Washington’s wisdom through the ages

Tomorrow is the federal and state designated holiday of Washington’s Birthday. Not Presidents Day, a common misunderstanding listed on some calendars and frequently commercially advertised as such, this day is set aside to honor the contributions that George Washington made to our country. He led the inexperienced American Army against the world power during the Revolutionary War in our fight for independence, was the leader of the Constitutional Convention, and of course was unanimously elected as our first president.

A part of a new nation made up of fiercely independent states suspicious of too strong a federal government, Washington skillfully “worked to make a fragile and infant nation grow and become strong,” as stated two weeks ago in the column “A unanimous decision.” Washington, along with many other men of his era fought, served and sacrificed much in making the dream of a free and independent nation become a reality.

On the eve of Washington’s observed birthday it seems fitting to reflect on some of his thoughts regarding our nation or life in general. So much has been published about him that it is difficult to sort out primary and secondary sources as well as what may have been paraphrased through the ages.

Nonetheless, one compelling quote attributed to George Washington relates to the importance of examining our past. “We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.”

No one could be so self-centered as to possibly think that he or she has the answers in life from his or her own “original” thoughts. Most innovations or solutions are built on prior experiences from either personal past experiences and most likely, the past events in the lives of other individuals or groups of people. It’s something akin to the saying about being doomed to repeat history when we don’t know it. In a nutshell, know the past and beware of making the same mistakes because history has a way of duplicating itself when we become apathetic or choose to be ignorant.

Another quote apparently credited to Washington oddly parallels to the controversy of gun control laws of today and the interpretation of our Constitution. “The Constitution that we have is an excellent one, if we can keep it where it is,” speaks of how this document of inalienable rights and freedoms is not one to be easily or trivially amended.

As far as our first amendment rights, he said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent may we be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

As far as our second amendment right to bear arms, Washington said in part, “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American peoples’ liberty and teeth and keystone under independence. From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to ensure peace, security, and happiness, the rifle and the pistol are equally indispensable. The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference.”

No doubt technology has invented weapons never thought of in Washington’s time, making an examination of types of allowed firearms a reasonable discussion, but it also seems reasonable to look back in history and see how an armed militia enabled our forefathers to fight against the dictatorial monarchy. In more recent times it is interesting to examine gun control laws in Germany. German citizens, including Jews, gradually lost the right to own guns beginning with the chaos after World War I. A lengthy journal of “International and Comparative Law (2000) outlined laws which were slowly imposed up to and including Nazi rule where it appears as if few people other than “approved organizations” were able to own firearms, even to the point where it was lawful to search and seize property in private homes, some of which was legal from the “executive power” of government leaders. Can history repeat itself? Washington said in part, that people need “to know and value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them.”

Many forefathers of our nation were religious. Washington was no exception. He was known to go off by himself to privately pray during the Revolutionary War for the protection and guidance of Divine Providence. Our motto of “In God We Trust” is expressed when Washington said, “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”

He also spoke of how blessings would be bestowed on our nation as long as we continued to recognize a higher power when he said, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” Such were the sentiments and beliefs of many our nation’s founders as well as through the ages to the faithful of today.

Always seeming to have sage advice, it would behoove Americans to seriously reflect on our nation’s past and heritage, including that of George Washington. These people helped to define who and where we are today. Much seems to warn against the consequences of ignorance and apathy.

Other advice on a lighter note, “Be honest and just ourselves and exact it from others, meddling as little as possible in their affairs where our own are not involved.” As far as debt, “To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones” rings a familiar bell with where our economy stands today. Regarding the company we choose to keep, “Associate yourself with men of good quality; if you esteem your own reputation ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.” Finally, when making a mistake, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one if at any time you should happen to fall into error.”

Make it a good week and reflect on what and who has made our country great, especially tomorrow on the federal and state holiday of Washington’s Birthday.

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