington


To the editor:

The name of George Washington stands for integrity. He held himself to the highest standards in all things and put duty to God, others and his country above self. Washington has been honored since his own time and not just in our country. In his own time, King George III noted that by giving up power as president, he did what no other man had done and was greater than he or any other ruler.  
Washingtons life embodied the American dream of acquiring wealth and living a better life than his parents. He was not born into money. His father died when he was 11, leaving his property to the sons of his first wife. There was nothing for George and his younger siblings to inherit.  Because his mother, Mary Ball, depended on him, he learned responsibility at an early age. When he came to live at Mt. Vernon with his beloved stepbrother Laurence, he saw what wealth could provide and decided that he would excel. His good manners and respect for his elders softened the heart of crotchety Lord Fairfax, so he allowed George to read his precious books; thus he acquired some education despite having no tutor.      

Because he enjoyed the outdoors, was good in arithmetic and geometry and wanted wealth, he decided to become a surveyor, the only profession that was paid in gold. By age 16 he was earning the same wages as older men and his reputation was good enough that Lord Fairfax hired him to survey the land he had been granted from the king. Thus George took advantage of the opportunity to explore and then to buy some prize property from his benefactor. His future as a successful land speculator had begun, and his idea of expanding the country took shape.
Washington recognized and capitalized on his opportunities. Because Washingtons mother forbade him from entering the British navy like his brother and Gen. Braddock later refused him a commission in the British Army, Washington remained a colonial officer. Thus, when the American Revolution broke out, he was not committed to British service. Based on his experience with Braddock, he was the obvious best choice to lead the American army, and he arrived at the Continental Congress in his impressive uniform, looking ready to command.  
It was a risky business to take on the best army in the world; losing would mean death as a traitor, and the Americans had no army at that time. Washington had not come to that decision easily. He had opposed secession from England until persuaded by Patrick Henrys oratory and the blockade of Boston. It was a calculated risk based on the principle that freedom is the God-given right of every man.  
He was self-denying. He came out of a well-deserved retirement to assume the presidency and stayed in office, away from his beloved Mt. Vernon and at some cost, to guide the country on the course he had hoped it would take when he presided over the Constitutional Convention.  
As president, almost everything he did, including the choice of title for the executive, set a precedent. In his farewell address, he cautioned that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it. That advice is as sound today as it was more than 200 years ago.
Washingtons attitude and actions toward the helpless deserve admiration. He could have taken over his wifes wealth, but he carefully sequestered it from his own finances to preserve it for the Custis children / heirs. He provided a sound education for his adopted daughter as well as his son and provided money in his will to educate girls as well as boys. He opposed slavery and was faced with the problem of how to deal with the hundreds in the Custis estate. His solution was to prepare them for eventual freedom as much as possible. He encouraged their industry and self-reliance by buying and paying cash for the honey the slaves sold him. He gave them time to hunt (with guns) and fish so they could supply their families beyond what they were issued. 
Washington was a religious man. He contributed generously to his churches and was active in parish activities. He prayed daily, wrote prayers, and reportedly added So help me, God to the Presidential oath of office. During the Revolution, he insisted on attendance at Sunday services for his troops and had Congress pay chaplains for the army.  
Washington aimed for and achieved excellence in all things. How many wives can say of their husbands as Martha did: George is always right. He was indeed first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, as another Alexandrian, his great friend Light-Horse Harry Lee noted.  King George III was right:  Washington was a marvel, and we will not soon see his like again.