It sounds like a lesson from an 8th grade history class to say it, but if there is a single man to whom this country's existence can be attributed it's George Washington. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, John Adams and many others were all truly brilliant and all had important roles, but at the end of the day George was the man. And it wasn't because he was our first general, or even our first president. That's the kind of "cult of personality" thinking I despise. Giving a man a highly visible position doesn't confer upon him some greater than average insights into the hearts of other men. But he was great all the same, albeit for other reasons.
He was a wealthy and ambitions man when the continental congress convened. Naked ambition was frowned upon at the time, but he wore his uniform from the Virginia Militia every day when the congress would meet because it's how he wanted to be seen. It was a position that he knew he was qualified for and that he knew he felt he could use to advance their common cause. You see he was an idealist, and a true revolutionary. He believed in something greater than himself, and he was prepared to risk everything he had to achieve it.
When he took command of the Army it was a rolling disaster, and never got much better. You could paper the walls of the library of congress with all his letters requesting more money to pay the troops, more food, more powder, more shot, more shoes, more blankets, more ... well more of everything. They were never well supplied. Half of their artillery was stolen from the British, and they had no Navy whatsoever, only a few small privateers. Disease was rampant, discipline non-existent, and morale horrendous.
Even at it's best his army was truly miserable. His first battle in Boston was a victory, but even so the desertion was so common that at times he managed to keep the army together only by reaching in his own pocket to pay them. He occupied New York out of necessity but knew he could never hold a city made up of islands without any Navy, so he did what he could to stall for time, and surrendered the ground to British only when he had no choice. He wasn't beaten at New York, quite the contrary, but he did have to give up the ground.
Then came the back and forth see saw of New Jersey. His Army was still a mess, but he held it together with personal appeals, and managed to win a few victories. The famous battle of Trenton where he used stealth and surprise to his advantage to route the Hessians. The hit and run tactics he used through Somerset, Middlesex and Union counties as he worked his way from one winter camp to another disrupting the British supply lines. And the battle of Monmouth where he personally rallied his troops to turn what looked to be a British triumph into a tactical draw.
Those things make him an entertaining figure to read about, but it isn't what made him great.
He was also our first president, but we know that alone doesn't make a man great. In the last few decades we've seen several presidents who were something less than that. Our current president may be well intentioned but is too cloistered in his thinking. And his immediate predecessor may have been charming and popular, but was of somewhat less than stellar character. Before them there was Richard Nixon who resigned from office in disgrace, and Jimmy Carter who was a failure at virtually everything and left the country on it's knees both domestically and abroad.
No, the thing that made Washington truly great was that he was a man of conviction, and his conviction was to the principle of liberty. Before him, every general who had defeated an army in the field could take power for himself. He was even offered the crown of America but refused it. And after just two terms in office as President he committed the single act which created America more than any other. He stepped down from power, and let someone else take over. It was a totally unprecedented move, and contrary to the character of most powerful men. But he was not an ordinary man. He could have had it all for himself and his family for generations, but it was more important to him to foster a country dedicated to the idea of individual liberty. He took his personal triumph, and made it a triumph that belonged to everyone. He's the man who gave us all the American dream.
Compare that act of greatness to the sniveling weasels we have in office today who will use any means, legal or otherwise to get and keep their power. They will set torch to the constitution itself before they give it up. They will sue each other and us, and do anything they can to make sure no one but them can control our destiny. They will commit any sin to get and keep power, and will sooner see this country in ruins before they let another control it. He was a great man, but they are the worst. They are what comes after the revolution. They are the hanger's on, the camp followers, the whores and carpet baggers, and snake oil salesmen, they are the sickness of a government.
They are the would be tyrants that the founders of our country were trying to protect us from. And not a day goes by when they don't do all they can to wiggle from the genius traps our founders laid to keep them from their dreams of power. They squirm and wiggle through the courts, and howl and rage in the media, and tell us that it's all neccesary for our own good. But the truth is, they only care for themselves. They will seize our property, ignore our voices and usurp our rights, and tell us all that it must be that way. But even through the worst of their efforts, they are still held back in some small way by the brilliance of men long dead, but not forgotten.
And remembering that, and the chance it still provides us, I thank god for men like George Washington.