Wednesday, October 5, 2016

George Washington was not Great, but He was Perfect

George Washington was not a great military commander, nor was he a great President, but he was the perfect person to win our freedom and act as our first President.

As a military leader Washington had many flaws. He was inexperienced, his plans were too complex, and because of this, he really failed to win a major battle in the Revolutionary War. His greatest victory, at Yorktown, was engineered by French leadership. But if the command of American forces were given to Horacio Gates or Charles Lee (more experienced leaders) instead of Washington, America probably would have lost the war. In essence, Washington was the perfect leader for the job.

What made Washington perfect for the job? First and foremost was his temperament. Washington was a modest man. Unlike most leaders, his ego was in check. Since Washington was not overconfident, he relied on input from his commanders, he listened, he inspired his troops through rough times without proper food, clothing and shelter, and he learned from his mistakes.

Washington learned early on his men could not fight and defeat the British fighting conventional warfare. Fighting in the open using line formations or in hand to hand combat was a losing battle for the Americans. Instead, Washington used untrained state militias to fight a type of guerilla warfare. They attacked “soft targets” such as the flanks of armies or small manned posts protecting supply lines. This is how Washington won the battles of Trenton and Princeton. He defeated small outposts, not the actual British Army. Local militias knew the areas they patrolled and they moved fast without having to carry heavy supplies such as cannon. Militias attacked quickly and retreated quickly before the British could counter-attack.

Washington lost opportunities for major victories at Germantown, Monmouth, and Boston because of his plans were too complex. While Gates and Lee won some major battles, they also lost important battles as well. Gates had some success in the North, but when he was sent to the South to take on Cornwallis he failed miserably. Nathaniel Greene (trained by Washington) was sent to replace Gates in the South and Greene understood the importance of using the local militia to attack the British supply lines. Cornwallis successfully moved from South Carolina to Virginia, but was forced to move to the coastal town of Yorktown because his supplies had run dry. This led to the big victory for the Americans at Yorktown. Cornwallis hoped to be reinforced by the British Navy but instead was surrounded by the French Navy at sea and the French and American armies by land.

Washington adapted. He was patient and prudent. He learned to avoid fights he could not win, hold his ground, and only go on the offensive when he saw a clear path to victory.

Gates and Lee would have failed because they did not have the right temperament. They were impatient and were not willing to adapt their military styles to defeat the British. They may have been the most qualified leaders, but their overconfidence and brash egos would have been their downfall.

Many of Washington’s tactics were criticized. He refused to terrorize colonists and take supplies that his men dearly needed (food and clothing). He refused to punish American Tories (loyalists to the British Crown). In the end, Washington’s tactics were rewarded. Colonists (including Tories) favored Washington’s style compared to the British who terrorized colonists and stole important supplies from them.

Washington led as the first President of the United States as he did as the commander of American forces in the revolutionary war. He was not a great President, but he may have been the only honest one in our history. America was fragile when he took office. The United States was an experiment and if the newly ratified Constitution was going to fail it would more than likely happen in the first few years. Here are a few of his accomplishments:

1. America remained neutral and did not get into a war with France or England even though they were provoked. Had someone else been President, the United States more than likely would not have remained neutral. Washington remained neutral despite the fact that Political Parties formed (Federalists were loyal to England and Republicans were loyal to France). His cabinet was torn apart (Hamilton was a Federalist and Jefferson was a Republican). If the U.S. went to war what would have become of the U.S. experiment?

2. Washington did not criticize others even though he was being thrown under the bus regularly by newspapers and citizens as political discourse heightened on both sides.

3. Washington did not use the power of veto as a political tool. He merely judged legislation as to whether or not it was Constitutional. He passed laws he did not agree with if it was Constitutional. Washington remained neutral in politics. For example, Washington signed the Bank legislation even though Madison and Jefferson told him it was unconstitutional. Today, we can see that Washington was right. Washington saw this financial law opening up new business opportunities in America that would not require slavery.

4. Although many disagree with his methods, he squashed the Whiskey Rebellion without a loss of life and the threat of succession from the union.

5. Washington never interfered in Legislative duties or in elections.

Washington was the only President in our history to be neutral and not tied to a Party. Would America have survived the political vitriol with another President other than Washington? It is true, after his retirement from the Presidency, Washington became an open advocate for the Federalist Party but not while he was in office. He always listened intently to both sides of the argument (Usually Jefferson and Hamilton).

6. Washington set the precedent of retiring after two terms of the Presidency. Initially (now amended) the Constitution allowed presidents to remain in office for life. When Washington retired, it was the first peaceful handover of power in non-hereditary government systems.

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