Americans define themselves as principled people of action. That is one reason we revere George Washington, who was essential to our revolution’s success, the creation of our Constitution, and the precedent of how to govern under it, yet voluntarily stepped down from power out of principle (which King George said made him the man of the age). But his words as well as his deeds reflect America’s essence, and we would be wise to celebrate his February 22 birthday by remembering his insights.
“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”
” … freedom … [is] a blessing, on which all the good and evil of life depends … “
” … the spirit of freedom beat too high in us to submit to slavery … “
“We have taken up Arms in Defense of our Liberty, our Property; our Wives and our Children: We are determined to preserve them or die.”
“The cause of America and of liberty … against which all the force and Artifice of Tyranny will never be able to prevail.”
“Our cause is noble. It is the cause of Mankind!”
” … we mean to support the liberty and independence which have cost us so much blood and treasure to establish … “
” … express your utmost horror and detestation of the Man who wishes, under any specious pretenses, to overturn the liberties of our Country … “
“As the sword was the last resort for the preservation of our liberties, so ought it be the first to be laid aside when those liberties are firmly established.”
” … your union ought to be considered as a main prop to your liberty; the love of the one ought to endear you to the preservation of the other.”
“Liberty will find itself … where the Government … [will] maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.”
” … everyone will reap the fruit of his labors; every one will enjoy his own acquisitions without molestation and without danger.”
“[Government] has no more right to put their hands into my pockets, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into yours … “
“The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments.”
“Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is a force, like fire: a dangerous servant and a terrible master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
“Government … [is] instituted to protect the consciences of men from oppression…”
“It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty on the supposition that he may abuse it.”
” … all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government.”
” … the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American People.”
“It has always been my creed that we should not be left as an awful monument to prove, ‘that Mankind, under the most favorable circumstances, are unequal to the task of governing themselves, and therefore made for a Master.’”
George Washington was a man of action without whom America, that he called “this land of equal liberty,” which had “the fairest prospect of happiness and prosperity that ever was presented to man,” would not exist.
After many years as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” George Washington left us a legacy of wisdom in what he said as well as what he did. At a time when many in our Capitol have abandoned all but the pretense of following the principles of the man it is named for, we would be wise to heed his advice. We still face a daily struggle to defend the liberties he led the way to win for us.