In the race to end “toxic masculinity,” tear down statues, and rename schools, we risk losing something very precious: our history and the stories that unite us as Americans. When we choose to believe the worst about our nation, we may miss valuable lessons in life and leadership from our forefathers. In other words, if we perpetually tear down, we oppose efforts to build up. And since last Sunday was Father’s Day, I invite you to join me in combing through the pages of history to take a fresh look at the Father of our country: George Washington, a man who left an indelible mark on our American Heritage.
By honoring heroes like Washington, we choose to believe that there is some good in this world that is worth living up to and fighting for. Heroes become our role models and the people that we look up to. Are heroes perfect? No way! In fact, no one is perfect! (Chris Pratt just reminded us all of this in his awesome award speech.) We all make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find amazing people and stories in history worth celebrating. And George Washington is definitely a hero worth celebrating.
On the long list of American heroes, George Washington is rightly known as “the indispensable man.” Without him, there would be no United States of America. He dedicated his entire life to a higher calling, and he embodies American courage and greatness like no other. While continually sacrificing his private life and comfort, he served as our nation’s first president, commander in chief of the Continental Army, and president of the Constitutional Convention. Under his leadership, America not only won its war for independence but also established a new system of government to secure its liberty.
Fellow brother in arms, Congressman Henry Lee penned perhaps the most famous words about Washington in an official eulogy delivered on December 28, 1799:
“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. Pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting…. Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues.”
While Washington was certainly a man of action, he was also known as a sincere gentleman because his actions were guided by a strong moral compass. He began intentionally cultivating his character as a young man. In fact, when he was just sixteen he copied down 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” This early primer on etiquette instructed readers on how to show respect to superiors, how to extend mercy to offenders, and everything in between. By learning simple rules of decent manners and conduct, Washington developed a lifestyle of humility, modesty, kindness, and courage.
Later on in life, Washington regularly warned young men to learn good habits and an uncompromising practice of virtue because they would be the building blocks of a good reputation and a good life. Virtues like justice, prudence, fortitude, temperance, and humility cannot be taken for granted. Instead they must be taught, trained and practiced. Furthermore, Washington knew that America was designed only for a virtuous and moral people. If we desire to live as self-governing individuals in a free nation, we must acquire discipline and self-control over our attitudes, appetites, and actions.
Washington’s heroic example challenges us to be good and to do good. The habits we form when we are young and the small choices we make every day shape the person we will become. Becoming a leader does not happen by accident. It is a process that begins with forging our character, and becomes a life-long pursuit of truth and virtue.
Click here to read more about Washington as a statesman, and here for more general info on the life and legacy of George Washington.
Stay tuned for more spotlights on American heroes on Bailey’s new blog every Wednesday! Next week, we’ll cover Washington: The General.