|Forensic reconstruction of what Washington |
really looked like as a young man
George Washington is the only man ever unanimously elected as President, and that happened twice. He was also unanimously elected as Commander-in Chief of the Continental Army and as President of the Constitutional Convention. On his last day in office, he told his secretary that "although we may be a little wrong now and then, we shall return to the right path with more avidity." That's pretty much sums up this nation's history
The dollar bill portrait of Washington in his waning years, painted after he had finally lost all of his teeth and was trying a new set of dentures, is a disgrace. Here are some little known facts.
- He never wore a powdered wig, but tied his red hair behind him in what was then the military style. He did pomade his hair.
- He was a man of action,often leading from the front, even during the Revolutionary War. During the disastrous defeat at Fort Necessity, four bullets went through Washington's coat and two horses were shot out from under him, but he emerged unscathed. An Indian Chief who had fought against him later said that he had directed his warriors to fire right at him, but no one could hit him. At Princeton, Washington rallied Americans soldiers in flight from Hessians with drawn bayonets and fought alongside them to hold a bridge.
- Called the Father of his Country, he had no children of his own. Though he loved to flirt with the ladies, he adored his wife and was never happy unless she was with him.
- He is also known in some circles as the Father of the American Mule. He developed the breed at Mount Vernon.
- He was considered the greatest horseman of his age.
- Despite his land holdings, he was very often cash poor. He had to borrow money to travel from Mount Vernon after being elected President. He had to sell land in western Pa. to afford the move back to Mount Vernon.
- Though personally stung by partisan attacks in newspapers, Washington continued to defend the free press. His thin-skinned successor, John Adams, had critical editors arrested and jailed. But Washington understood the need for a free press, saying that without it, "dumb and silent may we be led, like sheep to the slaughter.".
- When he surrendered his commission at the end of the Revolutionary War, King George called him "the greatest man in the world."
- A slave owner, he refused to break up families or buy slaves, although he has been fairly criticized for failing to do enough to eradicate our original sin. In his Will, he set his slaves free and made monetary provisions for each family. This was an example to his fellow Virginians, but they failed to take the hint.
As we learn in Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, most of Lincoln's cabinet considered his election a colossal mistake. Some of them, like Secretary of War Stanton, snubbed him as a lawyer many years before, laughing at his tattered clothing. They called him an ape, a gorilla.
Even as President, Lincoln was snubbed. He once paid a late-night visit to General George McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, to discuss strategy. McClellan was out, so Lincoln waited, stovepipe hat in hand. When McClellan returned home, Lincoln waited another half hour until a porter came to tell him that the General had retired for the evening.
He was used to being snubbed. His was a life of hardship, what he himself would call the "short and simple annals of the poor." In his youth, he lost his mother and sister to illness. As a young man, his first love died as a result of illness as well, nearly driving him to suicide. And as a father, he saw two sons die.
People like Stanton grew to respect and eventually admire the man he once abused. Lincoln was just the man our fractured country needed. He started his second term with these words. "With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the Nation's wounds." Instead of preaching fear, his was a message of conciliation and compassion, even for his former enemies. When he was cut down by an assassin, the very same Stanton who once derided Lincoln announced, "Now he belongs to the ages."
I could use this occasion to dump all over Donald Trump and point out how inadequate he is by comparisons. But so are most of us.