Although I hadn’t originally intended to do so, it’s probably fitting that my first blog post should be about our first president. The late newspaper columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, Sydney Harris, frequently wrote about “Things I Learned En Route to Looking Up Other Things.” Although that’s exactly how this came about, I won’t steal Sydney’s line. Nonetheless, while googling something entirely different, I came across a link to facts about the life of George Washington, and being the inquisitive fellow I am, I began to read it.
Aside from some of the usual nondescript content (Washington didn’t have a middle name, etc.) there were some things I didn’t know, and even some things I didn’t know I didn’t know, if that makes any sense. For one thing, Washington didn’t have any formal education beyond about age eleven. Due to the death of his father, there was no money for it, so he was, for the most part, self-educated, unlike his older brothers. It seems to have been something he was a bit touchy about, though, so he read widely to compensate for it.
Most people know the story of Washington cutting down the cherry tree and admitting to it because, as he is supposed to have said, “I cannot tell a lie.” We all know this is just a myth, but another myth I wasn’t aware of is the one where he threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. I actually laughed at this, because if there had even been such a thing as a silver dollar when Washington was young, it would have been worth too much to throw away – whether it was across the river or across the road.
In 1746 Washington wanted to join the Royal Navy as a midshipman, but made the classic mistake some of us are all too familiar with; he asked his mother’s permission. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess how that went down. I can visualize the entire scene right now… “You want to do what, George?” Come to think of it, I’m glad she refused to grant it. Can you imagine Washington as an enemy Naval officer in the American Revolution? After all, how could the British have surrendered at Yorktown if Washington hadn’t been there to accept Cornwallis’ sword? All humor aside, though, would we have won to begin with?
Washington was the only president to have been elected unanimously by the Electoral College. In both elections, 1789 and 1792.
In an age of men wearing wigs, Washington didn’t. He powdered his hair, but evidently, what you see is what you get with his appearance. The real deal all the way.
Whiskey, anyone? George Washington distilled whiskey – a lot of it, in fact. Moreover, by the time of his death in 1799, his distillery was the largest in America, producing almost 11,000 gallons.
Washington, unknown to me, also established the United States Navy. Although I’d never really given it any thought, the only name I could come up with regarding our infant Navy was John Paul Jones, but nope, it was our first prez who actually founded our Navy when he signed the Naval Act of 1794 authorizing the construction of six frigates. What would I have done between the ages of 19 and 23 if it hadn’t been for him? I didn’t particularly want to join the Air Force…
Finally, according to some accounts, there were a few people who wanted to crown George Washington our first king, but he refused to entertain that idea. The story is almost certainly apocryphal, but we do know Washington turned down requests that he run for a third term as president. In doing so, he set a precedent for every future president that lasted until Franklin D. Roosevelt. To bad old FDR didn’t bow to the presidential tradition of stepping away after a second term, but even after two terms, there was a lot of damage done – more so, in fact, than any other president in our history until the inauguration of Barack Obama. But that’s another article.