Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2013/ 10 Adar 5773
Washington emerges: Across the river and into history
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | In the course of human events, one thing remains certain: We forget. Somewhere over murky time, Washington's Birthday faded away, and was absorbed into another three-day holiday with no distinguishing marks except maybe ... Giant Sales! It is the American way. By celebrating all presidents equally on some made-up Presidents' Day, we now celebrate none in particular. Definition is lost; a generalized fuzz takes the place of the history that made us. And we forget.
We forget what it was like the winter after the Declaration of
At the moment when the whole American experiment was in peril, Washington would defy not just the enemy but despair. Not just once but again and again, in war and peace and in between.
Historians used to have a name for the uncertain years between the American Revolution and the adoption of the Constitution: the critical period. For nothing so disorganizes an army, or even a country, as victory. America had finally freed itself from the British Empire, but it would be years before it would overcome the centrifugal forces that kept
As the woefully weak government under the old Articles of Confederation proved inadequate to deal with one challenge after another, the no longer young general would watch with growing concern as the nascent Union foundered. British troops refused to leave frontier forts in accordance with the peace treaty, the national currency grew worthless, the economy faltered, trade was paralyzed. The new government, largely paralyzed because it required the unanimous consent of all the states to act, was powerless to reverse the trend. Mobs marched and a rebellion flared in
The leader who by now had surrendered the stage to others would not just sit back and look on as his country melted away. Once again he would change everything, and save his country. To form a new, more perfect Union, he convened an assemblage of the most sagacious statesmen of his generation. As he told the delegates at the outset of their deliberations at
They did. The result of their labors would be what a British statesman of some note,
Washington would preside over the birth of that remarkable and still living charter that orders our liberty. His presence at the head of the constitutional convention gave it a moral authority no one else could have supplied.
At the heart of this new Constitution there was envisioned a singular office: President of
The first president of
Surely only a Washington could have kept those two geniuses pulling in the same direction. Avoiding the impetuosity of both, the wartime hero managed to keep the peace with the two greatest, and warring, powers of his day,
When it came time to lay down the burdens of office, and return at last to the private life so long denied him, Washington would leave his country a final gift: his farewell address. In it, he foresaw the dangers of the divisive passions which could imperil "that very liberty which you so highly prize." His words remain as relevant now as when he uttered them in farewell.
First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen, Washington was also first in daring and in wisdom, in judgment and execution, which is why Americans still need to heed his counsel.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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