Op/Ed: Who’s the Next George Washington, and What Will He or She Look Like?

Dr. Peter Lillback
President of the Providence Forum
Author of George Washington’s Sacred Fire

When George Washington stepped on the American stage, he became its indispensable leader. From the first bullet fired in the French and Indian War to his Farewell Address, he molded America by his values and beliefs.

Washington pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence. He honored his pledge by eight brutal years of danger from British weaponry, Congressional cabals, and the sagging morale of his under supplied soldiery.

He accumulated vast political capital in the “times that try men’s souls,” enabling him to rescue the newly independent “united” states from their floundering under the Articles of Confederation. Presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and as president, he framed and led a new government, assuring its success.

Without surprise, the seat of government was named for the “father of his country.” But surprising are the decisions—especially those of late—that have been made in the city that bears his name. Washington D. C., in an almost Freudian patricidal manner, continues to dismantle George Washington’s values.

We know what Congress, Courts and Presidents, as well as Professors like Peter Singer think of crisis pregnancies, the elderly, the handicapped. But what about Washington? His commitment to mankind’s unalienable right to life would have quickly settled these questions. Having done time for adultery in a Caribbean jail, Alexander Hamilton’s mother left her ne’er-do-well husband with babe in arms and Alexander in her womb. This was at a time when the stigma of illegitimacy had severe life-long repercussions. Nevertheless Washington personally groomed this talented young man for greatness in his corps and in his cabinet. Washington’s personal care of his aging and ailing mother speaks of his gratitude for this widow that as a single mom raised him to be a man of character. Washington’s grief at the passing of his handicapped teenage step- daughter Patsy, who succumbed to epilepsy, reveals that her death was not a relief but an intense sorrow to his fatherly soul.

Washington believed marriage to be the most significant moment in a person’s life. He had no thought of the legitimacy of homosexual marriage. “Sodomy” was a crime in his army that resulted in the drumming out of the culprits. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was not the standard for his men.

His economics reflected his Virginian and Puritan ethics of avoiding debt, practicing thrift and taking personal responsibility. His last words to the nation were to avoid debt, not to go to China and saddle future generations with red ink. Washington proposed no bailout for his friend Robert Morris, the great financier of the Revolution. Instead Morris spent his final years in debtors’ prison due to failed speculation over the location of the city that bears Washington’s name. Both accepted this irony because they believed that personal honor was inseparable from personal responsibility. Washington’s Farewell Address tells us clearly, if we have ears to hear, why pork barrel legislation and deficit spending are deadly to a republic.

As to foreign policy, the pre-NATO Washington warned of entangling alliances. Perhaps today we must have alliances, but we would still be wise to heed his advise to avoid entanglements in battles that are not our own.

With remarkable prescience, Washington wrote of the possible demise of our Constitution due to “human depravity” manifested in political leaders’ lust for power, aided by the loss of the moral will of the people. Does this seem like this evening’s news?

Where did Washington get his moral compass that guided him from small beginnings to national greatness? The answer is contained in simple but powerful concepts that permeate his writings: “eternal rules of right,” “human depravity,” “character,” “honor,” “providence,” “God,” “true religion,” and “conscience.” These inform his timeless phrase from his First Inaugural Address, “the sacred fire of liberty.”

Who then will be the next George Washington? Perhaps the real question is, “Can there be another George Washington at all?” With hope that there can, I summarize what he or she will believe:

1. A rejection of partisan politics by putting the good of the whole before the interests of the parts.

2. Governing from principle, not from political expediency.

3. A rejection of chronic indebtedness and wastefulness.

4. A celebration of free enterprise that benefits the common good.

5. A focus on moral values, not on untested social experimentation.

6. An advocate of a limited government that limits spending by limiting activities to the limitations of the Constitution.

7. A protection of the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

8. A national defense that maintains peace by its strength.

Will we have the opportunity to vote for him or her, and repair our rusting republic by a recommitment to the wisdom of Washington? Is it too much to hope for?

General Washington was often in seeming hopeless despair during the Revolution, exemplified best by the wintery struggles of Valley Forge. But faith then, like faith today, was a powerful weapon to conquer despair. As our Founding Father wrote to a clergyman:

No Man has a more perfect Reliance on the all-wise and powerful dispensations of the Supreme Being than I have nor thinks his aid more necessary.

Those words of faith will surely characterize the next George Washington as well.

Dr. Peter A. Lillback, author of the #1 best-selling “George Washington’s Sacred Fire,” is the president of The Providence Forum. E-mail Dr. Lillback at plillback@providenceforum.org.