On February 20, we will officially observe Washington’s Birthday, but few today appreciate his great contributions to our nation. Even among homeschooling parents, many can’t explain George Washington’s importance, or his relevance today. Yet during our country’s formative period, for 24 years George Washington was the most important man in America. The sheer length of time tells us there is a lot to learn about this important founding father.
Washington’s relevance today is based on his great role in the founding of the United States. His leadership was indispensable during the Revolutionary War, during the Constitutional Convention, and during the founding of the new government. Because he shaped the new nation, his actions, thoughts, and views are important because they give us a glimpse into what this key founder intended for the future of our great nation.
These are some of the reasons Washington was and continues to be such a crucial person in American history:
1. Washington was the indispensable man of the American Revolution.
As Commander in Chief, during the 8½ years long Revolutionary War, Washington held the Continental Army together under great hardships and brought about victory. Today, we may take our nation’s birth for granted, but independence wasn’t inevitable back then; in fact it was unlikely. Washington’s leadership was in great measure responsible for winning American independence.
2. Washington’s greatest legacy was his unwillingness to abuse, for personal interests, the power bestowed upon him.
For 8 ½ years, Washington held more power than any other man in America, and at the end of the war he could have taken control of the government and become a dictator, a king, or whatever he wished. In fact some officers in the army suggested he do just that. Instead Washington resigned his commission, gave up all his power willingly, and went home. Washington amazed the world of the 18th century, because he did not use his great personal popularity to hold on to power.
3. Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention and helped its ratification.
By agreeing to preside over the Constitutional Convention, he gave it legitimacy. The Constitution was not the popular document it is today -- many had doubts about it. But because the people trusted Washington, even states that were suspicious of the Constitution ratified it only because they trusted him to do what was right for the country.
4. Washington’s trustworthiness influenced greatly the powers given to the presidency of the United States.
Although members of the Constitutional Convention were afraid of powerful rulers, they gave the president great powers because they believed George Washington would be chosen as president, and they trusted him not to abuse that power.
5. Washington practically invented the office and the role of the president.
Since there was no precedent to follow, he used his skill as a statesman to establish the meaning and role of the office of the president. Washington continues to be the role model for the presidency, and the standard by which all other presidents are measured.
6. George Washington established an orderly transfer of power.
Having led the country during its difficult formative years, he could have remained president for life because there were no term limits then. Yet, after two terms as president he once again refused power for life, as he had refused it at the end of the Revolutionary War. He wanted the people to select a new president while he was still alive and have that experience of an orderly and peaceful transfer of power. He gave us the important precedent and example of presidents serving only two terms, a tradition that was followed by every president until Franklin Roosevelt.
George Washington stands for those enduring values of honesty, integrity, courage, self-discipline, and tenacity, and he remains a great example for us. He was a man of honor and character and we are blessed to have such an exceptional legacy. Over 200 years ago President John Adams eulogized George Washington, saying "his example … will teach wisdom and virtue to …men, not only in the present age, but in future generations, as long as our history shall be read."
Of course there is so much more that’s important and inspiring about Washington’s life. There are many interesting stories illustrating his courage, wisdom, beliefs, advice, etc… But, I believe all homeschoolers should start by at least knowing the main reasons for his continuing importance to our nation.
Camelia Sims is the co-author of George Washington: A Timeless Hero, several articles, and a free monthly newsletter History Tidbits. www.zanaworld.com/homeschools.html