George Washington was the first President of the United States after leading the Continental Army to victory over the Kingdom of Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Washington is seen as a symbol of the United States for both his leadership in our war of independence and for his devotion to civic virtue, making him an exemplary historical American figure.
He was chosen to be the commander-in-chief of the American revolutionary forces in 1775 and following the end of the war in 1783; Washington retired to his plantation home on Mount Vernon. His farewell address was a primer on taking care to protect our own republic and a stern warning against involvement in foreign wars.
In his funeral oration, Henry Lee said that of all Americans, he was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Washington has been consistently ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents and as early as 1778 was lauded as the “Father of His Country.” One of the most enduring myths about George Washington involves him as a young boy chopping down his father’s cherry tree and, when asked about it, using the famous line “I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet.” In fact, there is no evidence that this ever occurred. Even so, his reputation of virtue serves as a template for exemplary leadership.
“A slender acquaintance with the world must convince every man that actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of friends.”
“I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct, which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.”
“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”
“It is our true policy to steer clear of entangling alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”
“Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”
“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”
“Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.”
“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
“Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”
– George Washington (1732-1799)
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