Today in history, on Feb. 22, 1732, George Washington, proud Virginian and father of his country, was born. He was an indispensable force in America’s struggle against Britain, and his presence was instrumental in both the War of Independence and the constitutional settlement that followed the war.

While an unknown Colonel in the Virginia militia, George Washington’s ambush on a French scouting party led to the outbreak of the French and Indian War, the North American theater of the Seven Years War. When a later failed expedition went awry, Washington and future opponent Thomas Gage later played key roles in organizing the retreat from Fort Duquesne. Through these experiences, he learned much valuable information concerning the British military establishment, their tactics, and their possible flaws, and received much adulation from Virginia’s military establishment.

Washington rose to prominence in the Second Continental Congress, where John Adams nominated him to take control of the Continental Army. Although he faced many defeats, and his military victories were overshadowed by other American generals, he personally financed much of the war and became the beating heart of the army. He personally financed much of the Continental Army, and the war itself.

He resigned his military commission in 1783 when he readily could have usurped national power under a ruling authority. When he heard of this news, even King George III declared that “If he [Washington] does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” When British negotiators approached him during the war he deferred to Congress rather than assert his own interests. He was seen as incorruptible, and first in the hearts of his countrymen in his day.

In my estimation, his presidency was of mixed success. Political controversy divided the new union, and his first term overshadowed his second.

The federal assumption of state debts, the advent of Alexander Hamilton’s national bank, the issuance of the Neutrality Proclamation, the adoption of the Jay Treaty, and his response to the Whiskey Rebellion were all incredibly controversial events.

On all of these things, I believe Washington’s ultimate position was contrary to the Constitution, but those decisions were not arrived to without the continual urging of influential Federalist forces, especially Hamilton. Even so, Washington established executive etiquette for the office and many customs, many of which last even to today.

Truly, his lasting importance and influence is unrivaled.

Dave Benner

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