by John Hawkins | February 20, 2006 5:23 pm
Most Americans consider today to be “President’s Day,” but this day was originally celebrated as George Washington’s birthday. In order to properly commemorate the occasion, what follows is a little something I wrote about the “Father of Our Country” back in June of 2005.
This will probably be the last post I’ll make on The Discovery Channel’s Greatest Americans survey, but I want to take a moment to defend George Washington’s place in history.
Now granted, Washington finished at a very respectable #4…but to me, Washington clearly should have been in the top spot.
Because in my book, Washington was the linchpin of the American Revolution.
Some people would certainly take issue with that statement and would point to the contributions of other great patriots and revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Tom Paine, James Madison, John Adams, James Otis, Nathanael Greene, Ethan Allen, Anthony Wayne, John Stark, Paul Revere, Daniel Morgan, Nathan Hale, John Paul Jones, etc., etc., etc..
However, consider the situation Washington found himself in: The country was not the patriotic enclave we tend to imagine it was today. Instead the population was split: roughly 1/3 of Americans were patriots, 1/3 were Tories, and 1/3 probably were willing to side with whomever won.
Furthermore, for much of the war, Washington was leading poorly trained civilians, many of whom — especially early on — served for only 8 months and then went back to their farms.
Although the Brits had their own supply problems caused by their distance from the motherland, Washington’s were worse, again, especially in the early years of the war. Merchants wildly increased the prices of goods sold to the American army and because of rampant inflation, Congress was often unable to provide even basic supplies.
Just imagine it: our troops were fighting in war against the best trained, most competent, most powerful military force on the planet, and supplies were so hard to come by that at times, our soldiers were actually dying during the winter for lack of clothing.
This was the backdrop against which Washington had to work.
Although Washington’s army was defeated in battle many times, had there been a single decisive defeat where our troops were trapped on the battlefield and destroyed by the Brits, the war would likely have been over. Had Washington not continually been able to recruit new troops and lead them into battle under some of the most difficult conditions imaginable, the war would likely have been over. Had Washington not been gutsy enough to make a surprise strike at Trenton in 1776, when his army’s morale was low because of defeats at the hands of the British and unbearably bad conditions, it’s likely that his army would have melted away as enlistments came up at the end of the year, which again would have meant that the war would likely have been over.
The fact that Washington managed to hold the army together long enough to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781 (with the help of the French) is practically miraculous. Nothing against Nathanael Greene, who was a fine general, but I don’t think there was another American alive back then who could have led an army through to victory under the conditions Washington had to deal with.
I mean that. If a stray bullet had sent Washington to an early grave — let’s say before Saratoga in late 1777, I believe we would have lost the war. Although a people as independent and rebellious as our ancestors would have shaken off the British yoke eventually — our nation’s freedom could have been delayed a decade or two — perhaps more — without Washington to lead the way.
Then, later on, Washington who was revered by Americans at the time like no man before or since, was a strong and effective advocate of replacing the Articles of Confederation with a Constitution, and of course, he was also our first President (I don’t count John Hanson).
No disrespect intended to other great Americans like Jefferson, Lincoln, & Reagan, but “The Father of Our Country” truly deserves that #1 slot…
Also see The 10 Greatest Americans In Order & The 100 Greatest Americans.
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