Why is George Washington considered the Father of this nation?
In grade school and beyond, every American learns that George Washington is the Father of the country. With the celebration of President's Day this week, I'd like to know exactly why Washington is given such an honored position. What is it that makes him worthy of being called the Father of our country?
George Washington is revered as the Father of this country for many reasons. Virtually every American knows that he was the first President of the United States of America. Most also know that we commanded the Revolutionary Army. However, many Americans know few of the details about his days as the nation's Commander-in-Chief, both during the Revolutionary War and after.
As the General of the Revolutionary Army, Washington's determination, leadership and refusal to give up made the difference between victory and defeat on more than one occasion. His daring attack on a Hessian fort at Trenton (pictured on the RIGHT) turned the tide in a War that had been clearly going the way of the British--not the Colonists. When the Continental Congress repeatedly found itself incapable of leading the young nation, Washington had to take charge, and take charge he did.
By many accounts, merely seeing Washington was enough to convince most men and women that he was the leader of the nation. Indeed, so powerful was Washington's character and reputation that the organizers of the Constitutional Convention believed that the Convention could not and would not succeed unless Washington attended it. Fortunately, Washington, the "indispensable man," did attend the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. In fact, he was unanimously chosen to be the President of the Convention and to preside over it.
Perhaps the most lasting effects of Washington's influence on the United States of America are the product of his two terms in office as the nation's first President. Several scholars have suggested that the Constitution as we know it was only agreeable to the people of the new nation because it was widely assumed that Washington would be the first man to be its Chief Executive. Any other man, it was widely feared, would not have wielded the power of the office as capably or responsibly as Washington. Indeed, throughout his Presidency, Washington passed by opportunity after opportunity to assume and consolidate power. Arriving in the Capitol city before most of the members of the newly elected Congress, Washington chose to wait for the Congress to convene before committing any official acts as President. Instead of succumbing to popular sentiment that he be treated as something of a king, Washington downplayed his stature has President. He did so through dozens of actions, some purely symbolic--such as wearing a simple brown broadcloth suit to his Inauguration--and some very substantive--such as stepping down after two terms to set the precedent of timely and orderly transitions in political power and leadership.
By all accounts, Washington sought only to serve his country all the days of his adult life. In fact, one of the major complaints about Washington was that he allowed himself to become so consumed by his public responsibilities that there was little room left for a private, personal side of the man. But Washington's commitment to the interests of the country, as he saw them, is unquestioned. No doubt his own words are the best summation of his view of public service:
Though I prize as I ought the good opinion of my fellow citizens, yet, if I know myself, I would not seek or retain popularity at the expense of one social duty or moral virtue. While doing what my conscience informed me was right, as it respected my God, my country, and myself, I could despise all the party clamor and unjust censure, which must be expected from some, whose personal enmity might by occasioned by their hostility to the government . . . and certain I am, whensoever I shall be convinced the good of my country requires my reputation to be put at risk, regard for my own fame will not come in competition with an object of so much magnitude.
Other ThisNation Resources
- Washington's First Inaugural Address
- Washington's Second Inaugural Address
- George Washington's Official Portrait
- The American Presidency