1776 wshSometimes I recoil a little when somebody declares that there can be an American president greater than George Washington. Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee declared Washington, “First in the hearts of his countrymen.” Washington is great for many things, but perhaps he is greatest for the manner in which he surrendered power not once but twice.

One of the best recent commentaries written on Washington is David Boaz’s, “The Man Who Would Not Be King.” In the piece from 2006, Boaz wonderfully sums up the depth of Washington’s immense character and what that means for liberty and America. The entire commentary is worth reading but the conclusion is especially poignant:

From his republican values Washington derived his abhorrence of kingship, even for himself. The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice – at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington.

Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

Washington’s moral model of leadership is timeless. In everything he said and did, he affirmed the spirit of the American Revolution. His fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson noted, Washington would “rather be in his grave than in his present situation [the presidency]; that he had rather be on his farm than to be made Emperor of the world.” All Americans should study Washington because he is the embodiment the principles of liberty. His peers would all argue and did, that in America there was no leader who possessed greater virtue. Charles Francis Adams, the son of President John Quincy Adams, declared of Washington:

More than all, and above all, Washington was master of himself. If there be one quality more than another in his character which may exercise a useful control over the men of the present hour, it is the total disregard of self when in the most elevated positions for influence and example.

  • Really

    Can you add a little more info like what he did for rest of his life.

    • RayNothstine

      I would recommend reading “Washington’s Crossing” by David Hackett Fischer or the single volume of Thomas Flexner’s bio of Washington titled “The Indispensable Man.”

  • JJ truth

    First off, George Washington belonged to the now extinct “Whig Party” he was never a republican. Secondly how he surrendered his power is irrelevant when the constitution limited terms to prevent any president remaining in office for life thus preventing a monarchy. As to the writer’s claim of Washington as the so called “embodiment of the principles of liberty” rings hollow since the Spirit of truth has revealed its knowledge of Washington. Time tells no lies and truth is absolute its exposed Washington. A man who sought to keep other human beings in chains without liberty reduced to the status of cattle and crushed in mind, body, heart & hope. God has already revealed Washington’s place in history a hypocrite. Laud him for helping to form a new nation but not as the embodiment of liberty. Jesus Christ is the true “embodiment of liberty” and indeed there was no hypocrisy, greed, selfishness or cruelty in him. Christ is sparkling in character word and deed who needs Washington when one has Jesus Christ? Washington was a very flawed man.

    • RayNothstine

      Washington did not belong to a party, he was sympathetic to the spirit of “Federalism,” which mirrors many of the traits of the “Federalist Party.” The meaning of “republican” in the post is not about the Republican Party at all, which didn’t exist in his day. It has to do with a form of free government that is not a monarch but it set up to protect rights. I think it’s clear you missed the entire meaning of the rest of the post as well.

    • Roger McKinney

      Jesus was never President of the US, so he can never be the greatest President. Term limits for the Presidency didn’t happen until FDR was elected to four terms. That alone disqualifies FDR as even an average president. Washington voluntarily stepped down when most Americans wanted him to run again. He set the two-term tradition, which every president until FDR followed voluntarily out of respect for Washington. FDR was so arrogant he thought no tradition or limits applied to him.

      Washington was without a doubt the greatest president because he created the institutions of government that would allow it to do its job and leave Americans the freest people on the planet. Most successor presidents have done nothing more than destroy freedom.

    • steve

      It’s amazing how you narrow minded people “of faith” invoke your “lord” in any discussion, like a knee-jerk reflex. Jesus wasn’t flawed? He cavorted with a prostitute; if you think he just had her wash his feet, keep dreaming.

      • http://www.acton.org/ Elise Hilton

        Steve, can you produce evidence to back up your claim re’ Jesus? And by the way, the discussion here was about George Washington, not Jesus.

  • Russ Hamilton

    JJ you think that the Constitution in its infancy could have withstood a power grab from someone as popular as Washington ? Yes Washington was flawed but he is a far better role model for men, who are all flawed, that someone allegedly perfect, which is a state of being we can never attain….