Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chapter 13. Moments in American Leadership

"But as I was among the first who embarked in the cause of our common country.  As I have never left your side one moment, but when called from you, on public duty.  As I have been the constant companion and witness of your distresses, and not among the last to feel, and acknowledge your merits.  As I have ever considered my own military reputation as inseperably connected with that of the army...it can scarcely be supposed, at this late stage of the war, that I am indifferent to its interests."  George Washington  March 15, 1783

As the Treaty of Paris was nearing completion to end the Revolutionary War, General George Washington's officers were in a state of discontent at the prospects of not getting paid, for the country was broke.  Anonymous letters were circulating at the camp at Newburgh, NY urging the army, in the event of a successful treaty, to remain formed in order to pressure Congress into paying them.  This action would essentially create a military government rather than a representative democracy. 

Washington appeared before his officers at a meeting on March 15, and delivered a short prepared speech, dubbed the Newburgh Address.  In it he essentially made his case for patience with Congress and implored the officers to give it, and him, their trust.  As he had done many times before, he put his own reputation and integrity on the line to avoid disaster for the fledgling nation.  After he concluded the speech, however, he sensed that the officers were still angry.

Then, he produced a note describing Congress' monetary dilemma.  He squinted as he read and was thus forced to dig out his spectacles.  This simple action reminded the officers, many of whom didn't know that the General required glasses, of what Washington had done for the country through the war years, and that he indeed had been with them at every moment:  the night time retreat from General Howe's British troops in New York; crossing the Delaware on Christmas Day 1776 to engage the Hessians at Trenton in a surprise counterattack, then success later at Princeton; enduring the miserable winter at Valley Forge in 1777; the training of the troops by Baron Von Steuben; and Washington's inspirational rallying of the retreating American troops at Monmouth.

Having been reminded of their leader's incredible courage and leadership, many wept in shame.  When Washington had left the meeting, the officers quickly resolved to follow Washington's example and reaffirmed their loyalty to the American republic.

It would not be the first or last time that George Washington's personal integrity saved the United States of America from short sighted folly.  We Americans owe this great man our unyielding gratitude and respect.  And, if possible, our emulation of his feats of faith and his strength of character.

Quotient out.

Washington at the Battle of Monmouth

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