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No king, but one heck of a president
Written by Jim Robertson   
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 9:47 PM

Friday marks the 281st birthday of George Washington.  “First in War, First in Peace and First in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Or so it was put by Henry Lee III, aka “Light Horse Harry” in a eulogy delivered on December 26, 1799.

The quote reflects the esteem with which Washington was viewed during his lifetime.  Unfortunately, these days our young students are not always so well schooled in the life and accomplishments of the first President of the United States.

Washington served as the president of the Constitutional Convention that put together the document that was eventually ratified in 1787 and led to the unanimous election of Washington in 1788.

Not a king, I tell you
Possibly Washington’s greatest accomplishment was defining the presidency for future generations. 

Not a king or a military dictator, although he probably could have been those things had he chose to, he set the tone for those who would follow him as the Chief Executive.

The concept of a limit of two terms in the office would survive for over 150 years until the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt would spark a Constitutional Amendment(22nd) limiting Presidents to two terms. 

He liked to be addressed as “Mr. President” rather than “Your Excellency” or some other grandiose term.

While taking the oath of office he added the words, “So help me God” to the end of the oath which did not contain them in its original form. 

He chose not to dress in robes or a uniform, selecting instead a plain black suit and powdered hair for his formal appearance.

Many of the stories circulated about his early life have very little basis in truth such as the cherry tree incident or throwing a dollar across the Potomac River. 

First, there was no such thing as a dollar in Colonial Virginia. 

If he had a coin in his pocket, it was probably an English shilling.  Second, if you have ever seen the Potomac River near the places where Washington lived, it is fairly wide, almost an estuary. 


He may have been able to toss a shilling across the Rappahannock River near the family farm he grew up on near Fredericksburg.  At times of the year it is wadeable and not very wide.  I’ve been there and even I could probably do it.

He was a large man and by all accounts very strong. Quite often he would demonstrate his hand strength by cracking walnuts between his thumb and forefinger.  He had a fine set of porcelain teeth, not wood as generally said.  He could afford them.

He was one of the richest men in America during a great part of his life.  He even tried to refuse his annual salary as President, but Congress insisted as they didn’t want it to appear that only rich men could become President. They should have found a way to make that idea stick.

Washington was one of the foremost agriculturists in the fledgling nation as he was very progressive in his farming methods and the breeding of livestock.  He was one of the largest distillers of spirits in the new nation also.

I alluded that George Washington’s contributions to our country’s history tend to be downplayed in our modern educational system but the indifference starts at the top.  Interestingly, Mount Vernon is not a national historic site. 

It is not run by either the US government or the State of Virginia.  Instead if falls to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association to fundraiser and keep his memory at the forefront. 

I donate a few dollars to them from time to time.  One of their recent chairpersons was Mrs. Robert E. Lee IV.  Her distant in-law, Light Horse Harry, would be proud.

Jim Robertson is a longtime Harrison resident, a member of Harrison City Council, and a weekly columnist for The Harrison Press.

Last Updated on Tuesday, February 19, 2013 9:48 PM