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A Man of Dignity – George Washington

George Washington’s Birthday, also known as President’s Day, reflects on one of the America’s greatest leaders. The following post is an excerpt from the paper “The Hidden Statesman: Transcendent versus Temporal Leadership.” In this excerpt, one will see the reasons why Washington holds the title of a great leader, expressing foresight and character when the nation was in its infancy.

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Circumstances call for great leaders to emerge and provide direction. Scripture expresses how “. . . the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.”[1] There is a yearning for men and women of dignity who express character, responsibility, and vision to provide direction. America’s national birth would beckon for such a leader. The nation’s existence and fruition depended upon those who knew how to fight for her cause.

Little did George Washington know that he would become the nation’s first president. When people urged him to accept the position, he continuously denied, stating that he wanted to remain “‘. . .an honest man on my own farm. Let those follow the pursuits of ambition and fame who have a keener relish for them, or who may have more years in store for the enjoyment.’”[2] Indeed George was a man of stature and dignity. Washington’s foresight and the respect he gained would position him to spearhead an exceptional national experiment—The United States of America.

Washington’s reasons for accepting the plea for his leadership resulted from a point of sacrifice, where he placed the needs of his country above his own stating, “. . . the conviction that the partiality of my countrymen had made my services absolutely necessary, joined to a fear that my refusal might induce a belief that I preferred the conservation of my own reputation and private ease to the good of my country.”[3] As a result, Washington’s wisdom would promote virtue and unity: “‘In the formative years of the American republic, roughly between 1776 and 1796, the man, the moment, and the crisis coincided.’”[4] The leader had risen to the occasion.

The descendent of warriors, Washington had the knowledge, instinct, and strategic prudence to fight a battle.[5] Beginning his military career as a major in the Virginia militia, an individual commented that “‘[a]ll Washingtons are born old.”[6]  Washington’s wisdom in situations equipped him with the character, responsibility, and vision necessary to lead not only an army but also a nation. From a young age, George “exhibited an admirable degree of soberness and emotional maturity.”[7] In his teenage years, the future president “. . . began to think seriously about what he would do with his life.”[8] This contemplation developed an ability to earnestly reflect on the outcome of his actions.

The Bedrock of Leadership

Individuals recall those leaders who leave a laudable impression. Influential people have usually left their mark as a result of trust built upon the bedrock of character. Noah Webster defines character as “[t]he peculiar qualities, impressed by nature or habit on a person, which distinguish him from others; these constitute real character, and the qualities which he is supposed to possess, constitute his estimated character, or reputation.”[9] In other words, character is the result of habits and consistent habits develop a reputation.

One finds an example in Scripture where Daniel is known as a wise man.[10] Yet, what distinguishes his ability from others is his ability to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams through submission to the reality that “. . . .there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets. . . .”[11] Daniel relies on God’s ability working through him to interpret the King’s dreams, resulting in the revelation of God’s sovereignty and promotion.[12]

Likewise, Washington grew to understand that his moral conduct, if not handled correctly, would prove to have a devastating influence on public service. For example, Washington realized earlier on the need for fidelity in which “[a]s earnings accumulated, George soon found better use for them than the weekend dances.”[13] As a result, he eventually married, having the effect of curbing any lustful longings, remaining thereafter committed to his wife.[14]

The private virtue Washington built portrayed itself in public where he secured trust from others. John Maxwell defines the law of solid ground as the ability for people to trust a leader. In essence, “Trust is the foundation of leadership. It is the glue that holds an organization together.”[15] Coupled with his character, George Washington captivated attention because he set the standard for leadership where “. . . Washington remained the country’s gold standard for over a century, and Americans expected their presidents to be sober, upright, and proper both in their private and public dealings.”[16] Washington’s submission to God’s will undergirded him with this strength: “That comfort in and calm about Providence gave Washington the sense of security that calmed contentious legislators and soldiers.”[17] George’s dedication equipped him with an internal peace that gained respect.

R-Squared

The two R’s—responsibility and respect—combine to portray a statesman’s accountability and commitment. Noah Webster defines responsibility as “[t]he state of being accountable or answerable, as for a trust or office, or for a debt.”[18] In other words, responsibility is the ownership one takes for his actions. In Matthew 27:11-31, we find Jesus’ example in how He assumed responsibility for his identity as the Son of God. In verse eleven, Christ acknowledged that he was indeed the King of the Jews. Instead of denying this in the midst of accusations, Jesus remained steadfast in response.[19] He did not back down because of pressure nor the impending pain that He would suffer.

George Washington understood his responsibility to the point that he did not base his role on popularity, understanding that people’s praise would inevitably fade.[20] He recognized that “. . . he could be entrusted with power because he was not under his own authority but God’s.” [21] As a result, through the waves of public affection, Washington realized that the president’s role was not for the faint in heart. Washington relayed, “‘I would rather live out my days on the farm than be emperor of the world.’”[22] Service had to come from a desire higher than personal ambition.  

Viewers respected Washington because he possessed a quite confidence.[23] John Maxwell defines the Law of Respect as a leader’s confidence in knowing when, where, and what he should be doing. In essence, “‘The leader must know, must know he knows, and must be able to make it abundantly clear to those around him that he knows.”[24] Washington knew his position and did not assume more or less.[25]

Panoramic View

One who has vision has the ability to see the proper path and actions needed to reach a goal when others may not perceive the future. Noah Webster defines vision as “[a]ny thing which is the object of sight.”[26] The biblical correlation is Genesis 32: 3-23 and 33:1-20, where Jacob and Esau have the opportunity to reconcile their relationship. Jacob approaches his brother, who has the potential to destroy him. Yet, trusting God’s promise, Jacob proceeds to approach his brother, which results in reconciliation.

During the Revolutionary War, Americans would have to proceed in the fight to save their liberties and the infant nation. To prove successful, America needed a unified military. Washington embraced the vision that if his men lived according to high standards, they would have the ability to overrule the British enemy.[27] In essence, he wanted “to show volunteers that the patriotic effort was virtually a holy cause.” [28] Though winning initially came slowly, Washington’s consistency drew men to respect their general and accomplished American independence.[29]

John Maxwell defines the law of the picture as the combination of one’s character and responsibility to influence others. In essence, “Good leaders are always conscious of the fact that they are setting the example and others are going to do what they do, for better or worse.”[30]

In The Political Philosophy of George Washington, Jeffry Morrison describes Washington’s religious affections as committed to Protestant ideals and the wisdom to carry these principles into the public arena. [31] The first president held true to the foundational principle that “Divine Providence was God’s action in the world, his intervention in human affairs on behalf of Washington and his country.”[32] This conviction enabled Washington to see the principles needed to lead the country, knowing that without God’s intervention, America would not succeed.

Eternity’s Beckoning Call

Leadership, statesmanship, and greatness require more than having a public position or the opportunity to make decisions that will influence a nation. It requires the wisdom to understand that the personal decisions one makes about the quality by which he will live will influence his actions that influence others. Winston Churchill stated: “There comes a special moment in everyone’s life, a moment for which that person was born. That special opportunity, when he seizes it, will fulfill his mission—a mission for which he is uniquely qualified. In that moment, he finds greatness.”[95] There is an eternal beckoning that calls men to walk in greatness.

If men lived with the perspective of eternity on their minds, would they conduct themselves differently? The reality that actions matter beyond the current moment and have a lasting affect will infuse individuals with the reality that moral behavior, transparency, and the truth connect with people who want substance. Furthermore, it provides the backdrop to creating an environment that promotes prosperity and an orderly society.

Lastly, statesmanship is something spiritual. Peter Marshall preached that “[y]ou see, your real trouble is spiritual, so that the remedy must be spiritual too.”[96] In discussing the love for one’s country he prayed “[i]mpress upon our smugness that knowledge that we are not owners—but stewards; remind us, lest we become filled with conceit, that one day a reckoning will be required of us.”[97] Marshall continued with the foundation that would make this prayer successful, “Help us to make this god’s own country by living like God’s own people.”[98] Once America’s leaders return to her Judeo-Christian roots and the resulting principles that sustain growth, then the nation will find statesmen that live with virtue and wisdom.

SOURCES


[1] Rom. 8:19 (NKJV)

[2] Jay A. Parry and Andrew M. Allison, “Part I: George Washington: The Man Who United America (A History of His Life),” in The Real George Washington (Washington D.C.: National Center for Constitutional Studies, 1991), 508.

[3] Ibid., 510.

[4] Ibid., 5.

[5] Ibid., 5-7.

[6] Parry and Allison, 23.

[7] Ibid., 13.

[8] Ibid.

[9] American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “Character.”

[10] Dan. 2:12-13 (NKJV).

[11] Dan. 2:28 (NKJV).

[12] Dan. 2: 46-49 (NKJV).

[13] Parry and Allison, 17-19.

[14] Olasky, 5-7.

[15] Maxwell, 53.

[16]Olasky, 22.

[17] Ibid., 7.

[18] American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “Responsibility.”

[19] Matt. 27:11-14 (NKJV).

[20] Olasky, 17.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 20.

[23] Parry and Allison, 13.

[24] Maxwell, 65.

[25] Olasky, 20.

[26] American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “Vision.”

[27] Olasky, 8.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 11-13.

[30] Maxwell, 135.

[31] Jeffry H. Morrison, The Political Philosophy of George Washington, (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2009), 144.

[32] Morrison, 141.

[33] Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 16-18.

[34] Washington, 73-74, 86-87

[35]Ibid., 28, 54, 67.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid., 37.

[38] Ibid., 67.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid., 39.

[41] American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “Commitment.”

[42] Washington, 37, 51-54.

[43] Ibid., 27.

[44] Maxwell, 23.

[45] Is. 28:10 (NKJV).

[46] Washington, p. 93.

[47] Olasky, 122.

[48] Phil. 4:13 (NKJV).

[49] Washington, 162.

[50] Olasky, 121.

[51] Maxwell, 123.

[52] Washington, 39.

[53] Ibid., 41.

[54] Ibid., 66.

[55] American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “Courage.”

[56] Josh. 1:9 (NKJV).

[57] Maxwell, 33.

[58] Washington, 122-125.

[59] Olasky, 124.

[60] Ibid., 125.

[61] American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “Temporal.”

[62] Ibid.

[63] Dunn, 44.

[64] Olasky, 29.

[65] Dunn, 44.

[66] William Eleroy Curtis, The True Thomas Jefferson (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1901), 22.

[67] Ibid., 23.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid., 28-29.

[70] Curtis, 35.

[71] Olasky, 29 32.

[72] Stephanie P. Newbold, “Statesmanship and Ethics: The Case of Thomas Jefferson’s Dirty Hands,” Public Administration Review 65, no. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 2005): 669.

[73] Ibid., 670.

[74] Ibid., 670-671.

[75] Ibid., 671; Olasky, 24.

[76] Newbold, 672.

[77] Ibid., 673.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid., 675.

[80] Olasky, 23.

[81] Newbold., 674-675.

[82] H. Wilson Harris, President Wilson: His Problems and His Policy (London: Headley Bros. Publishers, LTD, 1918), 18.

[83] Ibid., 15.

[84] Dunn, 72.

[85] Olasky, 195.

[86] Ibid., 194.

[87]  Scot J. Zentner, “Liberalism & Executive Power: Woodrow Wilson & the American Founders,” Polity 26, no. 4 (Summer 1994): 580.

[88] Olasky, 197.

[89] Zentner, 580.

[90] Olasky, 190.

[91] Dunn, 71.

[92] Ibid.

[93] Zentner, 581.

[94] Zetner, 582.

[95] Maxwell, 205.

[96] Catherine, Marshall, A Man Called Peter: The Story of Peter Marshall (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1951), 315.

[97] Ibid., 293.

[98] Ibid.

 

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