Archives For George Washington

As a student of American History, I find it fascinating to learn from key figures who have shaped our nation over the past almost 250 years.

Reading about FDR, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Reagan, Kennedy, Jefferson, and Jackson is intriguing and each one has many admirable qualities. Each has shaped the nation based on the circumstances presented before them.

There is one who set the precedent for all of them, though: George Washington.

Washington today is often seen as a mythical yet distant figure since we get to stare at his face on the one dollar bill, quarter, and other official government documents. But we would be doing a disservice to him if we didn’t understand what separated him from other leaders.

George Washington was an admirable man because of his excellent leadership qualities but what separated him from most was his humility.

The Prayer at Valley Forge, Arnold Friberg's most well known painting. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Prayer at Valley Forge, Arnold Friberg’s most well-known painting. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Even at the height of his power, Washington set the tone for what being the leader of the President of the United States of America meant. In Europe at the time, the highest power in a nation was typically monarchial. Washington saw his position as a public servant. Although the power of the Presidency has ebbed and flowed over the past two centuries, what echoes most loudly is Washington’s humility.

Indeed, his humility was as much, perhaps even more so, a part of his greatness.

Here are 5 ways we can learn from Washington’s humility. 

  • Reluctance for Power: In 1783 when the war ended, Washington went back to his plantation in Virginia as a farmer. Five years later, he was quite pleased with his life, even despite the war’s fanfare. But he recognized that people needed him and he gave up a very comfortable life to come back to lead the nation in its infancy. It is easy to desire power but it must be at the right time and place and unless we are rooted in humility like Washington, we will fail.
  • Limited Service: Washington only served two terms in office. He saw the position as temporary and realized that the position was more important than his name. Presidents for the most part have followed his example since then. Our time on earth is short so it is important to always look at how we are training the next level of leaders to follow us.
  • A Man of the People: He dressed in civilian clothes as President. He was encouraged by some to wear his military uniform but he felt it would look too much like a military dictatorship and like most of Europe’s leadership. No matter our roles in life, we must always treat others with respect and dignity like Washington.
  • The Name of the President: He refused to be called a monarch or a more eloquent name like “His Majesty”, despite what John Adams and Alexander Hamilton wanted. He simply wanted to be called “Mr. President”. Washington was a man of deep Christian faith and was known to be in prayer often recognizing God’s power over his role. People follow courage and humility, not just titles.
  • Lead in the Hard Times: In the winter of 1777-78, Washington’s camp was at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. During this incredibly harsh winter, Washington was found to consistently walk through the camp to encourage and engage with his troops. He was never afraid to lead with them and not from behind.

Last, I found this story (more myth but the spirit is true) about Washington that reveals a lot about his servant leadership.

Once upon a time a rider came across a few soldiers who were trying to move a heavy log of wood without success.

The corporal was standing by just watching as the men struggled.

The rider couldn’t believe it. He finally asked the corporal why he wasn’t helping.

The corporal replied: “I am the corporal. I give orders.

The rider said nothing in response. Instead he dismounted his horse. He went up and stood by the soldiers and as they tried to lift the wood and he helped them.

With his help, the task was finally able to be carried out.

Who was this kind rider?

The rider was George Washington, the Commander-in-chief.

He quietly mounted his horse and went to the corporal and said, “The next time your men need help, send for the commander-in-chief.”

But the humble will inherit the land and will enjoy abundant prosperity. – Psalm 37:11

To learn more about George Washington, I recommend you to read a fascinating narrative of his life, “His Excellency” by Joseph J. Ellis.

I recently finished reading Killing Kennedy, an interesting take on the JFK assassination from Bill O’Reilly. I knew some of the indiscretions of Kennedy through reading history but getting a more full picture through the book was eye-opening. It also educated me about the indiscretions of some other well-known leaders of his time.

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Here is a brief history of some of the most well-known people in the world.

  • John F. Kennedy was a serial adulterer
  • So was Martin Luther King, even with prostitutes
  • Nelson Mandela was involved in terrorism early in life
  • George Washington owned slaves
  • Benjamin Franklin slept his way across America and Europe
  • Margaret Thatcher had an incredible short temper
  • John Lennon all but abandoned his son Julien when he married to Yoko Ono
  • Elvis Presley was a drug addict
  • Oprah Winfrey is known to be a diva that expects royal treatment
  • Ronald Reagan was a lousy actor divorced early in life

The list goes on and on and you’ll be surprised to learn some of these things from some of the most admired people in recent history.

One of my favorite authors and historians David McCullough shares a brilliant piece about how we should view our leaders but more importantly, how we should see ourselves.

“Now those who wrote the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia that fateful summer of 1776 were not superhuman by any means. Every single one had his flaws, his failings, his weaknesses. Some of them ardently disliked others of them. Every one of them did things in his life he regretted. But the fact that they could rise to the occasion as they did, these imperfect human beings, and do what they did is also, of course, a testimony to their humanity. We are not just known by our failings, by our weaknesses, by our sins. We are known by being capable of rising to the occasion and exhibiting not just a sense of direction, but strength.”

Ephesians 1:7 sums it up.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

Thank God for grace and recognition that he sees the potential in all of us and wants us to do good and succeed in his eyes. God sees us as perfect, even in our imperfections and it makes his grace shine brighter than ever.

 

 

 

George Washington

This prayer is abridged from George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.

————-
May we all unite in rendering unto God our sincere and humble thanks— For His kind care and protection of the people of this country, For the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have enjoyed,

For the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness,

For the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge, and in general for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And may we also unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him—

To pardon our national and other transgressions,

To enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually,

To render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed,

To protect and guide all nations and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord,

To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science,

And generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

————–

 

His prayer rings true today. Thank you President Washington.

Happy Thanksgiving, my fellow Americans.

 

Recently a friend shared about the disappointment of being passed over for a promotion. In addition, he was removed off of a key project thus feeling a setback in his career. Our friends spent time encouraging him and letting him know he was not alone. I as well have felt similar setback in my life.

I was reading through The American Patriot’s Almanac the other day and scanning key events of Abraham Lincoln’s life. It was interesting to study his life’s major events.

  • 1832: Elected captain of an Illinois militia company
  • 1832: Defeated for state legislature
  • 1833: Failed in business
  • 1833: Appointed postmaster of New Salem, Illinois
  • 1834: Elected to state legislature
  • 1834: Sweetheart died
  • 1836: Received license to practice law in Illinois
  • 1838: Defeated for Speaker of the Illinois House
  • 1841: Suffered deep depression
  • 1842: Married Mary Todd
  • 1844: Established his own law practice
  • 1846: Elected to U.S. Congress
  • 1849: Failed to get appointment to US. Land Office
  • 1850: Four-year old son died
  • 1855: Defeated for U.S. Senate
  • 1857: Earned large attorney fee in a successful case
  • 1858: Again defeated for Senate
  • 1860: ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

I noticed a few things. Lincoln’s life was full of ups and downs. It reveals the ebb and flow of life and we cannot expect everything to work out perfectly. What we do learn is that Lincoln kept moving forward no matter how many setbacks. His failures made him a better, stronger person that was able to never give up.

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Lincoln said,

“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep doing so until the end.”

Galatians 6:9 offers additional encouragement,

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

By studying people I admire the most like Lincoln, I discover their great failures and tragedies.

  • King David of the Bible committed adultery
  • George Washington experienced military setback after setback during the American Revolution
  • C.S. Lewis lost his mother when he was young and was passed over at Oxford for promotions for years
  • Winston Churchill experienced a military disaster at Gallipoli in World War I
  • John F. Kennedy’s PT boat was demolished and was injured in World War II
  • George H.W. Bush lost a daughter to leukemia
  • J.K. Rowling was on the verge of homelessness

When I feel letdown, lose something or someone, or wonder why something didn’t go my way I am drawn to these great lives for inspiration.

They all shared adversity. Most importantly, they shared perseverance and all kept moving forward.

You had to have been hiding under a rock or not care to notice but this past week a big election occurred here in the United Staes.  However you feel about the outcome there is no doubt that there were clear priorities set forth by politicians.  You heard about the economy and tea, health care and death panels, as well as immigration and Mexican drug lords.

What you didn’t hear much about is that there are still troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan not to mention a presence in areas like Germany, South Korea, Okinawa, or Guantanamo Bay.

Why do we forget so quickly?   Let us honor the military by studying what works so well for them so we can find ways to solve problems in our own unique situations.

I recently picked up a copy of the Harvard Business Review primarily because of the cover story about “Leadership Lessons from The Military”.  Here are the key learnings:

According to a 2009 Gallup poll, 82% of respondents expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military, whereas only 16% expressed confidence in big business.  There have been some tremendous leaders in our history that came from a military background.  Let us not forget Presidents George Washington, Harry Truman, or Dwight Eisenhower and the leadership lessons they gave us based on their military experiences.  Of course there have been poor military leaders so we can learn from their mistakes as well.  General Petraeus, we are learning from you.

In the article, there were some helpful elements that those church, community and business leaders can utilize to be effective with your teams.

1.  Meet the troops: Create a personal link that will be crucial to lead people through challenging times.

2.  Make Decisions: Make good and timely calls which will be the crux of responsibility in a leadership position.

3.  Focus on Mission: Establish a common purpose, lift up those who will help you achieve it, and eschew personal gain.

4.  Convey Strategic Intent: Make the objectives clear, but avoid micromanaging those who will execute on them.

November 11th is Veteran’s Day. What is different about this day?  Well the idea is to celebrate and thank those who are still alive but have served.  It was originally known as Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I.  It is different than Memorial Day because we have the chance to honor these people in person. There are over 23 million veterans of the US Military so plenty to honor.

What will you do to honor veterans this week?

*I am giving out 2 signed copies of The American Patriot’s Almanac. I am looking for unique ways that you all are honoring veterans so it is a bit subjective.  For full disclosure, I have worked on the promotions in the past for this book and with Bill Bennett and John Cribb who compiled it.  I would also like to share your stories with them.   The authors have graciously signed copies for veterans within Thomas Nelson.

To learn more about Veteran’s Day, here is an excerpt from The American Patriot’s Almanac (2010) by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb.

In the early morning hours Of November 11, 1918, representatives of France, Britain, and Germany met in a railroad car near Compiègne, France, to sign an armistice ending World War I, or the Great War, as it was known at that time. The cease-fire took effect at 11:00 a.m. that day—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Up and down the trenches, after four long years of the most horrific fighting the world had yet known, the guns fell silent. “The roar stopped like a motor car hitting a wall,” one U.S. soldier wrote to his family. Soldiers on both sides slowly climbed out of the earthworks. Some danced; some cheered; some cried for joy; some stood numbed. The Great War had left some 9 million soldiers dead and another 21 million wounded. No one knows how many millions of civilians died. Much of Europe lay in ruins. But finally, with the armistice, it was “all quiet on the Western Front.”

For many years November 11 was known as Armistice Day to honor those who fought in World War I. In 1954 Congress changed the name to Veterans Day to recognize all American veterans.

Every November 11 at 11:00 a.m., the nation pays tribute to its war dead with the laying of a presidential wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C.

But Veterans Day honors more than the dead. Memorial Day, observed in May, is for remembering soldiers who lost their lives in the service of their country. Veterans Day is set aside to honor and thank all who have served in the U.S. armed forces—particularly our 23 million living veterans.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America