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First Founder
Happy birthday to a local boy who made good: George Washington

Date published: 2/22/2006

First Founder

The man who would not be king

Let his countrymen consecrate the memory of the heroic general, the patriotic statesman, the virtuous sage. Let them teach their children never to forget that the fruit of his labors and his example are their inheritance.

--U.S. Senate statement

upon the death of George Washington

"N EAR MIRACULOUS" would be an apt way to describe the circumstances that brought together the assem- blage of great men who laid the foundation for the United States of America. Inarguably, the cornerstone, the great rock upon which all the other stones rested, was George Washington, whose birthday we honor today.

Born just a few miles down the road in Westmoreland County, raised just a shilling's throw away at Ferry Farm, Washington was a world figure in the days when there was no global news, no Internet, no satellite feed. He was beloved by his countrymen and respected from afar. His old nemesis King George III of England said he was "the most distinguished of any living man" and "the greatest character of the age."

We are most familiar with the stiff image of Washington on the dollar bill, and indeed, it may seem that his wooden smile and powdered wig, his erect posture and formal manners would render him irrelevant in our image-driven, instant-message culture. But while modes of transportation and information and economic means may change, the characteristics of a great leader remain consistent throughout the ages. And these Washington had in abundance.

A tall, strong man, his physical presence was impressive. He was robust, fearless, and calm in the face of chaos. "General Washington seemed to arrest fortune with one glance," wrote Lafayette, while troops who served under Washington noted his "steady adherence to impartial justice, [his] quick discernment and invariable regard to merit." Famously, Congressman Henry Lee said upon Washington's death that he was "First in war--first in peace--and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding."

Washington was convinced that the the rule of law is essential for liberty and that "political prosperity" is dependent on "religion and morality." He understood what few acknowledge today: that true power emanates from the soul of a man, from his strength of character, not his fame, fortune, or position in life.

Irrelevant in 2006? No. George Washington remains America's premier leader.