April 30, 2013
On this day in 1789, George Washington became the first president under the Constitution of the United States of America. A great man in both stature and character, who could have been king but relinquished his command to Congress. He was then elected to the nation’s highest office after the ratification of the Constitution. It reminds me of the Scriptural phrase “he who humbles himself will be exalted.” It is not a coincidence that one of our most revered national heroes gave up a chance at a great power. It is reported that King George III stated when he heard Washington would relinquish his command and return to his farm, “If he does that he will be the greatest man in the world.” High praise from the monarch of one of the world’s leading powers! Not only did Washington achieve great fame and popularity in his own day, he also set a precedent for a peaceful transition of power and for a two term limit on presidential power both of which are followed to this day. Washington’s country has endured longer under one Constitution and form of government than any other today.
Another leader cemented his place in history on this day in 1945, Adolf Hitler. In a bunker in Germany, the man who would have ruled the world and began a thousand-year Reich died in a most ignominious way—suicide. A man who exalted himself and his race above others and brutally murdered all who stood in his way was brought low. The supreme leader of one of the greatest military machines the world has ever seen lost all of his power in just a few years. It sent his country into a time of division and turmoil. The thousand-year Reich became a ruin in a few short years. What a contrast with the great George Washington.
The man who led a raggedy band of colonials against the greatest military in the world and won handed over his authority and rode home. And in that moment became one of the great men of antiquity. A man who led the mightiest military machine in the world and lifted himself up in every way was defeated and consigned the historical trash heap of world despots. The lessons to be learned from these men are many. Our politicians would be wise today to consider what a true leader does. A true leader knows when to stand and fight against all odds, like Washington at Valley Forge, and a true leader does not see himself as great but sees himself as a servant of something greater. An evil leader only sees the present and is fearful of preserving his reputation and power. In his desire to hold on, he soon finds power and fame are fleeting. Washington walked away from everything and became a legend. Hitler grabbed for everything and became a monster.
Another great man once said, “A man is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” In the city that bears our first President’s namesake I hope there are some great men left.