Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Defining Real Leadership

Recently someone posed the question, “If you could sit down with just one person for an hour, who would you choose?”  I assumed they didn’t mean  the dearly-departed relative-of-choice.  At the time, I didn’t have a clue.   Today I do.
George Washington.
Given today’s pre-Presidential circus, I’d like to sit down with George and ask how he managed to pull people together in times of trouble to form “a more perfect union.”  Since I can't ask, I did a little reading.
The Washingtons were a wealthy English family who came to America after receiving land grants from King Henry VIII.  By the time Geo was born, the wealth had been lost.  The eldest son from his father’s 2nd marriage, Geo’s family was known as “middling class”.  Mostly home schooled, he learned math, geography, Latin & the English classics from a local schoolmaster. His  continuing “education” however, came from friendships with backwoodsmen and the plantation foreman.  By the time he was a teenager, Geo had mastered growing tobacco, raising livestock and surveying. 
Geo was 11 when his father died, leaving him the ward of his half-brother Lawrence.  Lawrence’s wife took Geo under her wing, teaching him “social graces”.  Lawrence died of tuberculosis.  Two months later his only child died, leaving Geo to become head of the prominent estate, Mt. Vernon.  He was 20 years old.
Geo would go on to prove a natural leader during the French & Indian War. Even though he was forced to surrender and was embarrassed at being captured, Geo re-entered the fight.  By age 23, he was Commander of Virginia’s forces.  But between a Legislature unwilling to assist with his needs, impossible military assignments, and being turned down, ironically, for a commission in the British Army, Geo resigned his commission.  He returned to Mt. Vernon completely disillusioned.  
Once home, Geo married Martha Dandridge, a widow with considerable wealth.  He embraced her children. Patsy, age 4 and Jacky, age 6, as his own.  When Jacky died during the Revolution, Geo adopted his children.  At Mt. Vernon Geo found his calling: farming.  It’s said he loved every aspect of it, often taking off his coat to labor alongside his workers.  Yes, Geo had 100 slaves.  He reportedly hated the institution, but accepted the fact as slavery was law.  It was about this time he entered politics.
Originally Geo was opposed to the colonies declaring independence.  But he didn’t like what he viewed as violations by the Crown to American rights.  Calling for the Continental Congress to convene, Geo asked that armed resistance be the last resort.  You know what happened next.
Fast forward to Geo’s presidency, an office he never sought.  No, he was sought after for his military experience and charisma. America had its freedom, but each state had their own interpretation, often squabbling over borders and contributing funds to the nation’s war debt.  At the Constitutional Convention, Geo was unanimously chosen to address not only the nation’s immediate problems, but to plan for the future.  Geo received a vote from every elector in the Electoral College…the only American President in history to be elected by unanimous approval.
Many wanted Geo to be called “King”, but he chose the title “Mr. President” to further his belief that the cause of Liberty was larger than a single individual.  Initially he refused the $25,000 salary, to protect his image as a selfless public servant.  In the end he accepted it when Congress pointed out if he didn’t, only the wealthy would believe they were entitled to serve. An Administrator who surrounded himself with capable men, he delegated authority wisely. Geo consulted with his Cabinet prior to making decisions and exercised power with restraint.  Having served 2 terms, he refused a 3rd.  Geo set the bar so high many who followed couldn’t reach his standards.  It’s a shame that today’s politicians don’t even try.
Geo adopted measures which not only reduced the national debt, but put the country’s finances on more stable footing.  He approved the bill placing the nation’s capital in a permanent district along the Potomac River and established peace treaties with Native Americans.  Was he perfect?  No.  His tax on “distilled spirits” brought about the Whiskey Rebellion.  Yet rather than send in troops, Geo personally took command and marched troops into town to illustrate federal government would use force to enforce the law.  His last official act?  He pardoned the participants of the Whiskey Rebellion.
Geo had a very strong opinion on creating a political party system.  Washington despised political partisanship, believing that ideological differences should never become institutionalized. He strongly felt that political leaders should be free to debate important issues without being bound by party loyalty.
And how did we show our respect to the Father of our Country,  our first leader and, let’s face it, guinea pig, for steering our new nation?  We put his face on the lowest denomination of currency: the $1 bill.  Yet maybe that’s the most fitting tribute.  Most people have a dollar to their name.  I hope when they see Geo’s face, they might, for a brief moment, remember where we came from and who honorably led the way.
In the meantime, I wonder if we can clone another President Washington from a $1 bill?


Thom Robinson said...

Good choice. Watching Turn Makes me really wonder about him. Odd fellow but of course it's TV. I watched a series called Sons of Liberty and became fascinated with Samuel Adams. He would be my choice

hope said...

Thom: yep, every "good guy" has his quirks. I use to register high school kids to vote with my last job. I would give them 30 second "sound bite" commercials and make them vote just based on that info when I was done. They all where shocked when I described a talented man who sat in the basement with a bird on his shoulder while he wrote speeches...which he paid someone else to give because he had a weak voice. The man? Thomas Jefferson. :) (They were more shocked to learn the "perfect" candidate they all voted for was Nixon).

I saw Sons of Liberty and thought the SAME THING about Adams! I wondered if it was just due to the actor, but it sent me into research mode. It was Adams. Oh the irony of Samuel Adams beer...old Sam's brewery failed. :)