On Monday, we celebrate George Washington’s birthday, as we have for almost 200 years.
Contrary to popular belief and the efforts of salesmen throughout the land, no Congress nor president has ever changed this celebration to the abomination that is “Presidents Day.” That’s good, because the assortment of mostly mediocre American presidents deserves no celebration.
George Washington, born in Virginia on Feb. 22, 1732, is quite another matter.
He dropped out of school at the age of 15 to tend to the family farm, do a bit of surveying, and dabble in real estate. He wrote no books. He wasn’t a particularly gifted orator. He wasn’t the richest man of his time or place.
He was, however, a natural and fearless military officer, having been entrusted with commands by the British army during the French and Indian War when he was just 22 years old. He defeated that same British army, widely considered the best in the world, 25 years later in the Revolutionary War.
More importantly, he was a natural leader. He guided the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention and enhanced its deliberations by his calming presence. Those deliberations were, of course, made easier by the certain knowledge among the delegates that Washington would be the first president of the new republic.
He voluntarily stepped down as president after two terms, setting a precedent that no one even thought to challenge until the republic ran across the unfortunately authoritarian and grasping Roosevelts.
For 250 years, he has set the standard for presidents, generals and American leaders in all fields. To date, no one has entirely matched it.
Even in death, he helped the nation he did so much to create. In the wake of a Civil War that would have destroyed any other country or people, North and South managed to rally around the memory of General Washington, which became a unifying force.
It is no accident that the U.S. Senate in 1862 commemorated the 130th anniversary of Washington’s birth by reading aloud his Farewell Address. In a special joint session, the entire Congress, with several Cabinet officials, listened to the secretary of state read the address aloud. In time, the reading of the Farewell Address in the Senate became a tradition that is observed to this day.
It is also not coincidental that the state of Washington, admitted to the union in 1889, chose the name of someone who had no physical connection to the state at all.
In 1965, the historian and writer James Flexner called him the “indispensable man.” The British military called him “the Fox” because of his consistent ability to elude their superior forces during the Revolutionary War.
We simply call him the “father of our country” because that is what he was. He made life better for every American who has ever lived, and because America has been a force for good in the world, he, in turn, made life better for just about everyone on the planet.
That is quite an achievement for one lifetime.
So, if you get a moment this Washington’s Birthday, make sure to think about the first, and greatest, president with whom the United States was blessed, and be grateful.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.