Steve Scroggins is a volunteer contributor to the Georgia
Heritage Council who lives in Macon. He is the deranged creative force behind
the X-Files parodies.
Washington's Integrity – Commentary by Steve Scroggins, 2/22/2010
"[Washington] errs as other men do, but errs with integrity." --Thomas Jefferson, from letter to William B. Giles, Dec. 31, 1795
Integrity is the word that seems to best sum the father of our Country, the Hero of Liberty and patriot, George Washington.
Though Thomas Jefferson offers a more thorough assessment of Washington (below), he never doubts Washington's character and intregrity. Reviewing what other
contemporaries said of Washington, that firm belief is beyond question.
Students of history and mankind know that Washington wasn't perfect and wasn't a saint, but he
comes closer than most any other leader that could be named. He's been described as the one "indispensable" founder, one without whom the Revolution may have failed
and the Constitution would not have been ratified. He is literally, in every sense, a cornerstone of American history.
On this day of George Washington's birth (February 22nd), it's fitting to reflect on the man's character. From my earliest school memories, the lesson we learned
of Washington was of his honesty and integrity. Even the quote that is often scorned by many historians, though it may be a fabrication, it contains a core of
truth which ample evidence supports.
"I cannot tell a lie," was reportedly the reply George Washington used when he admitted to his father that he chopped down a
prized cherry tree with his hatchet. This story that admittedly sounds somewhat "comic bookish" comes from a book published by Mason Lock "Parson" Weems entitled The Life and
Memorable Actions of George Washington, c. 1800.
Thomas Jefferson penned the following matured assessment of Washington in a letter to Dr. Walter Jones dated January 2, 1814:
"His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong...and, as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder.
It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion... Perhaps, the strongest feature of his character was
prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration was maturely weighed... but once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever
obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known... He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise,
a good and a great man." --Thomas Jefferson, January 2, 1814
Jefferson served as Secretary of State under Washington, he certainly knew first hand how Washington weighed issues of importance with respect to foreign affairs.
And he knew first hand that Washington had no tolerance for improper conduct on the part of officers charged with sacred responsibilities.
"...[T]he executive branch of this government never has, nor will suffer, while I preside, any improper conduct of its officers to escape with impunity..."
--George Washington, letter to Gouverneur Morris, December 22, 1795
One has only to reflect on the Cabinet officers of the Obama administration to appreciate the value of Washington's higher expectations. See tax cheat Tim
Geithner, Eric Holder, Janet Napolitano, rejected nominees Tom Daschle, Leon Panetta, etc., not to mention Obama's numerous questionable czars.
[ Article 1 -
Article 2 ]
But back Washington's indispensable character and role in the Revolution and the founding period. Few people know how close we were to losing Washington's leadership
in the Battle of Brandywine Creek in 1777. The Continental Army had a group of frontier riflemen whose use of the Kentucky long rifle would radically alter
infantry tactics in the future (especially in the War for Southern Independence in the 1860s). Smooth bore muskets, the standard infantry weapon of the time and for
decades to come, could reliably strike a target at 80 yards, maybe 100 for some. And that was the reason Napoleonic tactics called for ranks of men, standing
shoulder to shoulder, to fire mass volleys at one another at close range.
American frontiersmen preferred fighting "Indian style." Though Washington disapproved of the frontiersmen's tactics, mostly because
they were such an unruly lot, their actions as snipers, shooting British redcoats at distances of 200 to 400 yards, definitely demoralized the Brits. The Brits had
their own advocates for long range shooting. A Scottish rifleman named Patrick Ferguson impressed on the British War Office and King George that his new rifle
could consistently hit targets at 200 yards and at a high rate of fire (5-7 shots per minute). Captain Ferguson's company shocked even American frontiersmen at
Brandwine Creek by decimating over a thousand Americans at 300 yards distance.
As recounted in the book, One Shot, One Kill by Charles W. Sasser and Craig Roberts,
Just before the battle began, Captain Ferguson received the opportunity to change the course of history. He drew a bead
on a rebel officer wearing a tricorner hat and riding a horse, but he would not shoot a man in the back. His prospective target was George Washington.
Was it Providence that Washington was riding away from Ferguson and that Ferguson wouldn't shoot targets in the back?
Ferguson was killed at the Battle of King's Mountain while fighting another proponent of long range rifle fire, American Colonel Daniel Morgan. After
Ferguson's death, the British placed his new rifle in storage (for a while).
Providence indeed. Washington himself repeatedly observed the undeniable hand of Providence in winning America's independence. It's not a
coincidence that the cover of Brion McClanahan's book,
The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers,
shows George Washington in uniform, kneeling in prayer.
It is a virtual certainty that Washington would be little remembered if the Americans had not won their independence. As the Mount Vernon
website biography puts it,
To the world's amazement, Washington had prevailed over the more numerous, better supplied, and fully trained British army, mainly because he was more flexible
than his opponents. He learned that it was more important to keep his army intact and to win an occasional victory to rally public support than it was to hold
American cities or defeat the British army in an open field. Over the last 200 years revolutionary leaders in every part of the world have employed this
insight, but never with a result as startling as Washington's victory over the British.
It was Washington's understanding of the politics of war as much as military strategy that enabled his cause to ultimately prevail. In a letter to his elder half
brother, Washington reveals something of his character and his understanding of politics that swayed the events of the founding period.
"I believe I may with great truth affirm that no man perhaps since the first institution of armies ever commanded one under more difficult circumstances than
I have done. To enumerate the particulars would fill a volume. Many of the difficulties and distresses were of so peculiar a cast that, in order to conceal
them from the enemy, I was obliged to conceal them from my friends, and indeed from my own army, thereby subjecting my conduct to interpretations
unfavorable to my character, especially by those at a distance who could not in the smallest degree be acquainted with the springs that governed it."
--George Washington, from letter to John Augustine Washington, March 31, 1776
"If Historiographers should be hardy enough to fill the page of History with the advantages that have been gained with unequal numbers, on the part of
America, in the course of this contest, and attempt to relate the distressing circumstances under which they have been obtained it is more than probable
that Posterity will bestow on their labors the epithet and marks of fiction; for it will not be believed that such a force as Great Britain has employed
for eight years in this Country could be baffled in their plan of Subjugating it by numbers infinitely less, composed of Men oftentimes half starved;
always in Rags, without pay, and experiencing, at times, every species of distress which human nature is capable of undergoing."
--George Washington, Letter to Major General Nathaniel Greene, February 6, 1783
Washington's experiences during the war, especially the troubles he faced in gaining support from the Congress to finance, equip, feed and man the Continental
Army, strongly influenced his nationalist views and the need for a stronger central government. Without his influence and the trust that his reputation for
integrity won, the Constitution would likely never have been ratified. As evidence of this, I offer the quotes below from the Mount Vernon biography of Washington,
and James Monroe's correspondence:
Although Washington longed for a peaceful life at Mount Vernon, the affairs of the nation continued to command his attention. He watched with mounting dismay
as the weak union created by the Articles of Confederation gradually disintegrated, unable to collect revenue or pay its debts. He was appalled by the excesses
of the state legislatures and frustrated by the diplomatic, financial, and military impotence of the Confederation Congress. By 1785 Washington had concluded
that reform was essential. What was needed, he wrote to James Madison, was an energetic Constitution.
In 1787, Washington ended his self-imposed retirement and traveled to Philadelphia to attend a convention assembled to recommend changes to the Articles of
Confederation. He was unanimously chosen to preside over the Constitutional Convention, a job that took four months. He spoke very little in the convention,
but few delegates were more determined to devise a government endowed with real energy and authority. My wish, he wrote, is that the convention may adopt
no temporizing expedients but probe the defects of the Constiution to the bottom and provide a radical cure.
After the convention adjourned, Washington's reputation and support were essential to overcome opposition to the ratification of the proposed Constitution.
He worked for months to rally support for the new instrument of government. It was a difficult struggle. Even in Washington's native Virginia, the
Constitution was ratified by a majority of only one vote.
Once the Constitution was approved, Washington hoped to retire again to private life. But when the first presidential election was held, he received a
vote from every elector. He remains the only President in American history to be elected by the unanimous voice of the people.
--from A Brief Biography of George Washington
"...it is a mark of the power of Washington's character, and of the depth of his countrymen's recognition of his moral stature, that despite this official
silence he played a critical role throughout. For instance, a key provision of the new Constitution-the adoption of a single executive as one of the three
branches of government-was highly controversial due to the delegates' antipathy to anything resembling monarchy. It was the widely held assumption that
Washington would become the first occupant of this executive office that carried the day on this point. And although Washington was not active in the
ratification debates, his approval of the Constitution was well known, and did much to mollify popular concerns.
"James Monroe wrote to Thomas Jefferson after ratification, 'Be assured, [Washington's] influence carried this government.' Thus in the creation of
the longest-lived and most widely-copied constitution in human history, as in the winning of American independence previously, we see the impossibility
of separating the character of Washington from the early nation's accomplishments." --
Constitutional Convention of 1787, pbs.org
Ray Raphael, in his book entitled Founding Myths: Stories that Hide our Patriotic Past, contends that the real American Revolution occurred in the
1760's when the American people began to see themselves more as Americans than Brits. They gradually arrived at the conclusion that they would be better
off as independent states than as economically dominated colonies of the British empire.
John Adams echoes this sentiment as noted by Marcus Cunliffe,
"Instead of adoring Washington, mankind should applaud the nation which educated him... I glory in the character of Washington, because I know him to be only
an exemplification of the American character." --John Adams, In George Washington, Man and Monument, by Marcus Cunliffe, 1785.
Washington amazed the world when he resigned his commission as Commander in Chief following the war. He amazed them again when he stepped down after two terms
as President. King George III asked his American painter Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. "They say he will return to
his farm," replied West. "If he does that," the incredulous monarch said, "he will be the greatest man in the world."
[ The Man Who Would Not Be King - David Boaz, Feb. 2006, cato.org ]
A consistent theme on the GHC website, especially in our Liberty Lost
series, and our Perils of Democracy
series, has been to draw a comparison between the rank corruption we see now and the moral foundations of liberty we see illustrated in the founding period and
the founding principles from which we've strayed so far. Without this
generation of amazing heroes, the Founding Fathers, as exemplified by George Washington, the course of history for America and the world would indeed be very
different---and without question unfavorably different.
Comparing Day and Night - X-Files parody
On this occasion of Washington's birth, the natural question comes to mind, "What would Washington think of our modern government and country?" Resisting
the temptation to go with the cliche of "rolling over in their graves," let's consider Washington's character as briefly illuminated above.
America's victory over the British has been ascribed to Washington's greater flexibility by the Mount Vernon biographers. Conversely, Jefferson notes that
Washington's justice was "the most inflexible I have ever known" meaning that once Washington had weighed the facts, his pursuit of justice could not be
swayed by personal affections or any opposing obstacles. Washington would obviously be shocked by some of the events that led to our current state of
affairs. If he were transported to the present and was unable to change the past, what would he do now?
I think the best summary of Washington's views on government can be found in his
Farewell Adress of 1796. We note that the drafting of this
message was aided by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton (the two principle authors of
The Federalist Papers), but that the primary ideas and
concerns were those of Washington.
I'll just note a list of key points for comparison. This list will make more sense if you first read the Farewell Adress at the link above.
"A fire not to be quenched; it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming it should consume."
---George Washington, Farewell Adress of 1796, page 18.
Sectional Parties and special interests
In pages 6 through 18, Washington warns (at length) the country against sectional disputes and jealousies and especially sectional parties where one
section might seek to
gain advantage over another through the common government. This warning was indeed prophetic as the first truly sectional party was the Republican Party
which determined to economically control and loot the South by means of the Morrill Tariff (1860). Of course, these tariffs were a source of dispute
going back to the 1820s and constitutional crisis of 1832. This long-established sectional split led to the secession of southern states and the Republican
party's determination to crush the South by force if it couldn't keep the southern states on the taxpayer plantation.
Next, Washington warned against constitutional usurpations and beseeched Americans to follow the Constitution's established method of Amendment in order
to make any necessary changes.
If in the opinion of the People, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an
amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the
instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.
---George Washington, Farewell Adress of 1796, page 19.
As we've noted in various commentaries,
the notable usurpations (power grabs) of Lincoln, FDR and LBJ have done the most damage in terms of expanding the
size and scope of the central government by trampling the state's powers to check and control abuse. Ultimately, much of the responsibility for these errors
and mistakes must be laid at the feet of the American people, whose corruption and neglect prevented them from taking appropriate corrective actions to stop
or reverse the unconstitutional power grabs.
We stand at the brink of the precipice. We can see the economic train wreck just ahead. Is America
"Ripe for Destruction" ? Or will we step
back from the edge and move toward asserting our rights as a sovereign people? The elections of 2010 will tell a lot.
Morality and Religion
Next, Washington warned against moral corruption and asserted the need for morality and religion to maintain our liberty. Modern efforts by the ACLU and the
proponents of the 'progressive' religion of secular humanism to remove every vestige of religion and moral guidance from public view cannot escape
our notice. Their efforts do shake the foundation on which our country's greatness was established.
'Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every
species of Free Government. Who that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric.
---George Washington, Farewell Adress of 1796, page 20.
Knowledge and Education
Next Washington expressed the need for education of the people (especially with regard to their government), in order that they might maintain their liberty.
Without question, America's terrifying ignorance of history enables rogues and traitors to persuade them in undesirable directions. This is discussed at
some length in another commentary.
Public Debt and preserving credit
"As a very important source of strength & security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible..."
---George Washington, Farewell Adress of 1796, page 21.
Next Washington warned that having credit was necessary for emergencies, and could best be preserved by using it sparingly. The avoidance of public
debt has been a concept completely alien to the Congress since the late 20th century. Our massive debt now looms so large that payments of interest
exceed the entire budget for defense. The U.S. Debt clock presents a terrifying picture indeed.
And our current Congress wants to pile on trillions more in debt to finance the unconstitutional notion of universal healthcare as new entitlement
we cannot afford!
When asked about constitutional authority to mandate that Americans buy health insurance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's
famous reply was, "Are you serious?
Are you serious?" The American people, to their credit---as manifested in the Tea Parties of 2009-2010--- have responded to the unprecedented spend-fest
with a question of their own: "Are you crazy? Are you crazy?" Whether that anger translates to action at the ballot box (Nov. 2010) remains to be
Commerce and Trade with all nations, entangling alliances with none
Washington uses the remainder of the address, pages 22 to 32, to warn against "entangling alliances" with foreign nations. Since the United States rose to
Super Power empire status after World War II, we have formed more and more entangling alliances. To some extent, part of it can be justified in
the efforts to win the Cold War and defeat communism. The long sought "peace dividend" anticipated with the end of the Cold War never materialized. Another
warrior turned President, Dwight Eisenhower, warned us of the Military Industrial Complex.
our association with the United Nations (and in some cases, on our own), we have continually meddled in the internal affairs of nations around the globe. We maintain military bases and
troops at locations around the world. These obviously have more to do with maintaining our control of economic interests and politics around the world than
they do with defending our country against attack. Our presence on foreign soil is a constant source of agitation by peoples who would otherwise not be
an enemy, or at least not a threat, to America or her people.
Though Washington repeatedly advocated for a strong military and constant readiness for war as a means to preserve peace, he clearly never envisioned or
supported the idea of the United States being a world policeman or a world empire. Those nasty entangling alliances require our involvement in perpetual war
which requires the contant use of public debt and higher taxes for Americans --- not to mention the expenditures in American blood.
I think the above summary of Washington's Farewell Address answers many questions about "What Would Washington do?" in response to our current situation.
First of all, live by the Constitution, or change it in the approved manner to meet changing needs.
Upon being unanimously elected as president of the Philadelphia convention in 1787, George Washington famously said, "Let us raise a standard to which the wise
and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God."
What better standard can Americans raise as an example of honesty and integrity than George Washington? As Americans, it's up to us to hold our elected
leaders to a higher standard. We have failed in that duty. Miserably.
The now defunct Federalist Party used a common slogan in the 1790s: "Stand with Washington." It's now time for Americans of all parties as well as
independents to Stand with Washington, to adhere to his wisdom and his example of integrity. For the sake of our children's future, and the future of
Liberty around the world, we must take back our government from the entrenched special interests and return to our roots in the LIMITED government
articulated in the Constitution.
is Commander of the Lt. James T. Woodward Camp 1399, Sons of Confederate
Veterans, in Warner Robins, GA. He is the deranged creative force behind
the X-Files parodies.
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Comparing Day and Night: Washington v. Obama - X-Files parody, 2/22/10
Voting Rights, Responsibilities (Part 2) - Steve Scroggins, 2/19/10
Voting Rights, Responsibilities (Part 1) - Steve Scroggins, 2/08/10
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Perils of Democracy - Part 3 - J.A. Davis & Steve Scroggins
Perils of Democracy - Part 4 - J.A. Davis & Steve Scroggins
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An Important Distinction: Democracy versus Republic
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FDR's 'rewriting' of the Constitution - Ben Shapiro
FDR v. Constitution: The Court-Packing Fight and the Triumph of Democracy - by Burt Solomon
Crisis and Leviathan - by Robert Higgs
Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War - by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel
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Liberty Lost - Part 1 - J.A. Davis
Liberty Lost - Part 2 - J.A. Davis
Liberty Lost - Part 3 - J.A. Davis
Liberty Lost - Part 8 - J.A. Davis
Repeal the 17th Amendment - articlev.com
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