The Bible says without a vision the people perish. The first US Persident, George Washington had a vision. He saw the vast potential of America and a people who would build the greatest nation on earth.
His image appears on US dollar bills and quarters, and in the US capitol there is a huge monument to him. But can studying the life of the first president inspire Americans in our day? Should it matter whether Americans want to learn more about this great man in our history? In today’s troubled times, the answer has to be a definite yes.
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in Virginia to Gus and Mary Washington. In later life he would joke that he didn’t know the exact date of his birth because England changed calendars in the middle of that century.
We have much history on the life of George Washington. His father died when he was eleven. As a young teenager, he started saving virtually every scrap of paper that had anything to do with him: letters, diaries, accounts and many other transactions of his life.
From his early years there always seemed a great desire to learn proper behavior around others, and also a concern for doing what is right. When he was sixteen he copied from The Rules of Civility, a guidebook explaining how to act in the company of others. Later in life, he often used the word civility in many of his writings and speeches.
Did destiny come into play in the life of Washington and the future of the US as a nation? Some seem to think so, and with the study of that history, a couple of questions come to mind. What if there had been no George Washington or what if he had been killed during his military service? Many historians say the United States possibly would not exist today if it hadn’t been for George Washington.
In 1775, Reverend Samuel Davies speculated on why George Washington wasn’t killed when two horses were shot out from under him during the French and Indian War of the 1750s? “Providence had preserved him for some important service to his country,” he said.
In a letter to one of his brothers after the Revolutionary War, Washington elaborated on the subject. “But for that Providence which has never failed us,” he wrote. He always seemed to believe that God had guided his life and that there was a bountiful Hand involved in the nation’s founding. When someone asked him how his small army stood up against the professional British troops, he remarked…”The only resource America had was a confident trust that we should not be forsaken by Heaven.”
Washington seemed to have a great sense of the future of America. He spoke about what he saw after a long canoe trip going west on the Ohio River. “A land so pristine and vast to stagger’s one’s imagination,” he said. Despite the presence of Indians who lived and hunted there, he believed it was the destiny of all Americans to possess the land.
After the presidency
As the first US President, he set the standard for all future presidents to follow. After serving two terms, he was ready to return to the place he loved: Mount Vernon. When someone suggested he make himself a crowned ruler of America he became angry because building a great nation and democracy wasn’t just about him. The King of England said Washington would be the greatest man alive if he returned to his farm and left the presidency. And, that is exactly what Washington did.
Civility in Death
George Washington died on December 14, 1799. Richard Brookhiser, in his book, Rediscovering George Washington said there were deaths appropriate for tyrants and for saints. He said Stalin flung his arms just before his last breath, “as to fend off wolves.”
According to those present there was no flinging of Washington’s arms and there were no outbursts. He even thanked his attendants for their care. Brookhiser wrote that in the end, George Washington died as he had lived, “with civility.”