The second chapter of Edmund Morgan’s little book, “The Meaning of Independence,” is devoted to George Washington. In many ways it seems that, beyond Washington’s leadership in the Revolutionary War, his greatest contribution to the emerging nation was his personality: reserved, calm, steady, concerned always for that which was most honorable.
We no longer would define honor in the same way. After all, he was a slave holder who considered Africans to be inferior. Nonetheless, in his own time and context, Washington was truly an honorable gentleman who effectively presided over the tumultuous debates in the Congress which created the US Constitution.
Washington worried to the end of his days about the fledgling republic. One of his worries was that the federal government was too weak to sustain the union of such disparate colonies. He feared not only that the governmental structures might be insufficient but, more particularly, that the states valued the government so little that they sent to Congress less than the best representatives.
As a result, in Washington’s words, “party disputes and personal quarrels are the great business of the day whilst the momentous concerns of an empire. . .are but secondary considerations.”
Despite his worries, the United States has flourished as a nation, though threatened time and again by the very pettiness that Washington saw in our beginning. Such a threat has returned in our own day, obviously, with Congress — under utterly incompetent Republican leadership — unable to act on such pressing and non-political matters as funding to fight the Zika virus and funding to provide safe drinking water for Flint, Michigan.
George wold be worried again. . .