Celebrating George Washington's failures
George Washington was a failure.
But that is not the reason we do not celebrate his birthday (February 22) anymore, unless you count Monday’s President’s Day.
Washington’s failures are not the reason there are no more cherry pies or axes to help us remember the legends of his honesty and character.
We just don’t pay that much attention to him anymore in normal times, do we?
That is a shame.
His leadership skills, military successes, common sense, wisdom, and willingness to sacrifice still merit our admiration.
And so do his failures.
This country’s government works, thanks to his management of the Constitutional Convention. His even-handed administration bound this country together in its first days.
He was a genuine hero.
George Washington’s many successes are important to remember. We should be grateful for them. They should inspire us to higher standards of service to our country.
But I am not thinking so much of those successes today. More important to me now are his failures and disappointments. There were many. In romance. In his military service. In politics.
Miss Betsy Fauntleroy rejected him twice. She was not the only one who broke Washington’s heart. He also fell in love with Sally Fairfax, the wife of his friend, and he suffered because she could only be a good friend to him.
He began his military career in embarrassment. In the frontier country claimed by both the French and the British before the French and Indian War, Washington was put in charge of a force of British Colonials. He had a fort built to defend his troops — in a creek bottom surrounded on three sides by higher ground. It was a stupid mistake. Soon the French had him surrounded. He surrendered after a short siege, and was tricked into signing a confession that his forces had “assassinated” a French officer who had been killed in an earlier skirmish. When this became known, he was demoted and lost his command.
In politics, he started out as a bad public speaker and did not improve very much. He could not persuade or influence people that way. Some reports say that his first election to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 came only after he treated voters to rum, wine, brandy, beer, and “cider royal.”
Why think about these failures and disappointments? Why not focus on Washington’s accomplishments?
Why? Because Washington’s successes were built on the foundations of these disappointments and failures. The lesson of his life should not be that he was a perfect person who never failed at anything.
All of us, Washington included, have had terrible disappointments in romance, in our work, and in our attempts to lead others and persuade them to do the right thing. Many other disappointments, hard times, and failures come our way.
What made Washington special was his strength in getting past those tough times.
His broken heart in romance did not stop him from finding a happy marriage to Martha Custis. His early military reverses did not prevent him from becoming a great general. He worked around his political deficiencies and became the most successful political leader our country has ever had.
What we should remember about George Washington is that he overcame his disappointments.
So, the next time somebody breaks your heart, or the next time you make a bad mistake in your career, or when you have problems persuading people to do the right thing, or when there is some other roadblock in your path — just remember, it happened to George Washington, too.
Think about him and take courage. Make those disappointments into strong building blocks of your success.
Just like George Washington.