Today is the 284th birthday of the Father of our Country, George Washington. The above video from the musical 1776 depicts John Adams asking the Secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson, if he stands with Adams or the opponents of Independence. Thomson responds that he stands with the General, George Washington. Throughout 1776, Washington is an unseen presence but a powerful one. As Congress considers the question of Independence, Washington’s messages to Congress paint a gloomy military picture. Each member of Congress knows that if they declare Independence, only Washington and his ragtag army stand between them and a hangman’s noose.
Washington was always blunt, albeit respectful, in his messages to Congress. It was his task to somehow hold together an army paid in worthless currency, dressed in rags, often barefoot, ill-fed and hastily trained. For eight long years, while the American economy largely collapsed due to a blockade, he pulled endless rabbits out of his tri-corn hat to keep his army in being for yet another day. He did this while respecting the civilian leadership of the new nation, a leadership that often seemed feckless and impotent. He did this while confronting the mightiest empire in the world that controlled the seas and deployed a superb army.
At periods during the Revolution Washington led his army with a skill that excited the imagination of the world. After the Trenton-Princeton campaign, Frederick the Great, King of Prussia and the foremost general of his day, wrote, “The achievements of Washington and his little band of compatriots between the 25th of December and the 4th of January, a space of 10 days, were the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military achievements.” I certainly agree with this and Washington fully earned the nicknames bestowed upon him by his British adversaries: “the fox” and “the old fox”. However, what excites my admiration most about Washington during the American Revolution was that he kept the Continental Army alive, and made it a formidable force.
In his farewell order to his victorious Continental Army George Washington wrote:
A contemplation of the compleat attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expected) of the object for which we contended against so formidable a power cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverence of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle. Continue reading
The idiotic anti-Catholic celebration of Guy Fawkes Day , observed each November fifth, was effectively ended two hundred and forty years ago in America during the Revolution, in large part due to George Washington. Here is his order on November 5, 1775:
As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope–He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada. Continue reading
Dugout Doug MacArthur lies ashaking on the Rock
Safe from all the bombers and from any sudden shock
Dugout Doug is eating of the best food on Bataan
And his troops go starving on.
Dugout Doug’s not timid, he’s just cautious, not afraid
He’s protecting carefully the stars that Franklin made
Four-star generals are rare as good food on Bataan
And his troops go starving on.
Dugout Doug is ready in his Kris Craft for the flee
Over bounding billows and the wildly raging sea
For the Japs are pounding on the gates of Old Bataan
And his troops go starving on…
Over the next few years we will be taking a look at General Douglas MacArthur, concentrating on his rule of Japan and his role in the Korean War. A larger than life figure even while he lived, MacArthur has always sparked strong hate and love. A number of myths have cropped up about Macarthur, and several posts will deal with dispelling these myths, so that we can look at him in the cold light of historical fact. The first myth up is that of Dugout Doug.
The myth of Dugout Doug contends that MacArthur was a coward, who refused to share the dangers of his troops on Bataan, and fled from them, leaving them to endure defeat and brutal captivity, often ending in their deaths.
It is probably accurate to say that MacArthur was not a brave man. In order to be brave, in a physical sense, one must know a fear of physical pain or death. Some men simply have no such fear. George Washington did not. Throughout the French and Indian War and the American Revolution he constantly exposed himself to enemy fire while he led from the front, to the terror of his aides, who were brave men. They marveled that Washington showed no sign of fear, and his only reaction to being fired upon was a look of minor annoyance. Continue reading
 But the Pharisees hearing that he had silenced the Sadducees, came together:
 And one of them, a doctor of the law, asking him, tempting him:
 Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?
 Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.
 This is the greatest and the first commandment.
 And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
 On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.
Matthew 22: 34-40
(I originally posted this on December 26, 2012. It seems like a good post for the day after Christmas, so here it is again.)
Joe Carter at Catholic Education Resource Center has a wonderful post entitled The Fountainhead of Bedford Falls, which compares the fictional characters Howard Roark and George Bailey:
Not surprisingly, Roark has become something of a cult figure, especially among young nerdy males entering post-adolescence. Although Roark is artistically gifted and technically brilliant, he prefers to take a job breaking rocks in a quarry than sell out to The Man. He provides a model for the underemployed, misunderstood, twenty-something misfit by choice. These see themselves in the uncompromising sulker, believing it better to vandalize and destroy than allow society to co-opt their dreams.
Rand herself would have certainly envisioned things differently. She would have sneered in disgust at the idea that Roark was anything like the slacker working at Starbucks the populists marching at Tea Parties. Her hero was a cross between the modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the serial killer and child rapist William Hickman. Rand’s ideal was the nonconformist who exhibited sociopathic tendencies. She dreamed of the minority of brilliant, atheistic ubermensch who would “eventually trample society under its feet.” The vast majority of the people who read The Fountainhead might admire Roark, but they’d never emulate him.
Similarly, Capra’s audience flatters themselves by believing the message of Wonderful Life is that their own lives are just as worthy, just as noble, and just as wonderful’ as George Bailey’s. In a way, they are as delusional as the Randian Roark-worshippers. Despite the fact that they left their small-town communities for the city, put their parents in an assisted living facility and don’t know the names of their next door neighbors, they truly believe they are just like Capra’s hero.
Such delusions are the reason these characters have remained two of the most dominant archetypes of American individualism in pop culture. The pendulum of popularity is swinging back toward Rand but it’s Capra’s creation that should be our model for inspiration.
Roark is nihilistic, narrow-minded, and something of a bore. Bailey is far darker, more complex, and infinitely more interesting.
What makes George Bailey one of the most inspiring, emotionally complex characters in modern popular culture is that he continually chooses the needs of his family and community over his own self-interested ambitions and desires – and suffers immensely and repeatedly for his sacrifices.
Although sentimental, Capra’s movie is not a simplistic morality play. It’s true that the movie ends on a happy note late on Christmas Eve, when George is saved from ruin. But on Christmas Day he’ll wake to find that his life is not so different than it was when he wanted to commit suicide.
He will remain a frustrated artist who is scraping by on a meager salary and living in a drafty old house in a one-stoplight town. All that has really changed is that he has gained a deeper appreciation of the value of faith, friends, and community – and that this is worth more than his worldly ambitions. Capra’s underlying message is thus radically subversive: It is by serving our fellow man, even to the point of subordinating our dreams and ambitions, that we achieve both true greatness and lasting happiness. Continue reading
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