Friday, June 23, 2006

Questions on Washington

In the coming weeks, I will be involved with a television program that will be looking at the life of George Washington. As such, I have been give ten questions which will most likely be asked, but depending on time, a couple of them could be cut from the program. However, since it might be hard for some readers to go ahead and watch the program (date to be announced), I figured I would post four of the questions and let you know more or less what my answers are going to be. Enjoy!

Q: Lets look at Washington’s military record. It’s probably a good thing that Washington didn’t live in an age of 24-7 television cable news. As I understand it, Washington lost almost every battle he was in and it was the French who saved the day for the American Revolution. Was Washington a military incompetent?

A: It is true that Washington’s military record was LESS than stellar. When the French and Indian War began, the young Washington only had one military book on tactics under his belt along with fencing lessons. The incident at Fort Necessity was certainly one of Washington’s most disastrous moments as a leader, but he would redeem himself with the successful retreat of Braddock’s forces after the general was mortally wounded. In looking at the entire career of Washington, I contend that he was actually inhibited by the presences of all other European officers around him. In fact, if you look at the battle he won and compared them to the battles he lost, it is interesting to note who IS and who IS NOT there. At the battles of Trenton and Princeton, Washington does not have a Horatio Gates or Charles Lee nagging him. As a result, he commands with his own decisions. By having those influences out of the way, I think Washington was able to be the type of commander he wanted to be instead of the traditional European officer.

Q: As I understand it, Washington went from being a kind of poor hustler to becoming Father of his Country and one of the greatest historical figures of all time. How do you account for this transformation?

A: Washington was never, by any stretch of the imagination, a poor hustler. In fact, the Washington family was one fo the oldest families in Virginia, right along there with the Masons, Randolphs, and Carters. When Washington was born, his father Augustine Washington was move up in the social world. By the time Augustine died, he was only a few years away from moving the Washington family up into the upper tier of the Virginia gentry. As such, the Washington family would have become more influential in Virginia politics. However, the transformation of Washington being the English gentleman planter to a revolutionary to an American is one where a great deal of it comes with the political climate of the country. Washington certainly saw himself as a second class citizen during the French and Indian War when it came to British treatment of colonials. In between the wars, Washington felt that most Britons did not see their American brethren as one and the same. During the Revolution, Washington developed the American identity by realizing that after all the fighting that had been done thus far, there was no going back to being a colony. It was all or nothing. I believe, though, if you want to pinpoint the moment where Washington stands out above all other, look at the Newburgh Conspiracy. With his officers ready to rebel and make Washington king, it is Washington who single handedly stops this coup from occurring with one sentence. He said, “Forgive me gentlemen, not only have I gone gray in the service of my country, but I fear also blind.” At this point, he took his glasses out and put them on. The devotion of one man is what proved that this country was worth fighting for and creating. It is an awe inspiring moment and one people need to think about.

Q: What did Washington have to say about parties and factions?

A: Washington was not a fan of political parties or factions. Indeed, for him, they were the worst thing that could possibly happen for the United States. When he started his presidency, he was certainly an independent. However, by the time the man did retire from public service, it is clear he was a Federalist. I believe Washington ended up being part of a political party namely because it is almost like a natural order of things. When it comes to different situations, no one is ever going to agree on every little detail that is out there. As such, people take sides. I believe Washington ended up going that way by becoming part of a political party because he was going to have to take a stand on issues and those stands mirrored the views of political parties.

Q: I’m going to ask you to do a little alternative history….what would have happened if there had been no George Washington?

A: That is a tough question. A question like that is like asking this people to do this: imagine George Washington naked. It is impossible to do for most people. Indeed, if you get a class room of students to close their eyes and try to do it, they will open their eyes and have a look of horror on their face because you asked them to do it. It was once believed that when Washington was born, he was born with a suit of clothes on and a powdered wig. Once out of his mother, he gave a bow and went upon doing his regular business. If the question were to be answered, I suppose it all comes down to when you want to take Washington out of the picture. (1) If he was never born, or died as an infant, we would most likely still be part of the British Empire. (2) If he died in 1753 while returning to Williamsburg from Fort Le Boeuf, again the answer would take you back to the last one I gave. (3) If his half brother Lawrence Washington had never died, it is difficult to say what would have happened from there. Lawrence would have had a powerful influence on the young Washington and may have been able to be the calming wind to any storm that might have blown into the sails of the young Virginian. (4) More importantly, what if Augustine Washington lived a longer life? If that were to have happened, Washington most likely would have received an education in Scotland and might not have joined the Revolutionary cause. Indeed, he may never have set the ball into motion be not being at Jummonville Glen and thus starting the French and Indian War. As you can see, there are four examples right there and a multitude more to come. I believe in the end, Washington was placed on this Earth for the very reason of bringing into the world this new government and society. If he were not here, I dare say the world would be a VERY different place.

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