In 458 B.C. at the urging of the Roman Senate, Cincinnatus accepted the title of dictator, raised an army, defeated the Aequians, and returned home to his farm. Two millennia later, George Washington led his country to victory and then relinquished political power.
When Washington was 16, his half-brother and mentor, Lawrence Washington, secured him a position in a surveying expedition on land belonging to Baron Fairfax.
After Lawrence's death, Washington inherited the Mount Vernon estate and assumed his brother’s position in the Virginia Militia. He distinguished himself during the French and Indian War and is credited with saving General Braddock’s column from annihilation by a French and Indian ambush. The war gave Washington opportunity to learn French, Indian, and British military tactics.
In 1759, Washington married widow Martha Custis, adopted her two children, and returned to Mount Vernon. He also managed his wife’s extensive property.
In the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769, Washington proposed a boycott of English goods until Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts. In August 1774, Virginia sent him to the Continental Congress as a delegate. The following year, Congress unanimously named Washington Commander of the Continental Army.
For the next six years, Washington and his army endured shortages of food, ammunition, and supplies. A victory at Trenton in 1776 revived morale, and French assistance at Yorktown helped bring the war to a close. Washington accepted the British surrender on October 17, 1781.
Washington’s popularity was almost universal, and some even called for him to become king. Instead, he bid farewell to his officers, and on December 23, 1783, he submitted his resignation to Congress.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.”
Regional differences began pulling the young nation apart, and in 1787 state leaders called the Constitutional Convention in order to reexamine the Articles of Confederation. The delegates elected Washington to preside, and his leadership helped maintain civility between ardently opposed factions.
After the states ratified the Constitution, Washington won election as the first President of the United States, taking office April 30, 1789.
Washington refused a third term in office and established a tradition of peaceful transfer of power. His Farewell Address remains an influential statement of American political values.
Washington died of pneumonia at his home, December 14, 1799. Congressman Henry Lee eulogized him. “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life.... The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues....”
Written by Kristin Fahrenbruck Baumgartner
Points to Ponder:
- Find someone whose example you can follow.
- Take responsibility for what needs to be done.
- Stick with the right decision, even if it is difficult.
- Help others understand the bigger perspective.
- Know what role you can play, and withdraw after you fulfill it, even if some work remains to be done.
- Choose words carefully.
- Focus on the objective instead of the conflict.
- Have the courage and humility to recognize you are not indispensible.
- Leave an example others can follow