The Legacy of President Washington
by David Trumbull -- February 15, 2013
I "am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire."
-- George Washington, in 1796, announcing his intention to retire after two terms as President.
Monday is WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY, a federal and state holiday to honor the hero of the Revolutionary War, the Father of His Country, and the first President of the United States. Much has been said and written about Washington's character, and his influence, for the good, on the founding, and maintaining in its first years, of our Republic. In particular, it has been noted that Washington's decision to step down voluntarily, rather than serve as President for Life, revealed not merely his personal humility, but his deep trust in our Republican form of government. Washington was persuaded that our Constitution, which he calls "sacredly obligatory upon all," would always guarantee that we'd be a free people. And so shall we be, so long as the people hold our officials bound to their oaths to uphold the Constitution.
Of the 43 men to serve as chief executive of the Union, only Washington is so singled out for honor with a federal holiday. That many persons now call the third Monday in February "Presidents Day" is an indicator of our lack of discrimination and devaluing of true accomplishment and fame. To put it in perspective, Catholics believe that each of the 265 popes was the Vicar of Christ on Earth, infallible in matters of faith and morals, and yet fewer than 80 have been added to the calendar of saints. No less erudite writer than Dante Alighieri placed some of the popes in Hell. "He who made the great refusal" in Canto 3 of Dante Inferno is general considered to be Pope Celestine V. Celestine's abdication of the Throne of Peter in 1294 was, in the view of Dante, an abdication of his responsibility to the Church and shirking of his duty to God. It lead to the election of Pope Boniface VIII, in Dante's opinion, a very bad Pope.
Washington's refusal to continue in office was anything but a shirking of duty. He knew that under our Constitution the President may change, but the People always are sovereign. He fulfilled his responsibility to the People, first by his conduct as President, and, finally, with his Farewell Address. It is his treatise on how to maintain the free popular government we enjoy as Americans. Every America should read and reflect on Washington's sage advice in that speech.