Thursday, June 25, 2020


The Americans also had a second advantage. They were blessed with an exceptional leader in the person of George Washington, a man of such fine character that he automatically commanded the admiration and loyalty of nearly all Americans and thereby served as a unifying force. He was a proven Patriot, as he had from the beginning strongly opposed the various coercive acts of the British Parliament, and was thoroughly committed to the preservation of the colonists’ rights and freedoms. Moreover, he was willing to leave a pleasant and comfortable life at his Mount Vernon estate to lead the colonial opposition. When he showed up at the Second Continental Convention in Philadelphia, he was wearing his military uniform, signaling for all to see that he was ready to fight for the colonial cause. The Congress acted accordingly, making him commander in chief of the Continental Army in June 1775. He accepted the position, on condition that he receive no pay for it.

His insistence upon that condition tells us a great deal about the man. Intrepid, courageous, charismatic, wise, tireless, and always learning, George Washington was the indispensable man to lead the war effort. He had extensive military experience and looked the part of a natural leader, impressively tall and muscular, with a dignified gravity in his bearing that led all to treat him with instinctive respect. But even more, he was known and admired as a man of exceptionally noble character who self-consciously modeled himself on the classical republican ideal of the unselfish, virtuous, and public-spirited leader, a man who disdained material rewards and consistently sought the public good over private interest. Like a great many other Americans of his day, Washington was deeply influenced by Joseph Addison’s 1713 play Cato, a Tragedy, a popular and powerful drama about the meaning of honor. The play depicts the virtuous life of its subject, the ancient Roman senator Cato the Younger, who sacrifices his life in opposing the incipient tyranny of Julius Caesar. It was an example Washington took to heart. He saw the play performed a great many times and frequently quoted or paraphrased it in his correspondence and had it performed in front of his soldiers. Cato’s lofty example was the example he wished to emulate; much of the American public shared his admiration and would respond well to the prospect of his leadership.

Wilfred M. McClay, Land of Hope (53-54). Encounter Books. Kindle Edition. 

No comments:

Post a Comment