Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

“Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration was maturely weighed. . . . His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man. “

~ Thomas Jefferson’s Reflection On George Washington, 1814

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Perhaps integrity has become a bygone concept. Something from the days of old that only the best of the Founding Fathers could have hoped to aspire to. After all, the idea that one should mean what they say and say what they mean has become rather foreign, especially in politics these days. Holding unimpeachable beliefs is becoming a more and more out of date concept. So why bother?

George Washington wasn’t the brightest or bravest or wisest or best at anything in particular of the Founding Fathers or even of the Revolutionary-era Generals. In fact, in pretty much any superlative you could think of, Washington had found himself in company far more exalted than himself. Jefferson was a literal polymath or Renaissance man- a genius in many fields. Adams was a brilliant legal mind. Hamilton had a tenacity and bravery in the face of every adversity seldom seen. In the company of men like these and the rest of the Founders, Washington was downright ordinary.

And he knew it. In every fiber of his being, Washington was immensely conscious that he was the lesser man. And yet, AND YET, ask any of the Founding Fathers. Read anything they ever wrote about one another, and they all agree – despite not being the best at anything, Washington was the BEST of them. How can this be? How can a group of brilliant minds who changed the course of a nation, and arguably the world, all have believed that the least among them was in fact the greatest? Why is Washington forever enshrined as the one Founder who all the others so admired, and wanted the nation to admire?

The answer is shocking in its simplicity. Washington wasn’t particularly brilliant or the best at anything. But he was HONEST. He was loyal. He believed in duty. And above all else, he was a man of deep, and abiding integrity. When he was asked to lead the Revolutionary army, he initially demurred. He knew he wasn’t the best military mind. He eventually agreed because it was his duty to his country if his country asked it. The revolutionary era commoners would have kept electing Washington president. He could have turned himself into a King if he had wanted it. Instead, he served two terms and he went home to his farm.

Washington was special, and his legacy endures not BECAUSE he was the best, but because he WASN’T. His humility, his sense of duty and honor, his honesty, and his selfless integrity earned him a place on the front page of every history ever written. The Founding Fathers unanimously elected a man who wasn’t all that great at anything. His name was George Washington. And they chose him because he was one of the few, truly good men.

Res Publica

 

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