The debate over who is the United States’ “best” president is one which rages every year. Some argue in favor of Abraham Lincoln — for understandable reasons — while others look at America’s more recent history. Bizarrely, there are some who even argue that Barack Obama is their top pick, while others choose Donald Trump.
In reality, there is only one answer. George Washington is, without a doubt, the best and most important president in American history. In our current political climate of division, narcissism, and hunger for power, we need to remember him now more than ever before.
The arguments in favor of George Washington as the presidential “greatest of all time” usually focus on his achievements as both a military leader and the nation’s first president. He led the revolutionary forces in the War for Independence, defeating — against all odds — the greatest military power on the planet at that time. He presided at the Constitutional Convention, establishing both the United States Constitution and a federal government, and served as president of the United States between April 30, 1789 and March 4, 1797.
His career achievements, whether political or military in nature, were beautifully described in his eulogy, written by Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee:
“First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
However, these accurate virtues are not, in my opinion, the fundamental factor which makes George Washington the greatest American president in history.
What makes Washington special is his humility when presented with the opportunity to hold immeasurable power. On multiple occasions, Washington had the ability to seize power for himself, and did the unimaginable: he decided to walk away.
After leading the Continental Army to victory, like so many other military leaders before him, he could have maintained full control of the nation he had fought to create. Instead, contrary to the predictions of many Loyalists, he resigned his commission. He delivered his statement to Congress while wearing his military uniform, for the last time.
“I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life, by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.”
After becoming president — a role he didn’t even want — and serving for two terms, in 1796 Washington decided he would not run for a third term in office. In another unimaginable demonstration of self-control and modesty, Washington’s act created the precedent of two-term limits, rather than the presidency being a lifetime appointment. In his Farewell Address, the final words described his legacy, not in celebration, but in honest reflection.
“Though in reviewing the incidents of my Administration I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence, and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.”
The legacy of George Washington encapsulates everything that is virtuous about the true American spirit. Willing to sacrifice everything in the pursuit of guaranteeing our unalienable rights, remaining humble and grounded under the immeasurable weight of unprecedented power, and constantly striving for the development of a “more perfect Union.”
What do we have now? Politicians — and in particular, presidents — are narcissistic, selfish, and power-hungry. They lie, they manipulate, and they seek nothing other than their own enrichment — whether financially or in terms of political might.
When the world assumed Washington would take power for himself, he declined. Could we honestly predict the same for any of those in recent years who have attempted to follow in his footsteps?
I think not.
Ian Haworth is an Editor and Writer for The Daily Wire. Follow him on Twitter at @ighaworth.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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