Founding Father: George Washington and the Importance of Character by Gregory Hilton

America was truly fortunate to have a leader of the caliber of General George Washington. He entered wholeheartedly into the Revolutionary War which certainly did not appear to be winnable at first. He eventually won a great victory against superior force and changed the course of the world.
Washington took a rag-tag army, heavily outnumbered, very ill-equipped, completely under-funded by its own people, enjoying 3% of the country’s support, and was able to defeat the greatest empire on Earth at the time.
Washington was not the first General to be outnumbered. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hannibal and Napoleon all come immediately to mind. However, a claim can be made that he was among the greatest Generals of all time. He can be compared to:
* Alexander the Great in his Persian campaign who was out numbered approximately 6-1, but he had superior arms, tactics, discipline and motivation. The supply situation on both sides was about even.
* Julius Caesar of Rome had better arms, tactics and discipline, but the Gauls were greater in number and motivation. However, they were divided among themselves. Supplies were also equal in this case.
* General Hannibal of Carthage was outnumbered at the outset of the Second Punic War, and was so separated from his lines of communication and supply that it took months for the request for his return to reach him. He gained assistance from the many local cities that had been bullied by Rome into the Latin alliance.
* Napoleon Bonaparte was as extraordinary administrator who had huge popular support in France, but that was not the case in the nations he conquered. He had to use conscripted troops. Napoleon had superior tactics and equal arms, but was far better organized in terms of supply.
Alexander the Great was the best of this group as a field tactician, and Caesar as a strategist. Hannibal was the best warrior and guerilla fighter. Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan were also quite capable warriors.
General Washington’s military campaigns should be separated into two sections. In the early period he mistakenly fought in the style in which he had been trained by the British. He had soldiers fighting in straight lines.
In his second period of command Washington relied on the advice of two young men. The Marquis de Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton, who urged Washington to have his troops fight in guerilla, or Indian-style. America’s revolutionary soldiers lost badly when they fought like the British, but they were able to hang on when Washington threw out all of the useless ceremonial tactics of the British.
The American forces held together until the enemy was bled into leaving. Instead of going after a win in many battles, Washington wisely evaluated his resources, and his strategy was based on avoiding defeat. His strategy after 1778 involved the tactics of scout, raid, and then evade. It was mostly guerilla warfare. Washington’s tactics became the model used by Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh and other fighters in guerrilla warfare.
It can be convincingly argued that this would not have been enough. America was fortunate that the Dutch declared war on the British which shamed the French and Spanish into fulfilling their commitments to the new American government.
Washington’s continentals also received formal and informal assistance from Prussia, the Polish resistance and several Italian duchies. It is interesting to note the many people from other lands who joined in the fight for the American dream of democracy.
What is the major difference between Washington and the military leaders named above? He was the only one who had the character and moral standing to walk away from power. He actually never sought power to being with. At the end of the Revolutionary War, the people offered him the crown of America.
They were so used to life under the British crown that they attempted to establish another monarchy. It is difficult to think of another man in history who, when offered the crown of a nation, turned it down.
He said “I did not defeat George the Third to become George the First.” Although not described as a democracy by the founding fathers, they shared a determination to root the new American experiment in the principles of freedom and equality. The United States Constitution, adopted in 1788, provided for an elected government and protected civil rights and liberties (women and blacks unfortunately were not included at first). In his Fifth Annual Address to Congress in 1793, Washington outlined a two-part formula for peace through strength. He said first be ready for war and second let it be known that we are ready.
The real greatness of Washington was not in military or political affairs, but rather as a man of exceptional character. Washington’s outstanding biographer, Douglas Southall Freeman, was once asked what was the most important single thing he had learned from his lifetime of historical study.
He replied, “The influence of personality on history. The greatest among men do not glorify themselves, but are humble enough to be glorified by others.” He gave the American cause what it needed most: “patience and determination, inexhaustible and inextinguishable.”

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