Friday, September 01, 2006

The Indispensable Man

I'm reading James Flexner's The Indispensable Man. I think I mentioned this before, but I read this book when I was in college and remembered enjoying it.

I finally got my hands on a copy and have been reading it again. The first time I read it I remember concluding that Washington was a great man. Now that I'm rereading Flexner's book I believe I may not have given Washington enough credit. He was far more than great. He was also good, which is what made him so 'indispensable'. The whole American experiment could have easily failed if Washington was not the man he was.

Washington was a great general, but not a great military strategist. Washington was a great political leader - possibly the greatest any democracy has ever produced - but not a great political thinker (he had plenty of those guys around him).

He held the army together from '76 to '83 against nearly impossible odds. He prevented the demoralized army from taking control when the Congress opted not to pay them what they were owed at the end of the war.

He was revered from Massachusetts to Georgia. He could easily have sought to be king or emperor (think Napoleon), but believed so strongly in the concept of 'government by the people' that he couldn't even tolerate such talk. As Jefferson said:
The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.
Without Washington there would have been no Presidency as we know it today, probably no constitution ("… his influence carried this government" said James Monroe after ratification was complete), quite possibly no United States at all. Yup, America would be a completely different place if not for Washington.

{And you Lincoln lovers out there - I'll take you on, but one at a time.}