If George Washington gives up power in the wake of American independence, “he will be the greatest man in the world.” Thus remarked our first president’s adversary, King George III, after being told that Washington would likely follow his victory by retiring to his Mount Vernon home. Yet the king’s incredulity would be met with a striking reality: Washington would relinquish power twice. Once “at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon,” wrote the Cato Institute in its 2006 piece “The Man Who Would Not Be King,” “and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington.”
The reason my essay on “killing our heroes” was entitled “Where Have You Gone, George Washington?” (The New American, April 4, 2016) is that our first president is the closest thing to a real-life storybook hero we may find in American history. Though the Cherry Tree tale concerning a six-year-old Washington telling his angry father “I can not tell a lie: I cut the tree” is itself a fib, conjured up by Washington biographer Mason Locke Weems, there is a reason a woman, quoted by historian Karal Ann Marling, stated, “If the tale isn’t true, it should be.” For the myth perfectly encapsulates the man.
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