Dec 272007


The above is a slide from the very first Black Hawk talk I gave, almost 6 years ago. The brick house in the lower left was built by a man who served in the militia at the time of the Black Hawk war scare. Later in life, one of the most significant events of his life that he recalled for the local county history writer was that he had once seen George Washington. It had been at a distance, when he was a very small boy.

While I wished he had had more to say about what happened during the Black War, there was a good reason to attach such significance to George Washington. A Christmas article in the Wall Street Journal reminded us of it.

It’s titled, “Washington’s Gift,” and is written by Thomas Fleming. It looks like Mr. Fleming has written a new book about Washington that I need to be reading.

When I started on the article, I thought it was going to be another one about the Newburgh Conspiracy. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s a story that needs to be told often. It was an event that I had once rated as one of the most important of the preceding millenium. George Washington defused a coup d’état in the making and refused to have any part in such a thing himself.

But no, this article is not about the Newburgh Conspiracy. It turns out that that affair wasn’t quite the end of the matter. Even after that close call, Congress wasn’t acting any more responsibility. Some thought Washington might have a change of heart. But instead, he resigned his commission, just before Christmas. When King George III heard about it, he said that if it was true, George Washington was the greatest man in the world. Years later John Trumbell saw fit to capture the moment in a painting. And Thomas Jefferson saw the significance, too, when he wrote:

The moderation. . . . of a single character probably prevented this revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.

That single character was of course George Washington, who was strong enough to resist the temptation to do what almost every other revolutionary leader has done.

I hope the brick house in Lenawee County is still standing and remains standing as a monument to George Washington and his act of self-abnegation.