by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét
Sing hey! For bold George Washington,
That jolly British tar,
King George’s famous admiral
From Hull to Zanzibar!
No–wait a minute–something’s wrong–
George wished to sail the foam.
But, when his mother thought aghast,
Of Georgie shinning up a mast,
Her tears and protests flowed so fast
That George remained at home.
Sing ho! For grave Washington,
The staid Virginia squire,
Who farms his fields and hunts his hounds
And aims at nothing higher!
Stop, stop it’s going wrong again!
George liked to live on farms,
But when the Colonies agreed
They could and should and would be freed,
They called on George to do the deed
And George cried “Shoulder arms!”
Sing ha! For Emperor Washington,
That hero of renown,
Who freed his land from Britain’s rule
To win a golden crown!
No, no, that’s what George might have won
But didn’t for he said,
“There’s not much point about a king,
They’re pretty but they’re apt to sting
And, as for crowns–the heavy thing
Would only hurt my head.”
Sing ho! For our George Washington!
(At last I’ve got it straight.)
The first in war, the first in peace,
The goodly and the great.
But, when you think about him now,
From here to Valley Forge,
Remember this–he might have been
A highly different specimen,
And, where on earth would we be, then?
I’m glad that George was George.
I have never liked President’s Day. Why celebrate loser presidents like Jimmy Carter and James Buchanan, non-entities like Millard Fillmore, bad presidents, like Grant, with great presidents like Washington and Lincoln? Officially the date is still the commemoration of George Washington’s birthday and in this post we will recall the life of the greatest American who ever lived. Ironically in the length of a blog post we will be unable to cover all of Washington’s event filled life, including his Presidency. We will break off at the close of the Revolution and finish off on February 22, the actual birthday of the man who will always be first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of all of us who, as Americans, in many ways are his children.
Only Abraham Lincoln comes close to Washington in our American secular pantheon. Our first president, he was also the man who led our armies to victory in the Revolutionary War, a conflict I am certain that we would have lost but for his leadership, faith and example. In his own time, and from his days as a very young man, most people who encountered Washington assumed he was destined for greatness. Six foot three at a time when most men were around five foot six, Washington was a literal giant for his day, weighing 220 pounds of muscle, and noted for his feats of strength. A quiet aura of dignity and command seemed to envelop him from the first time that he put on the uniform of a Virginia militia officer. He had a hot temper that he usually successfully controlled beneath a mask of quiet dignity, leavened by a lively sense of humor. However, none of these explain why men and women instinctively looked to him for leadership, but they always did. Perhaps it was simply a matter of trust. Although the cherry tree is a myth, Washington was always known to be an honest man, and a man who could be entrusted with great tasks that he would attempt to do out of a sense of duty and not for personal aggrandizement. Such men are very rare in history, and almost all Washington’s contemporaries realized that he was such a rarity.
Washington of course did not appear full grown on the stage of history. When he was born none would have expected him to have any historical significance in his life. Continue reading
And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
George Washington, Farewell Address
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, as he signed his name when he added his signature to the Declaration of Independence, was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. When he died at the age of 95, he was the last of the Signers to depart this vale of tears.
The scion of perhaps the richest family in the colonies, Charles Carroll was initially uninterested in politics and, in any case, was debarred by his religion from participating in politics in his native Maryland by his religion. However, in his thirties he became a passionate advocate of American independence from Great Britain and quickly became one of the chief leaders of the Patriot cause in his home colony. It was only natural as a result that he was sent to Congress, in spite of his religion, where he was one of the chief spokesmen for independence and happily placed his signature on the Declaration even though by doing so he risked not only his fortune but his life if the British had prevailed. By the end of 1776 the revolutionary government of Maryland had issued an act of religious freedom, and Carroll and his fellow Catholics in Maryland enjoyed the same civil rights as Protestants.
In 1778 he returned to Maryland and helped draft the state constitution and in setting up the new state government, serving in the State Senate until 1800, and briefly in the United States Senate.
A slaveholder, throughout his career Carroll spoke and wrote of slavery as an evil that must come to an end as soon as possible. He attempted, but failed, to have Maryland implement a plan of gradual emancipation. At the age of 91 he took on the task of being president of the Auxiliary State Colonization Society of Maryland, part of a national movement to have free blacks voluntarily colonize what would become Liberia in Africa.
Throughout his life his two main passions were the American Revolution and his Faith. Like most of the Founding Fathers he regarded the idea of political liberty divorced from sound morality, derived from religion, as an absurdity. He set forth his ideas on this subject in a letter to Secretary of War James McHenry in 1800 in which he lamented the then current American political scene:
These events will be hastened by the pretended philosophy of France; divine revelation has been scoffed at by the Philosophers of the present day, the immortality of the soul treated as the dreams of fools, or the invention of knaves, & death has been declared by public authority an eternal sleep; these opinions are gaining ground amongst us & silently saping the foundations of religion & encouragement of good, the terror of evildoers and the consolation of the poor, the miserable, and the distressed. Remove the hope & dread of future reward & punishment, the most powerful restraint on wicked action, & ye strongest inducement to virtuous ones is done away. Virtue, it may be said, is its own reward; I believe it to be so, and even in this life the only source of happiness, and this intimate & necessary connection between virtue & happiness here, & between vice & misery, is to my mind one of the surest pledge of happiness or misery in a future state of existence. But how few practice virtue merely for its own reward? Some of happy dispositon & temperament, calm reflecting men, exempt in a great degree from the turbulance of passions may be virtuous for vitrtue’s sake. Small however is the number who are guided by reason alone, & who can always subject their passions to its dictates. He can thust act may be said to be virtuous, but reason is often inlisted on the side of the passions, or at best, when most wanted, is weakest. Hence the necessity of a superior motive for acting virtuously; Now, what motive can be stronger than ye belief, founded on revelation, that a virtuous life will be rewarded by a happy immortality? Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore, who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, & insures to the good eternal happiness are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free government.
Carroll didn’t think much of John Adams as President, but Adams had precisely the same views on this subject as he stated in an address on October 11, 1798 to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the militia of Massachusetts: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Most of the Founding Fathers left similar sentiments in their writings. Something to ponder as we celebrate the Fourth tomorrow. Here is the full text of the letter of Charles Carroll of Carrollton to James McHenry: Continue reading