Tag archives: George Washington

George Washington’s “So Help Me God”: Did He or Didn’t He?

by Robert Morrison

October 31, 2013

I’m actually complimented when liberals criticize my writing. They called a column I did about Carl Sagan’s golden stele headed into interplanetary space “the stupidest column in the world.” Gosh, since I wrote about Pioneer 10 bearing that indelible evidence of the human race as male and female, couldn’t they at least have called my column the stupidest in the universe?

But of late, they got really got me scratching my head. George Washington didn’t say “So help me God” when he took the oath as our first President, they claim. Really?

I took my wife and little children to Lower Manhattan on April 30, 1989 for the re-enactment of Washington’s First Inaugural. I distinctly recall those words were repeated for that official bicentennial ceremony. (And no, my young friends, I wasn’t there for the events of 1789.)

Atheizers are claiming Washington never said it. Atheizers are folks who, whether they believe in God or not, are determined to eradicate every reference to the Almighty in our public life.

If I am wrong about Washington’s invoking God as he took the oath, as the atheizers maintain, then I have a lot of company in my error. Here are just some of the many sources I’ve consulted over the years.

Chief Justice John Marshall was a contemporary of George Washington. His multi-volume biography, Life of Washington, Vol. IV, contains a plate showing Washington’s oath-taking. His hand is on the open Bible. And this inscription accompanies it.

On one side stood Chancellor Livingston, who administered the oath. On the other side was Vice-President John Adams Washington solemnly repeated the words of the oath, clearly enunciating, “I swear”: adding in a whisper, with closed eyes, “So help me God.”

Reverently, with closed eyes, in a whisper. Maybe that’s why the atheizers missed it.

Below are other scholarly sources that span a period of 124 years. It seems we have always known the truth and only recently have forgotten it. Or, are the atheizers simply trying to sandblast the records?

1. Henry Cabot Lodge, George Washington, Vol. I, p. 46 (1889)

Then Chancellor Livingston administered the oath. Washington laid his hand upon the Bible, bowed, and said solemnly when the oath was concluded, “I swear, so help me God,” and, bending reverently, kissed the book.

2. Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington, Vol. Six, p. 193. (1954)

I solemnly swear. So help me God.” He bent forward as he spoke and, before Otis could lift the Bible to his lips, he kissed the book.

3. Benson Bobrick, Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution, p. 491. (1997)

Washington said, “I swear,” and, lifting the open Bible which lay on a crimson cushion before him, exclaimed in a firm voice, “So help me God!.” The Chancellor, turning to the people, said “It is done!” and, in a loud voice, “Long live George Washington, President of the United States !”

4. David McCullough, John Adams, 2001, p. 403. (2001)

Then, as not specified in the Constitution, [Washington] added, “So help me God,” and kissed the Bible, thereby establishing his own presidential tradition.

5. William J. Bennett, America : The Last Best Hope, Vol. 1., p. 135 (2006)

Dressed in a homespun American-made brown suite with eagles on the buttons, he placed his hand on the Bible and recited the [presidential] oath, adding, significantly, four words repeated by every president since as a matter of tradition if not sincere belief: “So help me God.” Then he kissed the Bible.

I hasten to add that not all liberals have joined the atheizers. Tom Hanks is a popular Hollywood liberal in good standing, a backer of Presidents Clinton and Obama. But I take my hat off to Tom Hanks for the series he produced on John Adams. The HBO series on John Adams did a wonderful job with the Inauguration of George Washington.

I have to laugh at Honest John Adams’ awkwardness. And when he first visited New York City, my hometown, he wrote to Abigail that “they talk very loud, very fast, and all at once.” Do you think that’s why some of them missed George Washington saying “So Help Me God?”

But they couldn’t have missed what our First President did next. He kissed the Bible. Don’t tell the atheizers.

Today in History: Washington and Hitler

by Family Research Council

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.

Let’s Make it Washington & Lincoln Day

by Robert Morrison

February 22, 2013

Today is George Washington’s Birthday. It used to be a holiday, a unifying national celebration of the Father of our Country.

We used to teach children a lot about George Washington. When I told Ed Meese a few years back that an online poll of Americans had voted Ronald Reagan the greatest American, Mr. Meese almost spilled his coffee.

He didn’t think so! He thought George Washington was the greatest American.” Mr. Meese sadly shook his head over what was happening to civic education in our country.

It’s especially poignant to remember Ronald Reagan’s Farewell Address to the Nation. In January 1989, the president warned of a loss of our national memory. He was the only president known to have died of Alzheimer’s. George F. Will poetically compared that dreaded disease to aMidwestblizzard in which all the familiar signposts and landmarks are gradually lost to view in a mental whiteout.

Before his long goodbye, though, President Reagan said: “If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.”

One way we can see the erosion of the American spirit is through the loss of civic ceremony and a sense of our history as a people. I would point to Presidents Day as a symptom of this loss. What is this thing? Formally, it is still the federal holiday dedicated to George Washington, but what is it in the minds of the people? Is it a celebration of the presidency? Are we really celebrating James Buchanan and Millard Fillmore along with Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton? I hope not.

I was often asked by my college history students to name the greatest President of the United States. I would answer: Washington & Lincoln. No, the greatest one president. Washington & Lincoln, I would stubbornly reply.

Often, among conservatives, Washington is tops. Among liberals, it’s usually Lincoln (once they get past that inconvenient truth that Lincoln was a—shudder—Republican).

There are of course many differences between Washington and Lincoln. Washington was a wealthy planter, one of the richest. He held slaves all his life. We don’t want to celebrate that, for sure. But as president, he signed Congress’ reaffirmation of the Northwest Ordinance, which banned slavery from a vast western reserve of lands.

He also freed his slaves on his death, thus setting an example for the country. If every slaveholder had done what Washington did, there would have been no Civil War.

Washington was clearly the most unifying figure ever to occupy the presidency. He was twice elected unanimously in the Electoral College. Even Washington’s opponents, and he did have some, generally tried to blame Alexander Hamilton or John Jay for some of the administration’s policies they disliked.

If Washington was the most unifying, Abraham Lincoln was the most divisive. A bloody four-year struggle ensued almost from the day his victory was announced. That says more about us as a people, however, than it does about Lincoln. The great Southern diarist Mary Chesnut probably had it right when she pegged the root cause of the Civil War: It was “because we hated each other so.” Tragically true.

Lincoln had great faith in the power of reason to appeal to “the better angels of our nature.” He thought surely we could all recognize what Washington and the other Founders recognized: Slavery is an evil and should not be extended. But by 1860, millions had been swayed by the seductive arguments of John C. Calhoun that slavery was “a positive good” for slaveholder and slave alike.

Lincoln playfully exploded the illogic of that argument. Though volumes have been written to prove the good of slavery, he said, we seldom hear of “the man who seeks the good of slavery by becoming a slave himself.”

If only those swayed millions had heard Lincoln’s arguments. His speeches, his writings were effectively banned across eleven states. In the election of 1860, his name did not even appear on the ballot in ten states.

The reason to oppose Presidents Day is because we cannot focus on forty-four presidents. They become a blur. Ronald Reagan understood this when he led the commemoration of the Fortieth Anniversary of D-Day. He went to Normandy and invited grizzled veterans of the invasion, brave airborne rangers, to sit before him. “These are the boys of Pointe-du-Hoc,” he intoned, “these are the men who liberated a continent and left the vivid air signed with their honor.”

Scholar Douglas Brinkley understood Reagan’s sense of the dramatic. Just as Shakespeare’s Henry V immortalized “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” Ronald Reagan let those Boys of Pointe-du-Hoc stand for the millions who fought to free Western Europe in World War II.

By celebrating Washington & Lincoln, we give the honor due to our Founding Father and our Redeemer President. It was Lincoln who, in freeing the slaves, assured freedom to the free. And it was clear throughout his presidency that Lincoln revered Washington above all his predecessors. Lincoln fought for “a vast future;” Washington secured this haven for “millions yet unborn.” We should honor both of our greatest leaders and celebrate Washington & Lincoln Day.

Washington & Lee: Saving the Union

by Robert Morrison

February 1, 2013

Whenever we hear that term—Washington & Lee—we probably think of the distinguished Virginia university. Dubyanell it’s often called by those who love it. And the term brings to mind two of the Old Dominion’s famous sons—George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Lee modeled his life and his career on the man his father had eulogized as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

After he surrendered to Gen. Grant at Appomattox in 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee received many offers of employment. One of these was from an insurance company that promised to pay him $50,000 a year if he would be their president. When Gen. Lee demurred, saying he knew nothing about insurance, the company’s recruiters tried to reassure him that they only wanted his name, that he would be a figurehead president. The former commander of Confederate armies smilingly declined, saying if his name was worth $50,000 a year, he would take good care of it. Instead, Gen. Lee accepted the presidency of Washington College at $5,000 a year. And his inspired leadership transformed the sleepy little school into a pioneer in education. That’s why it’s known today as Washington & Lee University.

My Washington & Lee today is another partnership, a lifelong relationship between Gen. George Washington and his slave, William Lee. Historian David Hackett Fischer’s excellent book, Washington’s Crossing, relates many amazing facts of that near-disastrous year of 1776.

One of the stories that has greatest appeal to me is how the Continental Army nearly broke apart in a huge riot. It was in the Cambridge camp, outside Boston. Virginia backwoodsmen arrived to join the army. Their fringed buckskin jackets suggested frontier roughness. But their frilled white shirts announced that these Virginians considered themselves gentlemen and they expected the deference due them as gentlemen. Some of these Virginians were, like His Excellency, Gen. Washington, the owners of slaves.

They soon collided with Col. John Glover’s Marblehead regiment. Many of Glover’s men were hardy New England sailors. Among their number were free men of color. Seafaring Massachusetts had long included black sailors among its sons. This made Massachusetts more “democratical” from the start.

Fischer’s account is chilling: “Insults gave way to blows, and blows to ‘a fierce struggle’ with ‘biting and gouging.’ One spectator wrote that in less than five minutes more than a thousand combatants were on the field. Americans from one region began to fight Americans from another part of the country, on a larger scale than the battles at Lexington and Concord [emphasis added].”

Honoring His Excellency, I Get Plastered

by Robert Morrison

July 28, 2012

No, no, I didn’t stop off at George Washington’s distillery—a mile down the road from Mount Vernon. And I didn’t linger over his long dining table for after dinner Madeira. It would have been an honor to do so, however. I wanted to honor the memory of His Excellency in my own way. So I got plastered. This week, I had a life mask done.

George Washington famously submitted to having a life mask done. His Excellency had only recently retired to Mount Vernon, having resigned his commission to Congress. In 1785, the Virginia General Assembly wanted a true likeness of Virginia’s favorite son. They turned to America’s new minister to France, the young Virginian Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Jefferson responded promptly: “There could be no question raised as to the sculptor who should be employed; the reputation of Monsieur Houdon of this city being unrivalled in Europe.”

Washington would have been enthusiastically received in France. But he had a keen sense of his own role and dignity. He would have felt out of place where he could not understand a word of the language. So Jean Antoine Houdon would come to America. So great was George Washington’s reputation in Europe that the greatest sculptor in the world fairly leaped at the chance. Besides, if you have to cross the stormy North Atlantic, who better to go with than Benjamin Franklin? The aging genius was returning from France and his wild success as America’s first minister there.

Arriving in Philadelphia with Franklin, Houdon got a letter from Mount Vernon bidding him to come straightaway. Washington evidently liked the fact that Houdon was all business. Jefferson had described the Frenchman as “panting after glory.” [George Washington: Patriot and President, vol. VI, Douglas Southall Freeman, p. 42] Biographer Freeman records that “Houdon looked, Houdon listened as best he could—and Houdon worked.”

We can all be glad that he did. The Houdon bust is the best likeness of our Founding Father that we will ever have. And the Houdon statue of Washington, which is a full length version of the bust, is a most meaningful symbol of the early republic. Author Gary Wills notes that Washington, like the classic Roman general, Cincinnatus, is shown draping his military cape over a column. His sword, likewise, is retired to its scabbard as Washington steps out with a very civilian walking stick. Here, Washington returns to his status as a gentleman farmer.

This is a better likeness of America’s “indispensable man” than the familiar Gilbert Stuart portrait. Stuart was a chatty fellow who liked to put his subjects at ease with a lot of gossipy talk. Washington was not a stiff, but the Stuart portrait makes him seem so.

Biographer James Thomas Flexner, who was also a leading American art historian, wrote that no one had done more harm to Washington’s historical image than Gilbert Stuart. First Lady Dolley Madison would save the full length Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington when the British came to burn the White House in 1814. There are times, however, when I wish she hadn’t.

Flexner says the “snaffle-mouthed” Stuart portrait of Washington unfairly emphasizes the older man’s ill-fitting dentures. He gazes down on us with a somewhat disapproving air.

Houdon left Mount Vernon and returned to Paris. When the statue of Washington was finished, he didn’t even send a letter describing it, or, as Freeman notes, did he ask if Washington liked it. “Houdon let the marble speak for itself. It did.”

My Annapolis friends, Tom and Ann Stagnaro, are both creative people. They volunteered to do a life mask of me. Tom’s carvings of birds and gargoyles are a marvel. And Ann is a connoisseur and collector of fine quilts. They first had me grease my face with vaseline. Then they sat me down on a chaise lounge in their kitchen. A rubber skull cap would keep plaster out of my hair. Straws up my nose would let me breathe. Or so I thought. I had come straight from the pool and was a bit congested.

I no sooner had my face and neck covered with alginate and felt it begin to harden than I had the sense of being encased, almost entombed. When Ann offered stories of grandchildren, I could only give her a thumbs up or down. I remained calm. “Only fifteen more minutes,” Tom said. Fifteen minutes! I didn’t want my visage preserved in a kind of rictus—an open-mouthed grimace.

Thanks to Houdon, we have timeless images not only of Washington, but also of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Paul Jones. The dashing naval hero Jones had twenty-three copies of his bust made to share with his best friends in America. It was this bust that searchers used to identify Jones’ body when it was exhumed from a Paris cemetery a full century after his death. His remains were brought home to America where they rest in the Crypt beneath the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel. Before we had DNA, we had Jean Antoine Houdon.

I’m most grateful to Tom and Ann for doing a life mask of me. And I told them they had solved another mystery about George Washington’s life and death. As he lay dying at Mount Vernon in December, 1799, Washington gave strict orders to the faithful Tobias Lear. Do not let me be put in the grave until three days after I am dead. Now I know why.

April 30, 1789: Was President Washington Too Cute by Half?

by Robert Morrison

April 30, 2012

Last week, Congressman Todd Akin (R-Mo.) offered a prayer to open a meeting of his House Armed Services Subcommittee. It was a personal prayer in which the Congressman asked for divine guidance and for a spirit of conciliation among Members during sometimes rancorous proceedings. He closed by saying he offered the prayer in the name of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Uh oh! That was enough to excite the rancor of the atheizers. These are those self-appointed defenders of the constitutional separation of church and state who race to the microphones and into court to protest any mention of God, or parish the thought, Jesus in a public context.

They will doubtless be wounded and think themselves unjustly treated to be called atheizers. But is that not the effect of what they advocate? Do they not complain of any public expression of Christian faith? They say they are all for religious liberty, and many of them vigorously claim to be Christians themselves.

They simply want to have freedom of expression and freedom of worship confined to the home and churches. Away from public view. Just like it was guaranteed in the old Soviet Constitution.

One of the atheizers leaders is Rev. Barry Lynn. He heads something called Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Americans, it seems, were mostly united before the atheizers began their agitation. Since then, there has been no end of Americans disunited.

Rev. Lynn is not letting Mr. Akin get away with referring to You Know Who as his personal Savior. Thats too cute by half, said Mr. Lynn.

Mr. Lynn is always provocative. He got me thinking. I wonder if President Washington was also too cute by half. Its true that President Washington did not mention the name of Jesus in his Inaugural Address on this day in New York City in 1789.

Perhaps George Washington figured that since he was taking the Oath of Office as prescribed in the newly adopted Constitution, it would be unnecessary. He did add to the words prescribed in the Constitution these four wordsSo Help Me God.

Washington was acutely aware that everything he did and said would form a precedent for future presidents. He was also acutely careful to respect the traditions and beliefs of his fellow citizens of the new republic.

After taking the oath, in the presence of a cloud of witnesses, and asking Gods help in fulfilling his constitutional duties as the first president, Washington kissed the Bible.

Did you notice that part, Barry Lynn? George Washington actually kissed the Bible. On federal property. And in the middle of an official federal proceeding, not unlike a congressional hearing.

And before the atheizers come back with their rejoinderbut Washington never mentioned Jesuslets see what President Washington did next. He proceeded inside to deliver his first Inaugural Address to Members of the new federal Congress, diplomats, and invited guests in the Senate chamber.

From there, President Washington led the assembly to St. Pauls Church in Lower Manhattan, where the Chaplain of the Senate led them in a worship service. The Rev. Dr. Prevost also served as Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church of New York.

Washington Irving, one of Americas best loved writers, then informs us so closed the inaugural ceremonies.

Imagine that, Mr. Lynn! On that day inManhattanwere assembled hundreds of those who had drafted, approved, and then ratified the new Constitution. No one, according to the historical account, jumped up to protest the oath, or the kissing of the Bible by the newly intalled president. No one seems to have run out of St.Pauls offended at hearing the name of Jesus.

Can Barry Lynn or any of the other atheizers show us where and when the Constitution that Washingtonvowed to preserve, protect, and defend has been amended to make references to God or Jesus Christ unconstitutional?

If the atheizers now believe we should banish all references to God and all mention of Jesus from public life, they have a right in this free republic to advocate for this change. They have a right to offer an amendment to the Constitution to bring about the naked public square they seem to crave. Maybe their friends in the Anti-Christian Litigation Unit will draft their amendment for them.

But until they amend George Washingtons Constitution, I believe Congressman Todd Akin was not too cute by half. I believe he was acute. Mr. Akin was as acute as George Washington was in acknowledging publicly his dependence on the Lord for guidance, and in expressing his gratitude for the blessings of liberty. Thank you, Congressman Akin.

Americas First Peacetime Flag

by Robert Morrison

September 8, 2011

My friend, Dick Libby, is a vexillologist. He studies flags. Dick worked for years to correct the version of the Shaw flag that flies over the heads of thousands of schoolchildren and tourists in our old State House in Annapolis, Maryland. I call this handsome banner the Shaw-Libby flag, since Dick Libby spent more time getting it right than even the redoubtable Col. Shaw did.

As we await the presidents speech to Congress this week, its worth thinking of that Shaw-Libby flag again. As Dick points out, this flag was Americas first peacetime flag.

How so? It was flown in Annapolis when Congress met there in late 1783. It was the flag that Gen. George Washington saw when he came to this historic town to resign his commission. He wanted to make a great symbolic gesture by returning his power to the source of his authority: the representatives of a free and peaceful people.

Today, our presidents approval rating is sinking. The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration which began with such high hopes is finding it harder to sustain those hopes. Congress can take little comfort from the presidents failing numbers. Americans tell pollsters they like Congress even less.

Its worth considering what things were like in 1783. Gen. Washington had just had to face down an incipient mutiny in the Continental Armys winter headquarters in Newburg, New York. The officers and men of the army had gone without pay, without promised lands, for years. They were restive. Some of their number wanted to march on Congress and demand that body keep its commitments. At the point of a bayonet.

Gen. Washington had come into their discontented ranks uninvited. He moved dramatically to the front of the hall and addressed the grumbling officers. This time, he could see that his appeals for good order and discipline were not calming the troubled waters. Washington had never considered himself a powerful orator, like Patrick Henry, like John Adams.

So he fished in his pockets for a letter, a message from a sympathetic Member of Congress which he said would put the case better. Opening the letter, he found he could not read it. As the men shuffled their feet, His Excellency searched for his eyeglasses.

Most of his officers had never seen their Commanding General wear spectacles before.

Washington, noting their murmurings said simply: Gentlemen: You will excuse me, for I have grown not only gray, but nearly blind in the service of our country.

Those quiet words were more moving to these veterans of many battles than any great orators ringing declamation. Many of the men wept openly. They had been through those battles with him and had seen him risk his life again and again.

So now, with peace assured, Gen. Washington rode into Annapolis to return his power to the source of that powerthe elected representatives of the sovereign American people. Then, as today, the U.S. economy was grinding to a halt. Then, as now, the republic was drowning in an ocean of debt. Then, as now, many people held Congress in contempt.

You mustnt give up power, your Excellency, some of his young aides pleaded. You must seize authority for the sake of our country. Washington firmly rejected this course.

I cannot act, he said sternly, the People must act.

But, sir, they protested, the People do not understand how close to collapse we are.

Unmoved, Washington answered: The People must feel an evil before they can see it.

Just in time, We the People acted. We fashioned a free republic through what young Alexander Hamilton called a miracle of reflection and choice. In time, too, we ratified a new Constitution and elected George Washington our first president.

Americans today arefeeling the evil. We feel the pain in the long lines unemployed. We pray for them, even as we are concerned we may be next in line. We feel the anguish of small business owners trapped in red tape who cannot freely hire new workers or offer new goods and services.

With all that bedevils us, all that threatens to disunite us, its important to reflect that we have come through hard, hard times before.

Today, there are journos who want to distract Americans by finding theos (theocrats) under every bed. They feel that if they can just frighten Americans with the theocrat scare, their side yet cling to power.

These journos might have been even more shocked had they read Gen. Washingtons orders to his army at the outset of the Revolution. With the British bearing down on them on Long Island in 1776, His Excellency wrote:

The fate of millions yet unborn will depend, under God, on the conduct of this army.

What? Talking about millions yet unborn? Talking about the army being under God?

How could we ever let such a theocrat lead us from that point of danger to that solemn ride under Americas first peacetime flag, the Shaw-Libby flag?

We did. By Gods grace we did. Let us pray we will yet be able to seek Gods aid in passing through our own distracted times. I thought of this when I flew the Shaw-Libby flag at my Annapolis home this week.

Carpooling with George Washington

by Robert Morrison

August 26, 2011

Commuting to Washington, D.C. can be nerve-wracking on the best of days. But when the hour-long commute drags on for more than two hoursas it did this week on the day of our earthquakeit might be especially trying. Motorists are not happy campers when traffic approaches gridlock downtown in the Capitol.

I go slightly out of my way, however, to drive daily down Pennsylvania Avenue. I count it a privilege to pass by the stately Capitol dome with its Statue of Freedom standing proudly on top. The Capitol was planned by George Washington. Hard to believe now, but there were no great domed buildings in America when His Excellency opted for a Roman architectural style. His favorite play was Cato, an English tragedy about a great Roman champion of republican virtue.

As trying as the drive on earthquake Tuesday might have been, the way was eased by my carpooling with George Washington. Ive been listening to Ron Chernows Pulitzer Prize-winning book-on-disk, George Washington: A Life. Its a wonderful book and the latest of some seven hundred Ive been able to read during fifteen years of commuting.

Chernows Washington is a full-blooded figure. He has faults, to be sure, but his virtues shine forth. Chernow describes Washingtons incredible bravery. Young Col. Washington dashes into the teeth of battle during the French & Indian War. He even rushes into a hail of bullets, slashing with his sword against the muskets of British regulars to keep them from shooting their allies, the heroic Virginia militiamen.

Washington studiously avoids all boasting of his military exploits, but in a private letter to his brother Jackie, he notes that he had two horses shot out from under him on the Pennsylvania frontier and four bullet holes in his coat following the 1755 battle that left nearly 700 British and Virginia militiamen dead. It was the worst defeat British arms had suffered in the history of North America. Washington organized the retreat after the death of Gen. Edward Braddock. He even ordered his wagons to drive over Braddocks grave so that Indians would not find it and desecrate the body.

Ron Chernow follows Washingtons life where the evidence leads. We wince when we read that the young Washington sold recalcitrant slaves for shipment to the West Indies. Thats where the expression sold down the river comes from. And its terrible to read that he hanged two deserters from his Virginia militia company. Washington was a stern taskmaster. He expected to be obeyed. But everyone respected him for his justice and growing humanity.

Chernow gives us Washingtons religious views. You would not find him leading prayers, as Gov. Rick Perry recently did. But neither would he spurn public expressions of fidelity and duty to God.

Chernow writes:

However ecumenical in his approach to religion, Washington never doubted its signal importance in a republic, regarding it as the basis of morality and the foundation of any well-ordered polity…For Washington, morality was so central to Christianitys message that no man who is profligate in his morals or a bad member of the civil community can possibly be a true Christian.

If Washingtons constant suspicion that he is being cheated is a character flaw, it is mightily tempered by seeing what Washington did with his vast wealth.

George and Martha Washington never turned away beggars at their doorstep. Let no one go away hungry…provided it does not encourage them in idleness.

Who would have thought George Washington was the original compassionate conservative? FRC has been highlighting Real Compassion on our website to show how

Christians can make a difference in their own communities. The German poet Goethe, a Washington contemporary, once said that if each one sweeps his own doorstep, the world would be clean.

Washington spent countless hours as a Vestryman for Christ Church, in Alexandria, and for Truro parish in Fairfax. In those times, the Vestry was the committee of Christian laymen who looked after widows and orphans, who helped the indigent get back on their feet. But they were expected to get back on their feet. It was no charity to keep them dependent and subordinate.

During the great welfare reform fight in Washington of 1994-1996, former radical Adam Walinsky came to FRC. This ex-speechwriter for Robert Kennedy said he didnt agree with most of our social agenda, but he did agree with us on welfare reform. If you dont think welfare harms the morals of a family, just consider the English royal family.

Thats a stunner. George Washington considered the English royal family, too. He found it increasingly difficult to pledge his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor to the English royals who governed so foolishly and were so careless of their American colonists rights and liberties.

Washington chafed at British royal red tape. He hated the Proclamation of 1763 that declared the Trans-Appalachian West off limits to colonial expansion. King George III had not risked his regal neck fighting on that frontier. Who was he to bar settlement of it?

Washington also denounced British mercantile regulations. In his efforts to reduce his dependence on slave labor, Washington began growing wheat at Mount Vernon and marketing fish. He created a small fishing fleet on the Potomac. The best salt for preserving fish came from Lisbon, Portugal, but British regulations forced him to buy inferior salt from Liverpool.

Ill join with my conservative friends in denouncing federal intrusions and usurpations. We dont need, for example, a wasteful and unconstitutional federal education department. But youll never see me denouncing Washington. I have too much reverence for our Founding Father for that.

Ron Chernows book is 903 pages long. The audio version is 33 discs long. I expect to be carpooling with George Washington for weeks to come. Im honored to be in his company

New Yorks Last Father’s Day?

by Robert Morrison

June 17, 2011

So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David. 1 Kings 2:10

I was not a believer and certainly not schooled in the Bible when I first encountered that poetic phrase. As a graduate history student, poring over the writings of President George Washington, I noted the Father of our Country wrote when he passed the age of sixty, the time is not far distant when I must sleep with my fathers.

It referred, the text explained, to Washingtons belief that he, like most of his male ancestors, would not live much longer. How can they say Washington is not eloquent, I asked myself. Thats a beautiful phrase, a memorable image.

Washingtons phrase reminded me of my own father. My dad was a carpenter and he left the house every morning before dawn. The good part of that is that he would often return in the late afternoon. I can remember as a little boy of nine or ten wrestling with Pop on the TV room floor when he came home. He was still sweaty and often had sawdust in his hair and on his clothes. Many a time, after such a hard days work, he and I would fall asleep following our wrestling match. Soon, my mother would come in and yell: Les! Go take your bath; its almost time for dinner! Sweaty as he was, that was a sweet smell. Honest sweat, pungent sawdust. He was proud of his work and there was a lot to be proud of.

One day, Pop came home to find me pale and shaken. I had just gotten back from the fields near our house. My friend Shane and I had been playing forts, running free through the woods and hills. But something bad had happened. Soon, Pop got the story out of me. A man with a shotgun had confronted Shane and me. This was his land, he said. We were illegal trespassers. If he ever caught us on his property again, he said, aiming the gun at us, he would shoot us. Pop sent Shane away but took me in tow. He wanted me to identify the man with the shotgun. I was terrified. That man had said he would shoot me. Would he now shoot Pop, too?

The owner of the vast undeveloped property was well-known in the community. The newspapers referred to him as the Sixteenth Lord of the Manor. In truth, his family had owned that land since King Charles II gave it to them in the 1660s.

Pop wasnt afraid. He held my hand tight and took me right up to the front door of the manor house. Is this the man, he asked? Yes, I answered, with a quavering voice. Pop confronted the Sixteenth Lord. Ill keep my son and his friends off your property, he said, but if I ever hear of you pointing a gun at a little boy, Ill break it over your head.

I thought my father the strongest, bravest man in the world. Still, I breathed easier once we crossed over the Sixteenth Lords property line. Only then did I notice the old, almost unreadable sign on the tree. It said: POSTED.

Much later, I learned that that meant the same thing as No Trespassing. And very much later, I learned what it meant to sleep with your fathers. I read this wonderful phrase in the Bible.

There is a lot of talk about bullying these days. We have a massive outlay in federal funds to address the issue of bullying. Growing up on Long Island, I had a sure defense against bullying my Pop. So did most of the boys I knew. Divorce was rare then and out-of-wedlock birth rarer still. Abortion was against the law.

We kids grew up feeling safe, protected in our tender years. One of George Washingtons great contemporaries, Edmund Burke, wrote of something called the cheap defense of nations. Fathers in the home were surely a part of that cheap defense. Without fathers in the home, there wont be enough money in the U.S. treasury or all the treasuries in the world to guard the young against bullying.

New York State, my home state, is on the verge of abolishing fathers in the home. They say they are only re-defining marriage. Theyre not. They are ending it. And with the end of marriage, will come the dissolution of the state. Gone will be the cheap defense of nations. And no one will know what it means to sleep with my fathers.

Im Pro-Life Because…

by Robert Morrison

January 20, 2011

Im pro-life because Thomas Jefferson was. Whats that, you say? Jefferson never spoke about abortion. Of course not. Surgical abortion was so dangerous prior until about 1800 that it killed the mother as well as the unborn child. But Jefferson was assuredly pro-life.

The care of human life and happiness is the first and only legitimate object of good government, he wrote when he was president. They had a balanced budget then, because the president had his priorities straight. In 1774, young Jefferson had written the god who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. That was his ringing phrase in the Summary View of the Rights of British America. God gives us life; God gives us liberty. Pretty clear. Later, of course, Jefferson would give us his best lines: …all men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Under the misrule of Roe v. Wade, 52 million Americans have been denied their inalienable right to life. It is, as it has been from the beginning, wholly illegitimate. Jefferson thought there should be more Americans, not fewer. When he purchased the Louisiana Territory, he said there would be room enough on those fruited plains for Americans to the hundredth generation.

Im pro-life because Benjamin Franklin was. Well, if you were the tenth son of your father, youd probably be pro-life, too. Franklin, we know, was not always chaste. He had a child out of wedlock. And he immediately brought him into the family circle, where he raised his son as his own. When that son also had a son out of wedlock, Benjamin loved and cherished this grandson and kept him close to his heart. I dont recommend this as a way of enlarging a family, but it is surely a pro-life sentiment to love and guide your flesh and blood. Franklin, too, welcomed more Americans. In 1762, before we were even a nation, he calculated what our population might be one hundred twenty years thence.

He predicted that America would be home to 162 million people in 1882. The U.S. Census of 1880 showed Old Ben to have been off by less than one percent! When Dr. Franklin served in Paris, he rode out in his carriage to see the first manned ascent in a hot-air balloon. Fashionable French women fainted to see the balloon rise high above Versailles. (Well, maybe it was those tight corsets or those heavy hairpieces.) Four hundred thousand Frenchmen had come out to see the great event. Someone in the crowd was skeptical, however. They asked Dr. Franklin of what practical use the manned balloon was. With a twinkle in his eye, the most practical man in the world replied: Of what practical use is a newborn baby? Now, thats pro-life!

Im pro-life because George Washington was. He spoke often of his hopes for America, for millions yet unborn. He noted, in words that were not included in his First Inaugural, but which revealed his heart, that he and Martha had not been blessed with children.

One of Washingtons successors seems to think of childrenat least those born out of wedlock as Franklins son and grandson wereas punishments. Washington knew that children are a blessing from the Lord, and said so. Washington looked West, as Jefferson did, so that America could have room to expand, room to become the haven for the oppressed of many lands. No one comes to America to do away with their unborn children.

In signing the Constitution, Washington joined with the childless James Madison in seeking the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. Now, just who might these men have been thinking about if they did not have children of their own? Us. They thought of us as their posterity. Pro-lifers care about our posterity. We welcome every child in life and work to see them protected in law.

Im pro-life because Lincoln was. He rejoiced that Americas population was growingeven in the dreadful days of civil war and slaughterLincoln welcomed the swelling chorus of the Union. He had put the slavery issue in this context: Nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon. FRC welcomed President Obama to Washington with those words and this most civil and respectful question: Are not unborn children so stamped?

Im pro-life because Ronald Reagan, my great chief, was pro-life. In fact, Reagan was the first president to use the term pro-life. He wasnt just anti-abortion, as the liberal media constantly said. He understood that being pro-life inspired us to oppose abortion and euthanasiaas well as standing up to an evil empire that killed to keep itself in power.

It was Reagan who said abortion is a great wound in the soul of America.

And, yes, Im pro-life because, more than any of these, Jesus is pro-life: I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. His Word tells us therefore choose life.

Do we need a better reason?