It was only a matter of time before cancel culture scored a hit in its fight to eliminate the Founders from our collective memory. On Tuesday, the San Francisco board of education, by a vote of six to one, opted to rename more than 40 schools named for historic figures whose lives can no longer stand up to woke scrutiny.
The action results from a resolution adopted in May 2018, which laid the groundwork to scrub from schools the name of anyone who “engaged in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings; or who oppressed women, inhibiting societal progress; or whose actions led to genocide; or who otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Among the names being struck, George Washington—first president of the United States, leader of the revolution that secured the nation’s independence from Great Britain and the man whose leadership established a model followed by every one of his successors over the more than 200 years since he was first inaugurated.
The stated reason for the move is that Washington, as everyone readily admits, was a slave owner. By contemporary standards, that’s apparently enough to cancel out everything else he did. Slavery is an odious, inexcusable practice—and always has been. One cannot help but feel, however, that the energies being spent attacking the father of our country and other Founders over their participation in it would be better spent marshaling the forces necessary to eradicate slavery where it still exists.
All this was predictable. Washington was once a venerated American institution, standing apart from every other president and every other leader. He was the reason the United States came into existence and the reason it survived its infancy. No leader, before or after, can match his record of accomplishment, which is why we, his grateful descendants, used to observe his birthday as a national holiday.
That all began to change during the last great period of social unrest, back in the 1960s, when for the sake of efficiency the celebration of Washington’s birthday was moved to the closest Monday as part of an effort to add a few more three-day weekends to the calendar.
Once the first president’s birthday was moved, the effort to obscure it became that much easier. To avoid adding a federal holiday with all its attendant expenses to the calendar, Washington’s birthday was combined with Abraham Lincoln’s to create “Presidents’ Day,” accelerating the toppling of the man from Mt. Vernon from the cultural pedestal upon which he had been deservedly perched for nearly 200 years.
We are losing—and may have already lost—the commonality of purpose that made the United States what one former president at least called “the last, best hope” for mankind. The lack of any formal observance of Washington’s birthday, which is just now upon us once again, corresponds with a growing lack of understanding of the kind of man he was, his indispensability to the cause of American independence and just what it was he accomplished.
To the extent people know him now, it’s not because of the excellent scholarship of historians like Ron Chernow but because of the way he appears as a supporting character in the life of Alexander Hamilton in the eponymous musical devoted to the life of “the ten-dollar founding father.”
Rather than present a more balanced approach to his life and story, those who would condemn Washington seek now to eradicate him from the pantheon of American heroes worthy of our continued respect and admiration.
Washington is, as I’ve written before, the model citizen-statesman. His counsel regarding America’s role in the world is still valuable. His wisdom is eternal. He is a great man of history who, being in the right place at the right time, changed the course of human events in a way that set all Americans thereafter on the path of what another founding father famously called “the pursuit of happiness.”
What Washington told us about the need to limit the powers of the central government so that human freedom might flourish is as relevant today as it was then. His wise leadership produced what has become the greatest, freest, most prosperous, most generous society ever to exist. No American should be allowed to forget that, no matter how large a blot his ownership of slaves made on his copy paper.
Washington was a towering figure, standing head and shoulders above almost all his contemporaries. We need to return him to his place of honor on the calendar and in our hearts and to understand why his name was considered worthy of being put on schools in the first place. Those who are trying to rewrite history so they may change it should be ashamed. We let them succeed at our own peril. We cannot forge ahead together towards a better day if we do not understand where we began, warts and all. It is time for Congress to strike a blow against historical revisionism by restoring Washington’s Birthday on the calendar and moving it back to February 22, where it belongs.
“I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”
George Washington, on October 3, 1789, made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” Continue reading
“We have seen the splendor of our natural resource spread across the tables of the world, and we have seen the splendor of freedom coursing with new vigor through the channels of history.”
by Scott L. Vanatter
Ronald Reagan believed in America. He believed in America’s promise. He saw the best in his fellow Americans. We, too, believe in America, its promise, and see the best in our fellows.
At the beginning of our republic, President George Washington declared a Day of Thanksgiving his first year in office. In the midst of the sore trials of a massive Civil War, President Lincoln established a regular Day of Thanksgiving.
In the spirit of his predecessors, and while he tackled serious economic and foreign policy challenges, President Reagan delivered a series of eight Thanksgiving Day messages from 1981 through 1988. He repeated previous presidential calls to “set aside” this special day as one of thanksgiving and prayer to God. Further, he challenged the nation to recall and fulfill their responsibility to “give” to those who are less fortunate. There are those who lacked of the “abundance” which America enjoyed — they do not enjoy the abundance which comes as a result of our industry. Many around the world do not enjoy an “abundance of freedom.” America’s example of freedom is one of the lasting legacies we leave for a world — we are the last best hope of mankind. Reagan reminded us to live up to that legacy. Continue reading
“In this day, when our freedom to worship is most precious, let us redouble our efforts to bring this and other greatest freedoms to all the peoples of the Earth.” (1988)
by Scott L. Vanatter
Ronald Reagan believed in Americans. He believed in the promise of America, that Americans possessed the inherent and acquired power to rise to the occasion. This, because of the overt and unique design of the Founders to foster freedom and responsibility. Reagan was optimistic about America’s future. He believed that when freedom flourishes, responsibility and accomplishment would naturally follow. (Sometimes to the astonishment and even delight of our greatest skeptics.) Others assume the opposite; they believe that force or coercion is necessary to accomplish their ends. Continue reading
“The great Christmas night raid in 1776 would forever serve as a model of how a special operation – or a conventional mission, for that matter – might be successfully conducted. There are never any guarantees for success on the battlefield; but . . . the dynamics of war can be altered in a single night.”
by W. Thomas Smith, Jr.
Continental Army General George Washington’s celebrated “Crossing of the Delaware” has been dubbed in some military circles, “America’s first special operation.” Though there were certainly many small-unit actions, raids, and Ranger operations during the Colonial Wars – and there was a special Marine landing in Nassau in the early months of the American Revolution – no special mission by America’s first army has been more heralded than that which took place on Christmas night exactly 230 years ago. Continue reading
“It is eerily ironic that only days after Obama told students to reject the voices that warn of government abuses and overreaching, it turns out that the Obama Administration has been systematically abusing the constitutional rights of so many Americans.”
by George Landrith
When President Barack Obama recently spoke at Ohio State’s commencement, he told the graduates to reject voices that express concerns about government abuses. He mocked the idea that reasonable, thinking Americans might be concerned that government can become too big, too unaccountable, and too heavy-handed.
Obama’s directive to ignore those concerned with potential abuses of big government was stunning for at least two reasons. First, it is as American as apple pie and baseball to be wary of the promises of government officials and the abuse of power. Second, within a week, several Obama Administration scandals had broken wide-open – each proving that those concerned about government tyranny were right. Continue reading
Ronald Reagan coined the phrase, “Peace through strength,” but it was not a new idea and it had not been an historically partisan concept. It dates back to George Washington who said, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” Washington and Reagan understood that peace is achieved through strength and conversely that weakness invites attack. This was once a universally accepted truth among American leaders. Current events prove, it should again become American policy regardless of party.
We live in a dangerous world. Kim Jung-un is threatening military invasions and nuclear attacks. We’ve recently learned that the North Koreans are much closer to being able to put a nuclear warhead on a missile than was previously believed. China, already a nuclear power, is rapidly developing a large navy and stealth aircraft. Russia has been sending its military aircraft into American airspace on provocative test missions. Continue reading
“‘Before there was a nation, before there was a symbol of this young nation — a flag, a constitution, a national seal — there was Washington. . . . But Washington was there, steadying the symbols, lending strength to them instead of drawing from them.'”
by Scott L. Vanatter
When schoolchildren discover why George Washington is the indispensable Founding Father, American becomes stronger.
As adults gain a deeper appreciation for his character, accomplishments and place in American history, our Liberty is better valued and more secure.
Accurately placing Washington in world history rightly reveals the miracle and import of America’s founding. This lays the foundation for the concept of American Exceptionalism as a matter of our purposeful design, not as a description of whether or not we are doing better than other countries. Continue reading
“I find his love of fox hunting, dancing, cards, and the theater all very appealing. His terrible temper—which he learned to control—is also clearly very human. Nor should his entrepreneurial impulses—the canal projects, the land speculation—be seen as incongruous. He was an active, energetic man of his time.”
by David McCullough
The old familiar scenes, the clichés about Washington, actually do capture the essence of the man. Even Parson Weems’s little story about the cherry tree, silly as it may be, conveys the fundamental truth of his honesty. Or, consider “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” That’s one of the greatest moments in American history—and very revealing. He had such tremendous courage, nerve, and a willingness to take risks, and he was emboldened not just by his own bravery and audacity, but by total devotion to the cause of America. Continue reading
“The American sound . . . is hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent, and fair.”
by Scott L. Vanatter
One-term presidents rarely are considered our most successful presidents. Getting re-elected is not in and of itself an indicator of a successful second term. Of course, the more successful the first term, the more likely the success of a second.
During his second term Reagan built on the real economic accomplishment of his first. This success enabled him to ensure our freedoms and secure our defense. This freedom, then, spread around the world. Indeed, America became again the last best hope of earth. Continue reading
Milton Friedman on Kennedy’s antimetabole
by Scott L. Vanatter
One of the most well-known lines from presidential addresses was written for John F. Kennedy by Ted Sorenson. Kennedy was not the first president to use a speech writer. Presidents have been using speech writers since the beginning. Alexander Hamilton wrote the first draft of George Washington’s Farewell Address. Washington worked with Hamilton till it said just want he wanted. This is the standard and accepted procedure. Not all Presidents have written as elegantly or effectively as Lincoln. Continue reading
“Our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government.”
January 8, 1790 (223 years ago today) [Excerpts]
by George Washington
Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives: I embrace with great satisfaction the opportunity which now presents itself of congratulating you on the present favorable prospects of our public affairs. The . . . rising credit and respectability of our country, the general and increasing good will toward the government of the Union, and the concord, peace, and plenty with which we are blessed are circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity. . . . Continue reading
“If I may even flatter myself, that [these counsels] may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”
The Address of Gen. Washington to the People of America on His Declining the Presidency of the United States
September 19, 1796
Friends and fellow-citizens: The period for a new election of a citizen, to administer the executive government of the United States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived, when your thoughts must be employed designating the person, who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprize you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made. Continue reading
“The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
Our first chief executive took his oath of office on April 30, 1789 in New York City on the balcony of the Senate Chamber at Federal Hall on Wall Street. [Excerpts]
Thursday, April 30, 1789
by George Washington
Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:
SUMMONED BY MY COUNTRY
I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years—a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. . . . Continue reading
“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
[On Christmas Day 1776, George Washington had Paine’s first essay read to his dispirited soldiers to boost moral. Shortly afterward the energized soldiers — emboldened by Paine’s words — launched a surprise attack on unsuspecting Hessians and won the decisive battle of Trenton.]
by Thomas Paine
December 23, 1776
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; Continue reading