I’ve been searching for George Washington. Not in the conventional way like going to Mount Vernon to visit his home or anything like that, but rather searching for his spirit in the nation he loved so much. I’ve been on the lookout for any semblance of the man in this country’s government, any DNA that he might have left behind that may have found itself woven into the fabric of the that governing body that we’ve inherited and seemingly taken in a much different direction than Washington would have recognized. I look for George Washington because he is forgotten, relegated to the mists of time and legend. To be sure, most school kids may know him as the first President of the United States, or they may know him as the father of our country. Still others may remember him as he “could not tell a lie” and, indeed, did chop down the cherry tree (which most historians believe did not happen), but that is roughly the extent of it. George Washington is on the dollar bill, the most widely circulated American currency, but no one pays attention to the face on that piece of “paper”, let alone his significance.
I keep searching for George Washington because his way was true, his direction forthright, his concern for his nation pure and legitimate. He did not get involved in politics because he wanted to, but rather because he was heeding the call of a nation, and a Congress, that needed a steady hand. The waters needed navigating, and just as he did during the Revolutionary War, he was there to lead the way. He preferred the title Mr. President than what others wished to call him as it was simple, direct, to the point, and did not have any of the trappings that would have hinted at royalty. His was an act of selflessness and duty, two words that seem to be lost in this millennium for the government we currently have inherited, or more accurately, allowed through our vote. It has been said that one gets what one allows, and if that maxim is true, what we have allowed George Washington may have disavowed.
My continual search for George Washington has me looking for people in our government less concerned with their party, and more concerned with our country. Washington himself, during his farewell address was quite precient when he stated, “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” He understood the nature and danger of faction, but more importantly, I believe that he was exhorting John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, once great friends and allies who had since drifted apart, to avoid that split, and realize that faction can only destroy a government…a government whose responsibility is to its citizens and not itself or its petty disagreements. Further, I would suggest that Washington knew full well that he could do nothing to stop the egoism and further erosion of friendship between the two men (or their respective parties), but tried, as all leaders would do, to bring them to their senses, and have them realise for the good of the nation that they created, that they needed to set aside their personal desires and wishes and work for the nation as a whole.
Sadly, this was not to be the case, either in Washington’s time or our own. George Washington died on December 14th, 1799. A miserable death exacerbated by terrible treatments, blood letting and pain, an unseemly end for a man of his stature and grace. John Adams was elected the second President of the United States, and Thomas Jefferson the third. Adams and Jefferson only patched up their significant differences much later in life, passing on the same day, only hours apart.
I am searching for George Washington because I am searching for someone, anyone, in our government, on either side, to put away their petty differences of revenge, ideology, and rancor in order to do what is best for this nation. I am hoping to find his spirit in a congress that should care more for its own people than for their own personal agendas, for a nation with over 300 million people will never be able to enact an agenda for everyone. I keep seeing Adams’ and Jefferson’s DNA of division and faction rather than Washington’s desire for unity. It would seem that the man who voluntarily served only two terms in office when term limits did not exist, has been superseded by men who felt it more important to run one of the nastiest campaigns in history for an office that was given to Washington for his virtue, an office for which he was unanimously voted.
Division in anything that requires some form of teamwork is a death sentence. Selfishness, self aggrandizement, petty revenge, party politics all serve to undermine a representative government. George Washington knew this instinctively. He had no formal education (his father passed when he was eleven, thereby ending his education), yet this man, among Harvard graduates and some of the finest minds, stood out among them all. General of the Continental Army that was undermanned, understaffed, yet defeated the most important military power on the planet at that time. Self made men like Alexander Hamilton revered him as Washington himself was the very definition of self made. He commanded respect, had a clear vision, and understood more than anyone that the call of service to one’s nation is an act of selflessness and duty, not a goal or profession. To seek office in such a way serves only to decay the foundation which Washington himself poured.
I will continue to search for George Washington in the hope that there will be some threads of
his cloak woven into the nation he so dearly loved. As time passes, I become more hopeless in that