Darrell Huckaby: Our first president set strong precedent for those who followed

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

In case you missed all the mattress and furniture sales, the reason the mail didn’t run Monday was because we were celebrating Presidents’ Day — a day set aside to honor all of the men who have served as our supreme leader. Today, however, is the birthday of the man who is known as the Father of our country. That’s right. George Washington was born on Feb. 22, 1732, near Pope’s Creek, Va.

Washington was, among other things, a gentleman farmer -- and, yes, he owned many, many slaves. He was also a surveyor and a soldier, serving with distinction in the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War and, of course, as general of the Continental Army during our own American Revolution. He would be the first war hero elected to the office of President of the United States, but he would not be the last.

Everyone knows the legend of little George cutting down his father's cherry tree and then admitting that he had done it -- supposedly prefacing his confession with "I cannot tell a lie." Wouldn't that be a refreshing attribute for a modern politician to possess?

You may also have heard that Washington once threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River, but that's not such a big deal. Everyone knows that money went a lot further in those days.

Washington served as president of the Constitutional Convention in 1887 and was the unanimous choice of the Electoral College to serve as the first president of our nation. Delegates to the Electoral College were appointed by state legislatures in those days, not voted upon by the people. Our Founding Fathers didn't believe the populace to be informed or intelligent enough to choose the president and we have proved them right over and over and over.

Washington, as you may or may not know, was neither Democrat nor Republican, but a Federalist. He believed in a strong central government, power vested primarily in the affluent, more educated citizens and government programs that supported industry and commerce. He also believed that America should tend to her own affairs, as much as possible, and allow the other nations of the world to attend to theirs. In fact, in his farewell address to the nation, after his second term as president was up, he warned us to always beware of entangling foreign alliances. He didn't want us to get drawn into a war that had nothing to do with our best interests.

Washington was perhaps the perfect person to serve as the first president, because of his lack of ambition and his high character and sense of duty. The people would gladly have proclaimed him king, but he would not hear of it. He was very aware that everything he did in the new office with which he had been bestowed would establish a precedent for those who followed, and in establishing these new precedents was intent on doing what was best for the new country and not for himself or his political party.

In fact, although a Federalist, Washington eschewed party politics, leaving the control of the party itself to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Talk about a precedent having gone by the wayside!

Washington insisted that the president of the United States was not above any private citizen -- how refreshing is that? -- and insisted that he -- and subsequent leaders -- be addressed simply as "Mr. President." Thank goodness. Just imagine seeing the old JFK-Marilyn Monroe clip over and over and over while she sang, "Happy Birthday Your Royal Majestic Excellency... "

Washington also made it clear that the United States was the equal of any nation on earth and insisted that as such, the president of this nation would never bow to a foreign prince or head of state. Well, it worked for the first 220 or so years.

Lest you think Washington was a reticent leader who lacked authority, when the federal excise tax on whiskey was ignored by a group of western Pennsylvania moonshiners, he dusted off his old Revolutionary War uniform and personally led an army of 15,000 troops across the Alleghenies to put down the "rebellion." About 20 of the insurgents were arrested and two were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death, but Washington pardoned both on the grounds that they were basically "too stupid to hang."

After completing his second term Washington refused the third term that could have been his for the taking, insisting that no president should serve more than two terms, lest he become too powerful. Every president followed that lead for almost 200 years, until FDR ran for and was elected to third and fourth terms in the 1940s.

Upon Wasington's death, Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee eulogized Washington by calling him "First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen." Truer words were never spoken. America doesn't produce leaders like George Washington anymore. It's a shame, too. We sure could use one about right now. The good Lord knows, we sure could use one.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.