It's A Gray Area: Remember America's greatest patriot

Today we begin a short series about some of America's greatest patriots. We start with the greatest: George Washington.

At a funeral oration for Washington, which was given to both houses of Congress on Dec. 26, 1799, Gen. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee famously stated that Washington was "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." That was demonstrably true at that time and should be still true today.

Washington was elected to the presidency by a unanimous vote. Each of the 69 electoral college voters was to cast two votes, and each cast one vote for Washington. That will never occur again.

As taken from professor J. Rufus Fears' lectures on "Life Lessons from the Great Books," so many of Washington's contributions to our country were well above extraordinary.

Washington created an army, somehow financed it, and then not only devised, but also implemented, a strategy to defeat the greatest empire in the world at that time. A few years later, he gave what is arguably the greatest gift our country has ever received: presidency.

When our government couldn't pay our military, and there was great danger that it would collapse, many of his officers circulated a letter requesting Washington become king.

But he flatly refused. Instead, after arranging for the troops to be paid, Washington resigned his commission as general and went back to his private life in Mount Vernon.

However, under the Articles of Confederation, the country continued to be in danger of collapsing. So James Madison and other leaders asked Washington to come to Philadelphia and chair the Constitutional Convention. Scholars today still generally agree that it was only by Washington's prestige and presence that enough delegates were persuaded to come to the convention and eventually vote in favor of the Constitution.

But even when Washington assumed the presidency, our country was still in danger: It was financially unstable, could not protect its frontiers from the Native American tribes and would have been vulnerable to a successful attack by any European power. Yet by the end of his eight years in office, our country was strong in all of those important areas.

It surprised many when Washington declined to run for a third term. His voluntarily stepping down not only gave us an almost revolutionary gift by peaceably handing over power to another president but also gave us the gift of his parting, lasting and impartial thoughts.

On Sept. 19, 1797, Washington published in the Philadelphia American Daily Advertiser a letter, which we now know as Washington's farewell address. He gave us a testament to the importance of a limited government and a list of libertarian principles that, in many ways, our "leaders" continue to all-to-frequently ignore. Among other things, he said:

•Our country is great because of our freedoms, and supporting the Constitution is our best foundation for that freedom;

•We must be aware of — and vigilant against — the encroachments of power by the government itself;

•We must guard against political parties becoming too strong, because there is an inherent danger in "partisan strife";

•No nation will endure unless it is moral, and to be moral it must be based upon the virtues of patriotism, frugality, honesty and justice; and,

•While trade with other countries is a good thing, we must avoid "foreign entanglements" or alliances with other nations.

Today our freedoms are literally under attack by our own government; too much power is vested in both the government and the two largest political parties, which too often put their interests ahead of those of the country; we have strayed away from the virtues of patriotism, frugality, honesty and justice; and we are still using our military forces in too many areas around the world in which neither our security nor national interests are at stake.

So, for the sake of our country, children and grandchildren, let us once again listen to our greatest patriot and most effective president, and work together to re-vitalize George Washington's libertarian principles.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at

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