Tonight I was reading about one of my favorite periods of American history, and one of the leading characters who framed the nation on strong ideals and foundations. George Washington. The book is The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Meltzer (who has earned my praise on this blog in earlier posts) and Josh Mensch.
I am always mindful of the desire of our Founding Fathers to have people with virtue to lead the nation in the highest offices of the land. Washington had a personal driving ambition to be a man of honor. Not coming from a family of wealth or nobility he knew that character mattered and personal integrity would never let a person down.
When the Second Continental Congress was to make a selection for the commander of the newly formed Continental Army, Washington will slip from the room so as not to look as if he is seeking the position or to gain it due to vanity or arrogance. Over the decades of reading history, this same series of facts about Washington emerges in books from all manner of historians.
The code of conduct by which Washington lived his life does not mean he did not have dreams or ambitions or felt able to do a job. But he always placed his calm, reasoned, and measured character in front of him leaving boastful and unbecoming moments to others in a room.
After reading well into the night I came downstairs to shut off the computer. But before doing so I checked to see what was making news on Twitter. That is when I saw the latest from Phil Hands. the editorial cartoonist and letters editor for the Wisconsin State Journal. It was stunning to look at his creation after reading about the exact opposite character of Washington.
A few years ago I traveled to Mount Vernon, and to say I was moved to my central core would not be too strong a summation. It is a place I long to see again, and sit and stay awhile just thinking as I feel the warm humid air and gaze off over the Potomac. It was there I learned that in a schoolbook Washington had copied, as a teenager, a list of “101 Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.” Many were mundane and trite. But the first one was not, and it made an impression. Thinking about the tone of our current president, the Hand’s drawing, and the book about Washington the exact words need to be posted here again at this late hour.
“Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.”
Some might view that line as old-fashioned when considering ways to behave. But given where we are in the nation might it be possible that a line from history can be used as a way for our going forward?