Thomas Fleming: George Washington’s Gift

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Washington went on to express his gratitude for the support of "my countrymen" and the "army in general." This reference to his soldiers ignited feelings so intense, he had to grip the speech with both hands to keep it steady. He continued: "I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them [Congress] to his holy keeping."

For a long moment, Washington could not say another word. Tears streamed down his cheeks. The words touched a vein of religious faith in his inmost soul, born of battlefield experiences that had convinced him of the existence of a caring God who had protected him and his country again and again during the war. Without this faith he might never have been able to endure the frustrations and rage he had experienced in the previous eight months.

Washington then drew from his coat a parchment copy of his appointment as commander in chief. "Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of action and bidding farewell to this august body under whom I have long acted, I here offer my commission and take leave of all the employments of public life." Stepping forward, he handed the document to Mifflin.

This was -- is -- the most important moment in American history.

The man who could have dispersed this feckless Congress and obtained for himself and his soldiers rewards worthy of their courage was renouncing absolute power. By this visible, incontrovertible act, Washington did more to affirm America's government of the people than a thousand declarations by legislatures and treatises by philosophers.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the greatest of these declarations, witnessed this drama as a delegate from Virginia. Intuitively, he understood its historic dimension. "The moderation. . . . of a single character," he later wrote, "probably prevented this revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish."

Read it all.

Filed under: * International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.

Posted December 25, 2007 at 5:34 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Old Soldier wrote:

Nothing new under the sun department:  The US Congress, in the main, still treats the military like a red-headed step-child.

December 25, 10:00 pm | [comment link]
2. Jody+ wrote:


Indeed.  It’s ironic, despite all our patriotic talk, how often our government has been in conflict with veterans.  One might think of the Bonus Army in the 1930’s as well as many other instances…

On a positive note, my veteran father got a surprising call from the Dept. of VA recently regarding his exposure to agent orange and service related injuries…seems they’re cleaning out the files of those they haven’t had any contact with in a while and want them to get checked out see if they’re owed anything.  I suppose that’s an improvement.

December 26, 4:00 am | [comment link]
3. Jafer wrote:

Just to keep the season’s positive note…  The State of California, several years ago, passed a law requiring all State Universities and Colleges to forgive all registration and tuition fees for the children of veterans of wartime military service. As long as the child does not earn over the poverty standard set by the Federal government, they are entitled to a registration and tuition free education by the state. Finally the thanks of at least a grateful state if not a nation are being expressed without the requirement of a funeral.

Nice, huh?

December 26, 6:42 am | [comment link]
4. Larry Morse wrote:

The heart of the matter here is that Washington declared irrevocbly for self-restraint, self-discipline, the substance of the Apollonian society which America maintained until the ‘60’s when it threw out this long standing identity and substituted the free expression of emotion as the gold standard of behavior. The Anglican church - all Christian churches, I suppose, - have stood with Washington in the fundamental matter. Christ himself spoke clearly for self-discipline; this hardly needs documentation. And then along has come TEC which has thrown its identity with the 60’s. This has become a central and non-negotiable issue in the war. And, I say again, so it should be.

  This issue is so fundamental that it precedes all formal religion, or perhaps has always been interfused with all spirituality. At the very least, we can seen beyond all doubt that good character consists of courage and self-restraint: Courage, because this is the expansive force that allows mankind to create adaptations which allow him to survive; and self-restraint, the centripetal force that keeps man from rashness, and from exploiting his power over nature and other people. Washington had both to an extraordinary degree, and it precisely the reassertion of these two necessities that Anglicanism, at its core, must fight hard for, and I mean to the death, for it is one of the few forces left in the US that has kept the power to say “No” to the Dionysian society that the 60’s created and TEC has become the poster child for. LM

December 26, 10:13 am | [comment link]
5. AnglicanFirst wrote:

In the early 1970s, when the U.S. Congress abandoned the South Vietnamese people, a people whom Congress had been highly instrumental in motivating in their fight against communism in the mid-1960s, I think that I felt as George Washington must have felt in addressing Congress on Christmas Eve.

Our elected representatives to Congress in the early 1970s were just as dishonest, cowardly and self-centered as those Congressmen of the 1770s and 1780s who so poorly supported the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

In April 1975,  I watched TV and saw the South Vietnamese Army, from which Congress had withdrawn essential material support over the previous several years fall before a North Vietnamese Army that had been abundantly supplied by the USSR, Red China and the Warsaw Pact nations. 

As I read in the newspapers during that April 32 years-ago that the Seventh Air Force, based in Thailand, and the Seventh Fleet just off of South Vietnam’s coast were under a Congressional injunction against their being used to support the South Vietnamese.  As I realized that President Ford didn’t have the courage to defy Congress on an issue of national security and international obligation and issue orders to the Seventh Air Force and the Seventh Fleet to support the South Vietnamese, I and many other Americans felt what George Washington must have felt that Christamas Eve so long ago.

Today some of the same people are in Congress and once again, it looks as if Congress will be craven in its pursuit of our national security issues.

December 26, 10:19 am | [comment link]
6. Harvey wrote:

#5 “ looks as if Congress will be craven in its pursuit of our national security issues..”  True; certain members of Congress and Presidental campainers are trying to cut and run on this present war, but so far they are not suceeding too well and in some cases are backing away from the issue entirely.

December 26, 1:05 pm | [comment link]
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