Question: What was President George Washington’s greatest decision?
From: Charlie P. of East Lansing, MI
Date: August 29, 2004
Gleaves answers: One reason George Washington was indispensible to the successful start of our republic is that he possessed sound judgment; he made numerous good decisions as our first chief executive. He was the definition of strong leadership — of primary colors, not pale pastels.

I’d argue that at least six of his decisions were critically important, as they increased the chances that the new republic would survive in a hostile world. Each of these six decisions corresponds to the purposes of government outlined in the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution.

TO FORM A MORE PERFECT UNION

A vision of unity, and the rhetoric to back it up. He had lived a career promoting unity. He was conscious of himself not just as a Virginian, but as an American. He was symbolic of American union. He commanded all the Continental Army. He presided over the entire Constitutional Convention. He was unanimously elected by the Electoral College not just once, but twice, in 1789 and 1792.

ESTABLISH JUSTICE

Supreme Court nominees like John Jay and John Marshall.

INSURE DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY

The most important law-and-order decision was to quell the Whiskey Rebellion.

PROVIDE FOR THE COMMON DEFENSE

Despite the depradations of the British in 1794, Washington insisted on neutrality as the best defense for the new republic. Proclamation and Farewell Address, urging Americans not to become partisans in other nations’ fights. This was his most important foreign policy decision.

PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE

The most important economic decision Washington made was to hire Alexander Hamilton to serve as secretary of the treasury.

Leaders cannot be successful without followers — devoted followers — the more the better. Washington was fortunate to bring into his cabinet the two most brilliant minds of his age, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. The former served as Treasury secretary, the latter as secretary of state. We can measure the competing secretaries’ influence by recalling a telling exchange between a Virginian and New Yorker who were refighting the Jefferson-Hamilton contest for Washington’s ear and for early America’s mind. “Thomas Jefferson,” insisted the Virginian, “was clearly more influential than Hamilton. Look at the monument to him in Washington, DC; it is a veritable temple. Hamilton has only a statue in front of the Treasury Department.” “Ah,” said the New Yorker, “if you wish to see America’s monument to Hamilton, just go to Manhattan!”

Washington and Hamilton had a long personal history. The brilliant young man had fought under Washington’s command during the Revolutionary War. He became a trusted advisor.

SECURE THE BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY

The American Cincinnatus, Washington was not power hungry. He was reluctant to run for a second term and refused to run for a third. This was his most important political decision.

FacebookTwitterMore...