Today is George Washington’s birthday, but it feels like my birthday because I just got the greatest present ever – a supercool George Washington G.I. Joe action figure.
Li’l George and I celebrated his birthday by illustrating ten things he loved.
Part of what made George such a great leader was his ability to learn from his mistakes, like the time he accidentally started the French and Indian War. He reflected for years on his failures and never again started the French and Indian War.
George Washington was the Michael Jordan of retiring, except he retired even more than Jordan. You just couldn’t keep Ol’ Wash away for long.
Washington very publicly “retired” from the public scene to spend the rest of his days as a planter. He did this after the French and Indian War…and the Revolutionary War…and then again after his presidency. But when President John Adams called on him to once again command the US forces against a brewing war with France, the 67-year-old Washington unretired again. He was waiting for the fancy new uniform he designed to arrive when he died.
George was a man of few words. Maybe because he only had one remaining tooth when he became president and a mouthful of ill-fitting (but not wooden) dentures. It often hurt him to talk, so he put thought into everything he deemed worthy of saying. Lucky for him, he pulled off the strong silent type.
During his frequent retirements, George loved living the life of a planter. He grew tobacco and wheat and experimented with different fertilizers like manure. He farmed over 3000 acres and ran the largest whiskey distillery in America, with the labor of over 300 enslaved people.
Unlike Adams and Jefferson, Washington never expressed a wish to abolish slavery. Unlike Jefferson, however, Washington freed his slaves after his death. He couldn’t legally free the ones Martha owned, but he stipulated their freedom upon her death. Not wanting to give them any ideas about speeding up her demise, she freed them herself.
Washington loved the theatre, whether attending it in person or reading Shakespeare in his library. Congress banned the performance of plays during the Revolutionary War, but that didn’t stop Washington. After a famously harsh winter at Valley Forge, he had his men put on a performance of his favorite play, Joseph Addison’s “Cato” about a Roman soldier going up against the tyrant Julius Caesar.
Washington lost more battles than he won, but he was a ninja when it came to stealthy escapes. That’s what made him famous in the deadly Battle of the Monongahela in the French and Indian War, and that’s what saved his ass time and again in the Revolutionary War. In the fog, in the middle of the night, over hills…George Washington knew how to get out of a sticky situation.
George was a voracious reader with an extensive library of more than 1200 books. Unlike other founding fathers, he didn’t have any formal secondary education. Books were his university and they provided him guidance on his military, political, and agricultural pursuits. It was particularly devastating to him when his stepson’s teacher reported that the boy “does not much like books.”
George loved dogs. Foxes, not so much. To create a superior dog for his beloved fox hunts, he imported French hounds to breed with Virginia hounds, in time creating the American foxhound. It’s easy to think of Washington as formal and stuffy (because he often was), but how dignified could he be when he gave his dogs awesome names like Venus, Truelove, Drunkard, and Sweet Lips?
George loved assembly balls and could dance for hours without stopping. Ladies loved to dance with him, if only so they could “get a touch of him.”
This well-read, dancing farmer was no pacifist. In case there was any doubt, Washington’s G.I. Joe figure came equipped with a pistol and a sword. And a telescope, so he could look ahead at all the ass he was about to kick.
After his first battle at 21 years old Washington was hooked, saying there was “something charming in the sound” of bullets whistling. When the British military wouldn’t accept him during the French and Indian War, he volunteered just to get back into the action. Years later, he showed up to the Continental Congress in his old (too-tight) war uniform, ready to kick some Redcoat butt. He was either an adrenaline junkie or he just liked shooting people.
You might think he had to step back from the action as president, but he disagreed. It had been 13 years since he got to shoot anybody, so when farmers in western Pennsylvania were unwilling to pay a new whiskey tax, the 62-year-old President jumped on his horse and personally led 13,000 troops to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. Fortunately for the country, his heavy-handed response established the strength and sovereignty of the federal government and probably prevented (or postponed) a civil war.
Unfortunately for his bloodlust, the Whiskey Rebellion ended peacefully.
This post is bittersweet for me, as it’s my last focused on the first president. I’ll miss you, George… you’ll always be my first. But now it’s time for me to plod through to John Adams, who might be cool but definitely does not have his own G.I. Joe.