SAN JOSE, February 17, 2016 – This past weekend was a jam packed festival for many Americans, as they could celebrate a plethora of holidays. Since Chinese New Year’s celebrations commenced on February 8th this year, the celebration still continues until the Lantern Festival. Additionally, Valentine’s Day came on Sunday this year. Also, many patriotic Americans may have celebrated the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on Friday, and the official President’s Day holiday was this past Monday. Additionally, since 2016 is a presidential election year, those requiring more entertainment may have viewed the Democrat or GOP debates, which created an extremely busy weekend for many.
The fact that this is an election year, President’s Day, legally a day to honor George Washington’s birthday, prompts one to reflect on the status of presidents.
The current confusion over the present day remembrance of George Washington’s Birthday on the third Monday of February is simplistic compared to Americans’ confusion regarding the position of President of the United States within the present machinery of the federal government.
Today, Americans regard the president as something akin to a king, and refer to the president as the leader of the nation, and even the “leader of the Free World.” There does not even appear to be the slightest sense that such a notion is truly wrong and antithetical to the original conception of the office of the Chief Executive. As the media jockey for opportunities to praise or condemn contemporary presidents of recent years (usually fawning over Democrats and condemning Republicans), the manipulators of the public mind have helped to manifest an illusion that this is normal.
Instead of viewing the POTUS as one member of one aspect of the three branches of the federal government, the president is treated as if the office wields as much power as the kings of ancient times. In fact, there are presidents of recent periods that have positioned themselves above the law of the land. This. of course, did not just happen overnight.
American history reveals a slow drifting away from the original intent of those who drafted and approved the Constitution.
Consider this: if President Obama had passed away this past weekend, the news would be repeated over and over on all of the mainstream media outlets, and there would probably be speculation of foul play involved as well.
On the contrary, the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia received little attention. After all, he was only a Supreme Court Justice, and on top of that, he was a Republican appointee, which makes his sudden death even less newsworthy.
The diminishing value of a revered justice is evidence of how far America has drifted away from the original intent of the concept of the balance of powers within the government the founders gifted to the people. The probability that this notion of the imbalance of powers is way too foreign for average American citizens to grasp is a most serious issue of concern for the well-being of the Republic. Most Americans have no idea that George Washington dramatically rejected the temptation on several occasions to seize imperial power and take control of the civilian government in Philadelphia, evidence that the original intent is but a dim memory in the minds of contemporary Americans.
Today it seems Americans are more than happy to crown a king, and not elect a man or woman to follow Washington’s disdain of monarchical tyranny.
Numerous historical accounts reveal that the desperate situation of the Continental Army during the War for American Independence, and such difficulties led to outright lawless challenges to the recognized civilian authority of the Continental Congress. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress, which was operating provisionally under the Articles of Confederation, could not provide the support that the colonial “troops” needed.
Many Americans are aware of the long winter in 1777-78 at Valley Forge, but many are not aware of the severe hardships faced by the troops due to the lack of supplies. During that cold and bitter time, Washington wrote of his men: “Naked and starving as they are, we cannot insufficiently admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiers.”
Washington was forced to plead with the Congress time and again for the money or supplies needed to maintain the fight against the British forces. In 1780, he wrote, “We have been half our time without provision, and are likely to continue so. We have no magazines, nor money to form them, and in a little time we shall have no men, if we had money to pay them. We have lived upon expedients till we can no longer. In a word, the history of the war is a history of false hopes and temporary devices…”
In short, Washington made the best use of what little he had, and he developed a real closeness to his men which ensured that a core of the army held together despite so much discouragement and so many desertions of disillusioned freedom fighters.
The dire and desperate circumstances of the troops led to desperate measures within the military. On more than one occasion at the beginning of 1781, angry officers and troops marching on the Congress at Philadelphia to either demonstrate their dissatisfaction with lack of pay for more than a year or to seize power and take matters into their own hands, had to be halted and disbanded by General Washington who saw to it that insurrectionist leaders were executed. He would not tolerate a threat to the fragile government of the people, no matter how weak Congress was.
Some accounts of these incidents imply that General Washington, if he had possessed the temperment of a Napoleon Bonaparte, could have used such opportunities to simply seize power via the army, eliminate the civilian government in Philadelphia, and take over as the first monarch of the U.S.A.
Even after the victory over British General Cornwallis in Yorktown, it is reported that General Washington received a letter from a trusted officer who seriously advised him to put aside his particular protection of the people’s Congress and dissolve the Articles of Confederation and take his rightful place as “King of the U.S.A.” Washington is reported as stating that the troops did not fight a war against King George III only to crown another King George of the colonies.
Additionally, before a genuine treaty of peace with England was formally established in the treaty between Great Britain and France in 1783, dangerous circumstances evolved within Washington’s army, known in American history as the “Newburgh Conspiracy.”
The Continental Army located in Newburgh, New York, was monitoring the British military withdrawal from New York City two years after Cornwallis’ surrender in Yorktown. During this time, several high ranking colonial officers, ostensibly upset at not being paid wages and pensions that had been promised by the Congress, were involved in some shadowy plot regarding what they would do before the entire army was disbanded to force Congress to yield back the pay and pension money. Some accounts imply that a coup was on the minds of some of the more ambitious officers.
Washington again intervened and managed to redirect the focus of the discontented men with whom he sympathized. General Washington called all of the officers together and delivered a famous speech, which became known as the Newburg Address. Before he spoke to his officers who had served with him through the bitter years of war, Washington pulled out a letter from Congress that he intended to read. As he initially stared at the letter, Washington removed a pair of spectacles that most had never seen him wear. He requested their pardon saying: “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” At that point, before he even got to the reasons they should oppose anyone, “…who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire in blood…” he had moved his audience to take his words of caution to heart.
Such was the seriousness of the man who risked his life for the beliefs and values that focused upon the fight for freedom from British tyranny. Indeed, George Washington risked his life on a regular basis for such beliefs and values. He willingly accepted the nomination of his peers to command the newly adopted army. He then disbanded that army, He willingly accepted the nomination of his peers to lead the Constitutional Convention. He then went back home to his farm. He willingly accepted the nomination of his peers to lead as POTUS. He then withdrew after serving two terms and again went back home to his farm.
During this turbulent time, King George III reportedly asked Benjamin West, an American artist who was in Britain to paint a portrait of the king, what the Washington would do if he won the war. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”
King George III marveled, “if he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
After the War for Independence was successful, the most famous Virginian fulfilled what King George had prophesied. He disbanded the army not long after he delivered the Newburgh Address and he went back home to Mt. Vernon. And, after he served his country in the capacity as a civilian leader, he stepped down as president and went back home to his farm.
Washington’s belief in freedom and in “republican” values was not just what he portrayed in some political slogan, it was how Washington lived his life and how he led by example on the pathway to freedom. Many in the colonies expected Washington to declare himself King if he defeated the British. Had he been a man like Caesar, or a Napoleon Bonaparte, or someone with a mind like Hitler, the opportunities would have become excuses to take control of the new nation.
It is a good thing to remember that Washington was just a man; however, he was a man who held fast to his ideals, and one who put his principles into practice to the best of his ability.
At least this year, it is a good thing to remember how the United States started as a nation, putting freedom first.
It is good to remember that we do not elect a king when Americans elect a president this November.
Washington’s birthday in 2016, like President’s Day, should stimulate citizen’s better selves to hold fast to his ideals, and put his firmly held principles into practice to the best of our ability.
We need to elect a president — not a king.