To Give Up Power

General George Washington at Trenton on the night of January 2, 1777, after the Battle of the Assunpink Creek, also known as the Second Battle of Trenton, and before the Battle of Princeton.

Astride his gray horse, George Washington rode south with a thousand men into New York City. It was November 25, 1783. As of April 19, 1783, fighting had stopped between the British and the Continental Army. Word had reached Washington that the Peace Treaty of Paris had been signed on September 3 of that year. Washington would wait to officially release his army until the last of the British Army had set sail for home. The British army wasn’t leaving until they received written orders to leave, which resulted in a nervous cease-fire until November.

As Washington moved forward, crowds of people cheered and shouted praises for Washington. His tall, dignified personage was easily recognized as the leader of this triumphant force at the head of the army.  Beloved by most of the citizens of the newly recognized independent country, Washington’s triumphant entry into the largest city in the union was a noteworthy day for the new republic – for what didn’t happen as well as what did.

The Continental Army wasn’t as well dressed as the red coats that were leaving the country, but they were the real power in the United States. Washington received his commission from the Continental Congress, which at many times during the Revolutionary war seemed inept and petty as they argued over details. Washington had suffered many harsh winters because of the lack of funding and provisions provided by the congress that appointed him. He wasn’t alone either. Many times during the war, the soldiers and officers petitioned, requested and even threatened aggression against Congress if they didn’t provide promised funding for their service.

Washington sat tall in the saddle, looking very much like a king, as they were joined by the Governor of New York. The plan was for Washington and the governor to ride into town together, signifying an equal position of power and then Washington would leave, turning the full power to govern back to the people.

King George III had predicted it wouldn’t happen. He said that if George Washington could give up power, he would indeed be the greatest man of the eighteenth century. History had shown countless other military leaders that had come in bravely “fighting for the people,” only to turn around and establish themselves as the king or dictator.

Washington could have declared the country insufficiently strong to move on without a true government in place. So he would protect the country until a suitable institution could be in place. After the mess the Continental Congress had made of many of the affairs of the new country over the last eight years, he would be justified. At the least, he could occupy New York for a short time until his soldiers got paid.

Washington did leave. It wasn’t really a question in his mind. He had fought a long eight and a half years for a free republic and he was committed to that vision. For all the folly of the Continental Congress, Washington had fought for the opportunity for a republic to form, not another monarch.

Earlier that year in March 1783, a letter was circulating for officers to meet and discuss actions that they could take to make sure they got paid. Washington learned of the letter and understood the implications of a possible coup. He acted swiftly. He interrupted the meeting by showing up unannounced and stood in front of all present. He passionately asked them to reconsider their actions, believe in the government they were trying to set up, and remember the legacy they were leaving for their posterity. Then he left and nothing came from the coup.

As you know Washington gave up his control of the Continental Army only to be called back as president of the United States. He has been the only president who was unanimously selected twice by the electoral college. Then Washington again voluntarily retired, setting a precedent of two terms until it was made law with the 22nd Amendment in 1951.

For you:

George Washington is often called the father of our country. However, he was far from the originator or master craftsman of the new republic. He gave it the opportunity to exist. At the peril of his life, and fortune for a time, he served without pay because he saw the vision. He passed the vision along to others and inspired them to serve valiantly – sometimes in horrible conditions with no provisions. He was proclaimed a hero, and yet he still never lost sight of the true goal.

What is your goal? What is your guiding star that you can use to orient your path?

Now tell someone. Let someone else know what your goal is and let them remind you so you won’t lose sight of what you want to accomplish. You may help inspire him/her to set their own vision.

About

I started writing short stories in elementary school, starting with a short story about twin track athletes. In college, I wrote for the college newspaper and studied communications. My first job out of college was with a magazine as an assistant editor, where I started a comic strip called City Boy. My first published work, was a short essay entitled, Dream with Me, published in “The Art of Service” booklet put out by the Thayne Center for Service and Learning. I also published a three part series for families called “Family Parables – Wise Man Foolish Man.” This set is designed to be used by families to create discussion and learning as a family. I soon will publish my first novel, Love Like Alzheimer’s, a story of a family that is learning to love deeper as their beloved grandmother struggles with Alzheimer’s disease.

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