Tuesday, January 03, 2006

George Washington's Character:

I confess although I read parts of Forrest McDonald's Novus Ordo Seclorum, I didn't read it cover to cover. So on this Christmas break, I decided to read some parts of it I missed and I found a really interesting passage on George Washington's character.

[Keep in mind that McDonald is hardly a PC-historian -- so you can't accuse him of PC-revisionism.]

It is obvious why Washington was trusted, however; the more elusive question is how a man could become so utterly trustworthy. Admittedly, he was far from being an ordinary man, but he was a long way from being a saint. As a soldier he had been capable of blundering, rashness, and poor judgment. He was addicted to gambling, apparently indulged in a good dealing of wenching, was avid in the pursuit of wealth, and was a "most horrid swearer and blasphemer." He was vain, pompous, pretentious, and hot-tempered in the extreme; and though he was normally a perfect gentleman in his public behavior, he could be a perfect alley cat in his private behavior. Even in public his conduct was not always free of blemish. During the war he had been willing to hang an innocent British prisoner, Capt. Charles Asgill, in retaliation against the unauthorized behavior of some hooligan New York Loyalists; and Washington was not sufficiently magnanimous to grant the request of the unfortunate Maj. John Andre to be shot as a soldier rather than to be hanged as a spy. And yet a whole nation could entrust him with its liberty and, indeed, its fate, in revolutionary circumstances which almost invariably breed Caesars and Cromwells, and could know that it was safe to do so.
pp. 192-3.

On a similar note, every year D. James Kennedy recycles his sermon attempting to demonstrate Washington was a born-again evangelical Christian (last year's parts one and two). It's almost comical to listen. Almost everything Kennedy says is either not on point, unsubstantiated, or downright false. I know it seems as though Kennedy, clownish as are many televangelists, is an easy straw man to knock down; but millions of people believe his nonsense.

There is an angry tone to Kennedy's sermon on Washington as well. He cites this long "rant" from some crank professor on the iconoclastic tendency of modern historians (to shatter myths) and accuses all of those who don't advance his "Washington was a born-again Christian" thesis of being PC-revisionists, which is absurd. No credible historian regardless of ideological leanings, endorses Kennedy's assertion that Washington was a born-again evangelical Christian. At best, they will argue that Washington's exact religious beliefs are indeterminate.

D. James Kennedy is the Parson Mason Weems of the modern era. Weems, if you don't know, was responsible for almost every half-truth and myth about Washington (like the "I can't tell a lie" Cherry Tree myth).

If I could put on my armchair psychologist hat and try to answer why Kennedy and others are so desperate to prove that Washington, and other framers (and Lincoln as well!) were "born-again" evangelical Christians....After all, one could argue convincingly against the doctrine of the Separation of Church and State, the ACLU's interpretation of the Constitution and Supreme Court caselaw without attaching oneself to the notion that our Founders were pious Christians who attempted to establish a "Christian nation."

See Kennedy believes that "America" is something special, "that shining city on a hill" and that it was God's Providence that helped America become so great and powerful. Now, if Kennedy's fundamentalist God really did take a role in making America what it is, doesn't it logically follow that God would choose fundamentalists (or as Kennedy would put it "Godly men") in taking a key role? Hence the need to demonstrate that so many key American historical figures were "Christians" like Kennedy.

But the historical facts don't match up so nicely with Kennedy's desires. What's ironic is how many key historical figures, though they may have believed in some kind of Providence or otherwise were connected to some Christian Church, did not possess orthodox beliefs. For instance, looking at the Wiki list of early Presidents and religion (Wiki is not always accurate; but in this case, it is), the first six presidents and Abraham Lincoln have either "Deist" or "Unitarian" next to their name.

Is God trying to give us a message, through these men, as to the "right" religion to follow?


David Swindle said...

Now, true that it really shouldn't be trusted, but perhaps one of the most entertaining portraits of Washington that I've found is to be found in a book I got at Half Price Books for a buck or so: "Sex Lives of the Presidents" by Nigel Cawthorne http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0312968388/qid=1136344439/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/002-3601496-0739243?n=507846&s=books&v=glance

Not that I'm one for gossip generally (I bought it because I was working on a poem about presidents and sex) but there's plenty of juicy tidbits.

Karen said...

Ah, but the preceeding paragraph is equally *instructive* :

"The matter of Washington's being unreservedly trusted - and trustworthy - repays close scrutiny. In part, trust in Washington derived from the fact that he had repeated proved that he was owrthy of it, both by the diffidence with which he always accepted the mantle of power and by the alacrity with which he always voluntarily surrendered power upon the completion of the undertaking for which it was granted..."

Hadly a parallel to our own King George's naked (and Constitutionally questionable) power grabs and view of *unchecked* Executive Powers vis-a-vis Congress and the Courts.

My Hubby is reading "The Last Lion" by William Manchester and remarked the other day that, absent of the anti-semitism, he found chilling similarities in the descriptions of the political climates and rise of Facism under those leaders during that era to some of the current political rhetoric. And the societies willing to go along with that.

Frightening times indeed.

And I am waiting for a shift back to the more moderate and centrist tenets of our country (that New Enlightenment can't come too soon for me.)

Karen said...

Ooop, me and me typos. DRAT

(But you'll forgive me...won't ya.)