February 22 is George Washington's birthday. Until 1968, this had been for generations an official legal holiday for federal employees and a widely observed national day of honor for one of the greatest Americans. This annual day of honor had begun in various informal and formal ways while Washington still lived. The significance of the day grew as the consciousness grew among Washington's contemporaries that the destiny of America had come to depend on George Washington more than on any other man.
These contemporaries, and the generations of Americans who followed their example, considered America to be a precious thing, a great blessing of liberty to us and, indeed, to the world. And so they took the time annually to reflect in gratitude upon the man who, among so many other great men, was most indispensable to making this good thing possible. It was a time to contemplate those noble qualities of mind and character that equipped Washington to perform the noble deeds that were needed to secure the independence and freedom of America. It was a time to remind ourselves that our freedoms and independence always require such noble qualities and such noble deeds; that the greatest vindication of the American experiment is that it nourishes such qualities in its citizens. So long as American freedom breeds Washingtons among us–sows the seeds of Washington's virtues in our souls–the cause of freedom will be honorable here at home and vigorous in the world.
America and the cause of freedom are facing some interesting challenges these days and in the days ahead. Take some time to consider the virtues we will need to meet and surmount these challenges–George Washington's virtues, as they are recalled at the Claremont Institute's Rediscovering George Washington website. A brief foretaste of what you will find:
Countless witnesses attest that, however astonishing Washington's many particular qualities of mind and character might be, the sum was even greater than the parts: The whole man somehow magnified the individual virtues of which he was composed. His courage, energy, high principles, and steadfastness; his impartial justice and utter trustworthiness; that he was calm in the face of danger and dauntless in adversity; that he would sacrifice repose for fame and fame to duty; his thoroughness in deliberation and mastery over his strong passions–these and his other distinguishing characteristics, laudable in themselves, are elevated still further as they are harmonized in the mind and character of Washington.