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    This country has, in it's relatively short history, had no shortage of great men. There is a brilliance to mankind which seems to be set ablaze by freedom, opportunity, and incentive, such as that traditionally offered by our culture, and by our way of life. If I had to choose the greatest man (for those of you who wish to be politically correct, merely strike the word man, and replace it with whatever), there might be a few select individuals; but if I had to chose the greatest American, it could only be that perennial favorite, George Washington.
    It has become a popular pastime for revisionist historians to disparage the greatness of this man. They will harp on the wooden teeth, the financially advantageous marriage, the many lost battles, the aloofness, and the often violent temper, as well as the fact that Washington, like most of his peers, was a slave owner. This type of reasoning comes from small people, attempting to cast shadows upon a fallen giant, by obsessing over what are mere details, natural human failings, or normal facets of a personality shaped by the times. Still, when the sun is setting, as it often seems to be doing on Western civilization, small things can cast long shadows all out of proportion to their size. If these people are trying to tell us that Washington was not without his flaws, few would disagree. However, if they are attempting to convince us that this in any way reduces the scope of what he accomplished, or makes him anything other than a great man, they are fools, so far removed from greatness themselves that they are unable to comprehend it when it's beacon blazes forth.
    Greatness is not about perfection, or there would be no great men in the world, it is about achievement, and about the way that a great man deals with success, as opposed to how a less than great man might react. Greatness may also be reflected, and often is, by how a man deals with failure, defeat, and disappointment, and how he might raise himself above such things. So greatness is often if not always, about character. There have been many able men in history, but few of them have had the vision or the character to turn their abilities, and their triumphs into greatness. There is a great old saying which tells us that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. In the same way, greatness, as well as heroism, can be said to be where character meets circumstance.
    So what did Washington do to prove himself a great man? There were three things generally recognized by historians. The first was that he held the Army together through hard times, and that he headed the Army, when we eventually did defeat the British. The second was that he laid down his power, and the third was that he set a shining example of how to lead a great nation, and set many precedents for his office. All three of these accomplishments were great achievements, but the laying down of power, was greatness itself. King George of England, upon hearing that Washington was to lay down his power, stated that if Washington were to do such a thing, it would make him the greatest man in history. Still let's look at these widely recognized achievements individually.
    Washington was one of only three generals who were in the war from beginning to end. Recall that this war lasted from 1776, until 1783, and for most of it, America was losing, and seemed destined to lose. In those days, soldiers signed on for a year of service, and then left, sometimes in the middle of a battle, making Washington's long term commitment all the more notable, and his management of such an army all the more difficult. Hindsight tends to give us the view that many things were inevitable, which in fact were not inevitable at all, at the time. The victory of America over Britain, and the formation of the United States, was one such event. Most of the "patriots" of the day had little future prospect beyond hanging, or the life of a fugitive. The future nation was also just about evenly divided between those who were rebels, and between the loyalists. Even many of the rebels still considered themselves to be good Englishmen, fighting for the rights guaranteed them by English common law, and denied them by a self absorbed Parliament. Indeed, there are accounts of Washington and his generals drinking toasts to the health of the King, while on campaign during the Revolutionary War. Such was the weakness, confusion, and softness of the emerging republic. So who was Washington, and what was he giving up in this uncertain cause?
    George Washington was born February 22, 1732, to Augustine and Mary Ball Washington at Popes Creek Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia. When his father died in 1743, eleven year old George inherited the small Ferry Farm on the Rappahannock River, where he was then living with his mother and siblings, while his older half brother Lawrence Washington inherited the larger farm at the junction of the Little Hunting Creek and Potomac Rivers that he renamed Mount Vernon. As he grew to maturity, young George had little use for the meager prospects at the Ferry Farm plantation. After flirting briefly with the idea of a career in the Royal Navy, he began studying geometry and surveying, using a set of surveyor's instruments from the storehouse at Ferry Farm.
    Frontier surveyors could earn an annual cash income that was exceeded only by the colony's finest trial lawyers, and it was during this time that Washington began a life long relationship with the powerful and influential Fairfax family that gave the young surveyor access to the upper echelons of Virginia society. He was, at the age of 17, appointed to the King's service as a surveyor, and was able to make many good investments, as well as securing himself a very advantageous marriage. Washington was a tall man, and good looking in his youth. He was well thought of, wealthy, connected, and talented. He was also to distinguished himself as a militia colonel in the French and Indian War. In short, Washington was on top of the world, at the outbreak of the revolution. All of this ended, possibly forever, when he took up the position of general in the fledgling Army of the rebels.
    Without Washington, it seems likely that the Revolutionary War would have been lost. It was such a near thing, even with his leadership. One of his greatest achievements was the sublimation of his own desire for glory, allowing him to turn away from battle if the circumstances were not advantageous, which was nearly always the case. He was then, and to a lesser extent continues to be, criticized for this; but those who treat him in such a manner seem unaware of his mission, and of the mission of the Army. His purpose was not to get his army destroyed, in some glorious battle, but to use it as a tool in order to keep the English always ill at ease, and to secure the winning of the war. As George Patton said, over 150 years latter "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." This was a bit of military strategy that Washington knew, and was able to implement, even at the expense of his reputation. For a proud man, and an able military man, this may have been as great a sacrifice as any of the others.
    Even so, the war started off badly, and never really went well, until very nearly the end. The men were constantly leaving, grumbling, running away, and even planning mutiny. The supplies were always of poor quality, and insufficient quantity, pay was slow in coming, and was generally in script, and the loyalty, as well as the resolve of even the officers was often suspect. Washington and his Army seemed to blunder from disaster to disaster, when they were not running away. Washington would then, from time to time, have to appear in Philadelphia, and attempt to beg money from a very reluctant Continental Congress, to support the army that was always running away, in a war that everyone expected to lose. This has to rate as a greater achievement than that of most generals in most battles.
    In the end, Washington won by pure dogged persistence. There was the aid of the French, and the growing discontent in England with the war, but it is unlikely that either of these would have occurred without Washington's continued efforts to draw out the war, and the long term survival of his army. A clue to this remarkable tenacity might be found by a part of a talk given to his men on the eve of the victory at Trenton, a time at which all seemed lost. He told his men, "If every man does his part, I can not guaranty success; but if every man does his part, I can guaranty you that we will deserve it."
    In previous times, Washington, as victor, would have set himself up as ruler, once the war was won. This would have been considered nothing more than his due, by the people of the day. This is the source of most hereditary rulerships, emperors, and Ceasars, as well as numerous present day dictators. America was to have no King George of it's own, however. Washington laid down command of his army, the only military force in the colonies, against which no other force at that time and place could have stood, and retired to his plantation. As a military man, having won the war, he wisely left the organization and management of the peace to those having the abilities to do it best. The greatness of this act is vividly demonstrated by the fate of many of the other colonies which revolted and fought their way to independence, and were then ruled by the victorious military. The majority of them became what we today refer to as the Third World. These are countries notable for their poverty, misery, and dictatorial governments.
   Washington had the whole army at his command, but he would not have really needed it, had he wished to rule. The people held him in such high acclaim that he could have been voted dictator for life. Latter events proved that it was not a lack of desire for high office, nor was it fear of the great responsibility, or a military man's natural distaste for administration and politics, which prevented him from assuming power. Washington certainly wanted the power, but understood that there was a proper way to attain it, within the bounds of the new nation that was in the process of being formed, and with the idea of retaining the liberty which was bought as such a high price. This high price was something that Washington, as a general, had seen paid first hand, and he had no desire to squander such a precious thing for petty self interest. How differently might the history of Rome, Greece, and many other great civilizations have read if the leaders of their day would have exercised similar judgment and restraint.
    The only other example of this, during those times was that of Oliver Cromwell, roughly a century before Washington, and a  great man in his own right. Cromwell had set Parliament up as the ruler of the nation, after his victory over the royalist forces of King Charles, and the beheading of that ruler. The victors had wished to set Cromwell up as the new king, considering this to be the natural course of events, and saying that the idea of England without a king was unthinkable. To these ambitions, Cromwell answered "Did we cut off this king's head, merely to steal his crown?" Still, Cromwell somewhat tarnished this image in some eyes, when he latter came out of retirement, and assumed the title of Lord Protector, virtually dictator, after Parliament misused it's powers to suspend elections indefinitely for a new Parliament, and to better the station of it's members. Washington never took it upon himself to do such a thing, even when he may have been at odds with members of the newly established American legislature.
    Cromwell may have had a greater effect on Washington, and the other leaders of the revolution, than is often credited. The civil war that he won in England, had many of it's roots in the religious institutions which formed much of the mechanism of the state. Cromwell had died in 1658, only 74 years before the birth of George Washington. It is likely that the events of the English Civil Wars, and of the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, were still fresh in the minds of many older people, and his successes were all too ready a source of inspiration for those who were seeking to once more rebel against the crown. The experiences of England during it's civil  wars, as well as the problems with Ireland, Scotland, and much of the discontent in the German states, and parts of France, may have influenced the idea of a prohibition against any sort of religious bans, which has been recently (possibly intentionally) misinterpreted as a strict separation between church and state. It may also be, that Washington, as well as many others, noted that Cromwell had won the war, only to lose the peace. His seizure of power, and the constraints under which he ruled the nation as a protectorate, caused much of his work to be undone after his death, even to the point that his dead body was dug up, and ritually beheaded.
    Once the American Revolutionary War was won, there was still the question of what to do with this newly achieved liberty. It is one thing to win a war, but something else again to build a government. It took years for the Constitution to be drafted, redrafted, revised, argued over, voted on, and finally passed. Washington was notably absent from these proceedings, leaving this type of thing to men more able and more temperamentally suited to the task. In any event, it was not the type of thing he would have enjoyed. Washington, was a military man, with a military man's appreciation of order, loyally, and discipline, none of which were in notable  attendance at the Constitutional convention, nor in the country as a whole. In point of fact, to most people, the idea of the country as a whole was not a concept.
    The original Articles of Confederation, which had bound the thirteen colonies together, had created an alliance against a common enemy. This hardly constituted a nation, or even a government. Once freed from the need to ally against the common enemy, the colonies took stock of themselves, and of each other, and many realized that they had little in common, even to the extent that their interests often opposed one another. It seemed reasonable to suppose, at this time, that the colonies might now go their separate ways, as they had before the war. They each had their own government, many had their own currency, and most had a newly discovered sense of independent identity.
    Some type of agreement had to be reached between the colonies, in order to ease trade, determine and pay off war debts, and prevent the kind of conflict that could result in war between the colonies. It was in this mindset that the conventions which were to result in the Constitution, and in the formation of the United States were attended by delegates of all of the colonies. Most of the people, and most of the delegates to the conventions, saw themselves as citizens of their colony, latter of their state, and did not see the United Stated as a unified nation, so much as an alliance of states with some common interests. So tenuous was the bond, that this matter was never entirely resolved by agreement, and it was not until 1861 that, as in 1776, the matter was resolved by war. In both cases, the gulf between the sides was to great for there to be any agreement reached. In both cases, one side would need to impose it's will on the other, or be prevented from doing so.
    To most foreign observers, and even to most revolutionary leaders, America was "The Great Experiment". This was to be an experiment in nominally democratic rule. In a day when the ruling class was sincerely believed to be bred, destined, and uniquely qualified by heredity for rulership, the idea of regular men ruling themselves was as revolutionary as the war and the break from England itself. Indeed, according to the thinking of the day, any such nation, without a proper ruling class in place was doomed to anarchy. Who would keep order by properly reigning in the lower inclinations of the lower orders? Certainly, it could not be the members of the lower orders themselves. Such a thing was unthinkable, and against the perceived natural order of things.
    Indeed, much of the eighteenth century concern over the behavior of common men, once released from the proper oversight of their betters, seems to have been justified by the events of the French Revolution, a few years latter. It has also been proven countless times during periods of civil unrest, riots, and poorly led rebellions. If history proves anything, it is that men, being very social creatures, while at the same time being rather self directed, need to be led to some extent, in order to prevent constant chaos and strife. In retrospect, it seems that the American revolution, like so many others, was fought not to free men from the rulership of other men, but do determine the form that that rulership would take, and from what class the proper stewards of this leadership might be selected. Now that the bonds of order and accepted authority had been broken, what would be their replacement?
    It took the Founding Fathers six years of debate, argument, consideration, and compromise to come up with the answer. This answer turned out to be The Constitution, a remarkably short document, which gave the principles and instructions for the running of what was to become the greatest nation in the world. The Constitution did not seek to micro manage, but set out broad principles, which were to be adhered to by the states, and by the elected representatives of the people in the federal government. In The Constitution, and particularly in the preamble, can be seen all of the fears, and hopes, distrust, and common cause of the men who sought to make a place for freedom in the world. So now the die was cast; but who would guide the first steps of this new born nation as it toddled along an uncertain road, and watch over it until it was able to walk under it's own power? In retrospect, it could only have been one man.
    In point of fact, Washington's honorary title of "father of his country" may be more apt than is at first apparent. He was one of the few men who was so universally revered in the colonies, that he could have been taken seriously as the leader of them all in a United States. His actions, and his respect for the institutions newly created, demonstrated that he saw himself as a leader rather than a ruler. This is an important distinction, too often forgotten by the politicians of today. A ruler does what he wishes, taking the nation where he pleases. A leader takes the nation where the people want it to go, even if they might sometimes lose their direction.
    That Washington loved this new nation, valued, and desired within it, a position of power, there can be little doubt. In all humans, there is lust, greed, the need to dominate, and the need to satisfy one's own desires, to possess the object of one's desire regardless of cost to the other parties, or even to that object of desire itself. Giving in to these inclinations, becoming enslaved to them, is not the mark of a great, or even of a good man. This has been the downfall of many able and talented men, as well as numerous men of normal abilities.
    There are two ways that a man might treat the object of his desire, whether a nation, a woman, or something else. The first is to give in to the baser instincts, and proceed to ravage, violate, and rape. This seldom turns out well, and has become all too familiar a pattern in both the political and the personal patterns of modern day life. If such actions and attitudes lead to an unhealthy, abusive, and ultimately doomed relationship in a person's personal life, they also produce the nation equivalent of a dysfunctional family, when practiced by those wielding power.
    The second way to treat an object of desire, is to act out of love, and to consider the needs of the all parties involved, carefully pacing one's passions, and looking out for needs outside of one's self. This second course of action requires decency, restraint, maturity, kindness, and morality; but most of all, it requires genuine love. This was what prevented Washington from violating the new nation when he had the chance, and is also what made him so conscious of the way he conducted himself, and his office. Like any good father and husband, looking out for the needs of his developing family, Washington carefully considered his role, and the way that he exercised his headship. This was a nation which was nurtured, and whose first few uncertain steps were overseen, by a loving and dutiful father.
    Washington died in 1799, the last year of the century into which he had been born. It is pretty much taken as a given these days, that he died largely through the misdirected efforts of his doctor. Still, the timing of his death was rather fitting, and may have been a great favor to him, as he was very much an eighteenth century man. The changes of the  nineteenth century turned America into a place that would have been astonishing, and unrecognizable to most of those who had freed it from England. Had Washington lived another ten or twenty years, what would his reaction have been to the War of 1812, The Louisiana Purchase, the beginning of the opening of the west, and the subsequent problems with native americans? It is difficult to imagine the members of he revolutionary generation, living in that soon to be made world, so different from that into which they had been born. Washington, and his fellows, the so called Founding Fathers, were shining examples of their day, but progress and time obsolesce us all. Or do they?
    The men who founded the revolution were cultured members of a distinct upper class, not so very different from the members of the titled nobility against whose perquisites they were fighting. Even so these men were part of no titled nobility, and so did not see themselves as men apart from ordinary men. They were the vanguard of a new type of man which was to dominate the next couple of centuries. This was a generation of men in a class of men, which achieved it's position and rank through merit, and believed strongly in self determination, self improvement, and self worth. The had the pride of men who had earned their place in the world, but not the haughtiness, and vanity of those who thought that place to be theirs by right, and by the natural order of things. That is to say, they had the pragmatism of working men, but the self determination and confidence of royalty. The last time that a class of men of this caliber had come into being, was with the rise of the renaissance men, hundreds of years earlier. In both cases, the rise of a new type of man, brought about the beginnings of a new type of world. Though they may have seemed out of place in the world of the next century, It may be that in we have not passed beyond them, but have more accurately receded from the place to which they brought us, having lost much of the freedom and determinism which they introduced into the world.
    Without the United States, the world would be quite a different, and inferior place. Had the U.S. not achieved independence, it is unlikely that Canada would have done so, well over a century latter, nor Australia, nor India, nor a score of other former colonies. Without the American victory, it is unlikely that the French Revolution would have begun. The French Revolution, terrible event that it was, set the pace for a new Europe, which was to divest itself of the kings, princes, and other symbols of hereditary rulership, feudalism, and despotism. Without Washington, and a number of other great men, the United States would never have come into being. It took a number of great events, to give this nation it's birth.
    Great events do not just happen, they are the result of individual action. Are unfree men capable of individual action, is it even a concept in their minds? Can greatness occur without freedom. Are there any great unfree men? The whole thing seems to be a contradiction in terms. As freedom disappears, and we become more a nation which embraces conformity in the place of order, and trend in the place of individualism, we shall see far fewer great men. They shall be sorely missed. Greatness needs scope in order to flourish. This is a real tragedy, because it is in such a fallen society were these things do not exist, or are not permitted to exist, that we need our great men the most.