George Washington is known as the father of America. He was the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the War of Independence from Britain, the President of the Constitutional Convention that wrote the American Constitution, and the first President of the United States (1778-1797).
He was born in Virginia to a fairly prosperous farmer and businessman. The family was said to be of the “middling class.”
Washington was an obedient son. When he wanted to join the British Navy in 1746, his mother forbad him to do so, and he submitted to her wishes in spite of the fact that his brother Lawrence and others supported the Navy career. We can see the hand of God guiding the mother in this matter.
Washington had a fairly good education but not an extensive one. At age 11 his father died and became the ward of his older brother Lawrence. As a teenager he was appointed official surveyor of Culpeper County, and he traveled extensively in surveying work in western Virginia.
When Washington was 20, Lawrence and his wife died and George inherited the Mount Vernon estate. George gradually increased it to 8,000 acres. In the 1750s, Washington served as an officer with the British in the French and Indian war and was involved in many military engagements. At age 23, he was a colonel over all Virginia troops.
In January 1759, at age 27, Washington married Martha Custis, a young widow with two children: John (Jacky) and Martha (Patsy) (two others had died). Washington raised Martha’s children but did not have any children of his own. Patsy died as a teenager. John died of fever in 1781 while serving as an officer under George in the Revolutionary War. Martha’s first husband was the wealthiest man in Virginia, and at his death the 25-year-old widow inherited five plantations totaling 17,000 acres, plus 300 slaves. She operated this estate efficiently until her marriage to George two years later.
The Washingtons had a good, close, wholesome marriage, and Martha traveled thousands of miles during the Revolutionary War to be with her husband in his encampments. French General Lafayette said that “she loved her husband madly.”
At Washington’s death on December 17, 1799, the U.S. Congress chose “Light-horse Harry” Lee to write the founding father’s official national eulogy. Lee knew Washington well. He was a personal friend and served under him as a major general during the Revolutionary War. (Lee was named “Light-horse Harry” because of his brave and exciting exploits as a calvary officer under Washington.) The eulogy was presented to Congress on December 28, 1799, and was read aloud by a member of Congress.
Following is a famous excerpt from Lee’s 3,500-word eulogy:
“First in war; first in peace; and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life; PIOUS, JUST, HUMANE, TEMPERATE AND SINCERE; uniform, dignified and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him, as were the effects of that example lasting.”
Oftentimes, eulogies are not truthful, but in this case, Lee’s words represented the sentiments of all of those who knew George Washington best.
Washington was truly a great leader and the essence of his greatness lay in his good character. He was “a man of virtue.” His character was called “the wonder of the world.” “It was his moral character that set him off from other men” (Gordon Wood, “The Greatness of George Washington,” Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1992).
Washington’s honesty was renowned.
Washington was a man of his word. He was dependable. He paid his debts. He kept his promises, even to his own hurt (Psa. 15:4).
He said, “I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy.”
For Washington, these were not mere pious words.
He operated the Revolutionary War according to the principle of honesty. When he was camped with his bedraggled army at Valley Forge the winter of 1777-78 (choosing rather to suffer with his men than to return to his comfortable farm), having lost battle after battle to the British, his army nearly out of food and a dozen men a day dying or fleeing, Washington pleaded with the Continental Congress to send supplies. Instead, they urged him to take food from nearby farmers. Yet even in those desperate straits and with the authority of Congress behind him, he refused to steal from his own fellow citizens and promised to hang any soldier caught stealing food! And this was in spite of the fact that many of the colonial farmers were supporting the British and were selling food to them at large profit for British gold while refusing to help the Continental Army. But Washington was convinced that the new nation for which he was fighting could only be rightly established on principles of honesty and decency.
He operated his presidency according to this principle. “Washington established broad-ranging presidential authority, but always with the highest integrity, exercising power with restraint and honesty. In doing so, he set a standard rarely met by his successors, but one that established an ideal by which all are judged” (“George Washington,” Biography.com).
When advised by some to renege on America’s war debts, President Washington refused. “He recognized that America’s credit abroad, and its integrity at home, depended on honoring its war debt. Some Americans wanted to renege on payments we owed to patriots at home and the French abroad who had invested in our war for independence. Others, like James Madison, wanted to repay some, but not all, of the debt. Washington saw this as a character issue and helped persuade Congress to pass a revenue tariff to pay all our debts and establish our credit as a nation worthy of international respect” (Burton Folsom, “George Washington’s Unimpeachable Character,” Feb. 1, 1999, Mackinac Center for Public Politics).
American statesman Daniel Webster made the following amazing statement before the whole world nearly 50 years after Washington’s death:
“America has furnished to the world the character of Washington! And if our American institutions have done nothing else, that alone would have entitled them to the respect of mankind. ... I would cheerfully put the question today to the intelligence of Europe and the world, what character of the century, upon the whole, stands out in the relief of history, most pure, most respectable, most sublime; and I doubt not, that by a suffrage approaching to unanimity, the answer would be Washington! ... Towering high above the column which our hands have builded, beheld, not by the inhabitants of a single city or a single State--ascends the colossal grandeur of his character, and his life” (“An Address at the Completion of the Bunker Hill Monument,” June 17, 1843).
Washington’s self-discipline was renowned.
Self-discipline is what made Washington a better leader than some other Founding Fathers.
“He was better because of his character--specifically, his self-command, which prevented his ever taking any political step on impulse, without carefully weighing its consequences for the country. The missteps of these other great men [Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Adams] have a common root: undisciplined passion, whether a personal passion, like pride, or an intellectual passion, like prideful attachment to one’s own theoretical opinions about government, unqualified by a practical attention to the country’s needs. George Washington had trained himself from young manhood in the discipline of his passions. They were always well-governed, and this made him uniquely qualified to govern others, even when compared with the intellectual luminaries of that intellectually luminous generation” (Carson Holloway, “It’s time to rediscover George Washington’s greatness,” The Daily Signal, Feb. 16, 2015).
Washington understood the power of discipline in all areas of life, including the military. He wrote, “Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak and esteem to all.”
Washington’s modesty and humility was renowned.
The Frenchman Brissot de Warville said, “He speaks of the American War as if he had not been its leader.”
Washington has been criticized by some modern historians for owning slaves, but they don’t tell the whole story. He inherited slaves and would have freed them, but he was forbidden by Virginia law to do so. At great personal cost to his estate, he vowed that he would not sell his slaves even though he could have benefited financially from doing so. The sale of just one slave would have brought him enough income to pay his estate taxes for two years. He also refused to hire out his slaves, because he did not want to break up their families. He said, “To sell the overplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species. To hire them out is almost as bad because they could not be disposed of in families to any advantage, and to disperse [break up] the families I have an aversion” (Washington letter to Robert Lewis, Aug. 18, 1799, Washington’s Writings, 1980, Vol. 37, p. 338). Washington was instrumental in having a federal law passed in the first year of his presidency (1789) prohibiting slavery in the new American territories. As a result, the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin all prohibited slavery as they came into the Union.
Many accounts were told by black men and women about Washington’s humility and lack of racial prejudice. One was told by Primus Hall, the servant of Col. Timothy Pickering, one of General Washington’s favorite officers during the War of Independence. One evening Washington and Pickering talked late into the evening, and Washington asked Hall if there were straw and blankets enough for him to sleep there that night. Hall replied in the affirmative, and when it was time for him to retire, Washington was shown an extra bed in Pickering’s tent made of straw and blankets and laid down to sleep, not knowing that Hall had given him his own humble bed. When Washington woke up in the night and saw Hall sleeping at the Colonel’s desk, he realized what had happened and demanded that Hall share his bed. When Hall expressed surprise and told him not to trouble himself, Washington ordered him in an authoritative voice, “Primus, I say, come and lie down here! There is room for both, and I insist upon it.” Washington moved to one side of the straw bed, and the black man did as he was told. “Primus professes to have been exceedingly shocked at the idea of lying under the same covering with the commander-in-chief, but his tone was so resolute and determined that he could not hesitate. He prepared himself, therefore, and laid himself down by Washington; and on the same straw, and under the same blanket, the General and the Negro servant slept until morning” (Henry Harrington, “Anecdotes of Washington,” Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, June 1849).
There is also the account of how that Washington took a sentinel’s place so he could eat breakfast. This account was gathered by historian John Fanning Watson, who visited Valley Forge in the 1820s and gathered oral testimonies from soldiers. Watson published Annals of Philadelphia in 1830. One morning Washington found a 19-year-old soldier standing guard duty in the snow and told him to go eat breakfast and that he would take the soldier’s duty until he returned. Watson’s notebook is housed at the Library Company of Philadelphia, which was established by Benjamin Franklin in 1731.
Washington’s selflessness was renowned.
His selflessness was evident in that he led the Continental Army for eight years without pay or leave and without financial reward upon retirement.
His selflessness was evident when he surrendered his sword to Congress in 1783 and returned to his farm.
“General Washington became the first famous military leader in the history of the world to win a war and then voluntarily step down instead of seizing and consolidating power” (Eric Metaxas, Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness).
“His retirement from power had a profound effect everywhere in the Western world. It was extraordinary, it was unprecedented in modern times--a victorious general surrendering his arms and returning to his farm. Cromwell, William of Orange, Marlborough--all had sought political rewards commensurate with their military achievements. Though it was widely thought that Washington could have become king or dictator, he wanted nothing of the kind. He was sincere in his desire for all the soldiers ‘to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peaceful and happy Country,’ and everyone recognized his sincerity. It filled them with awe. Washington’s retirement, said the painter John Trumbull writing from London in 1784, ‘excites the astonishment and admiration of this part of the world. ‘Tis a conduct so novel, so unconceivable to people, who, far from giving up powers they possess, are willing to convulse the empire to acquire more.’ King George III supposedly predicted that if Washington retired from public life and returned to his farm, ‘he will be the greatest man in the world’” (Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1992).
Washington’s selflessness was evident in 1784, when he was offered 150 shares in the James River and Potomac canal companies in recognition of his services to the state of Virginia. He agonized over the decision, writing to many men, including Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, “seeking the best information and advice.” He didn’t want to enrich himself through public service, but he also didn’t want to discourage the men who were trying to honor him. In the end he accepted the shares, so as not to embarrass the legislature, but he gave them away to a college.
His selflessness was evident in 1787 when he agreed to come out of retirement, leave his beloved estate at Mt. Vernon, to lead the Philadelphia Convention that created the U.S. Constitution and then to accept the first presidency of the nation.
His selflessness was evident in his careful obedience to the terms of the office of the presidency. In 1794 he wrote the following to Alexander Hamilton: “The powers of the Executive of the U States are more definite, & better understood perhaps than those of almost any other Country; and my aim has been, & will continue to be, neither to stretch, nor relax from them in any instance whatever, unless imperious circumstances should render the measure indispensable.”
Washington’s selflessness and generosity was evident in his concern for the future of the nation. He was motivated in his actions about the “millions unborn.” He said, “We are a young nation, and have a character to establish. It behoves us therefore to set out right, for first impressions will be lasting.”
Though some modern historians have tried to discredit Washington’s sincerity, his contemporaries who knew him believed that he was “trying always to act in a disinterested and patriotic way.” Even Thomas Jefferson, who often was on the opposite side of issues from Washington, praised his character: “The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish” (Edward Larson, The Return of George Washington, p. 7).
George Washington and the Bible
George Washington’s moral greatness can be traced to the Bible’s influence in his life.
He was a professing Christian, an active member of the Anglican Church, oftentimes riding long distances on horseback to attend services. He attended church regularly most of his life. There were times of sporadic attendance, but for the most part he was faithful. His pastor at Pohick church said, “I never knew so constant an attendant at church as Washington” (William Meade, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia. Vol. 2, p. 247). There was a period in which Washington stopped taking communion at the Anglican Church, and he never stated the reason for this.
Washington has been called a “Deist” by modern historians, but his own writings and speeches refute this accusation. In fact, he had a deep-seated personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and a strong confidence in divine providence.
As a vestryman for 15 years in the Pohick and Alexandria congregations of the Anglican Church, Washington signed his agreement with the 39 Articles. Historian Benson Lossing, in Field Book of the Revolution (1850), included a signed oath from Washington from the Pohick church records stating, “I do declare that I will be conformable to the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church of England, as by law established” (Lossing, vol. 2, chapter 8). It is dated Aug. 19, 1765.
Washington thus signed under oath that he believed in the divine inspiration and sole authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the virgin birth, divinity, sinlessness, sacrificial atonement, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, original sin, justification by faith in Christ alone without works, and salvation only through Christ.
Writing to the chiefs of the Delaware Indian tribes, Washington said, “You do well to learn our arts and our ways of life, and above all the religion of Jesus Christ” (Address to the Delaware Indian Chiefs, May 12, 1779, John Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington, Vol. XV, 1932, p. 55). Though some have claimed that Washington might not have actually written this, there is no doubt that he signed it and that it therefore reflected his own thinking!
In his address to the governors of the states in 1783 when he resigned as Commander-in-Chief from the Army, Washington referred to the Christian religion as “our blessed religion,” obviously testifying his personal ascent to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would ... most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which are the characteristics of the DIVINE AUTHOR OF OUR BLESSED RELIGION, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation” (Jared Sparks, The Writings of George Washington, Vol. III, p. 86).
Many reputable people testified that Washington had a habit of morning devotions and that he prayed on his knees. This was witnessed by Washington’s nephew George Lewis, by Revolutionary War General Robert Porterfield, by Alexander Hamilton (America’s first Secretary of Treasury), and others. Hamilton said that “such was his most constant habit” (William Meade, Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia, Vol. II, pp. 491-492).
Washington purchased Bibles and prayer books for his step-children John and Patsy in October 1761 (C.M. Kirkland, Memoirs of Washington, 1857, pp. 198-199).
Washington was the first person to purchase the 1792 American edition of John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible. It was printed in New York City while Washington lived there as President (Barbara Lacey, From Sacred to Secular, p. 81). This study Bible had commentaries, margin references, book summaries, chapter headings, chronology, a Bible dictionary, and concordance.
Washington prayed at Valley Forge when his army seemed on the verge of total defeat. Though this event has been doubted by some historians in modern times, I find the evidence to be more than sufficient, and the act would have been in perfect character with the known facts of his life.
A Quaker named Isaac Potts witnessed Washington in prayer at Valley Forge and the deed so touched him that he became a supporter of the war effort. Quakers, being pacifists, did not support the war as a rule, but Potts had a change of mind by seeing the Continental Army’s Commander-in-Chief in prayer. This was testified in the Diary and Remembrances of Nathaniel Snowden, a Presbyterian minister who lived from 1770 to 1851. Snowden heard the testimony from Potts personally.
“I knew personally the celebrated Quaker Potts who saw Gen’l Washington alone in the woods at prayer. I got it from himself, myself. Weems mentioned it in his history of Washington [Mason Weems, Life of George Washington, 1816 edition], but I got it from the man myself, as follows: I was riding with him [Mr. Potts] in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, near to the Valley Forge, where the army lay during the war of the Revolution. Mr. Potts was a Senator in our State & a Whig. I told him I was agreeably surprised to find him a friend to his country as the Quakers were mostly Tories [supporters of the British crown]. He said, ‘It was so and I was a rank Tory once, for I never believed that America could proceed against Great Britain whose fleets and armies covered the land and ocean, but something very extraordinary converted me to the Good Faith!’ What was that, I inquired? ‘Do you see that woods, & that plain. It was about a quarter of a mile off from the place we were riding, as it happened. ‘There,’ said he, ‘laid the army of Washington. It was a most distressing time of the war, and all were for giving up the Ship but that great and good man. In that woods pointing to a close in view, I heard a plaintive sound as, of a man at prayer. I tied my horse to a sapling & went quietly into the woods & to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at Prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was the Crisis, & the cause of the country, of humanity & of the world. Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying. I went home & told my wife [that] I saw a sight and heard today what I never saw or heard before, and just related to her what I had seen & heard & observed. We never thought a man could be a soldier & a Christian, but if there is one in the world, it is Washington. She also was astonished. We thought it was the cause of God, & America could prevail.’ He then to me put out his right hand & said, ‘I turned right about and became a Whig [a supporter of the American revolution].’”
Some writers have claimed that Potts was a widower at the time of Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge, and others said that he did not reside at Valley Forget then. Both are disproven by the record of the Potts family compiled in 1874 by Mrs. Thomas Potts after eleven years of painstaking work (“Washington in Prayer,” ushistory.org). According to this record, Isaac Potts married Martha Bolton on December 6, 1770, and they lived at Valley Forge in 1777 and 1778.
Potts daughter, Ruth-Anna, who died in 1811, testified that she knew that her father witnessed Washington in prayer and that it had changed his opinion of the war effort (“Washington in Prayer,” ushistory.org).
Washington was a man of charity. “He helped to care for the poor and believed strongly in charity, which he exercised privately. Regarding his own estate he said, ‘Let the Hospitality of the House, with respect to the poor, be kept up. ... I have no objection to your giving my Money to Charity ... when you think it is well bestowed. What I mean, by having no objection, is, that it is my desire that it should be done’” (“George Washington and Religion,” mountvernon.org).
Washington gave God the glory for protecting him throughout his military career, beginning with the Battle of the Monongahela River in 1755 during the French and Indian War. Washington was a 23-year-old Lieutenant Colonel serving under British General Edward Braddock. In July, Braddock’s 1,000-man army was ambushed in heavy woods by the French and their Indian allies and slaughtered. The French and Indians were hidden behind thick woods and firing upon the British who were in the open. Washington did not flee as many did. Dressed in the bright red coat of a British officer, he rode back and forth to carry Braddock’s orders and rally the men, presenting an easy target for the enemy, yet he was unscathed. Eighty years later, a gold seal that had been shot off of Washington’s body without harming him was found on the battlefield (Ben Carson, America the Beautiful). Of Braddock’s 2,000 men, 714 were killed and 37 wounded. Braddock himself and 26 of his officers were killed, including every mounted officer except Washington.
Washington wrote the following in letter to his mother nine days after the battle:
“... by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!”
Fifteen years later, an Indian chief testified that he was at the battle and they had actually singled out the large man in the red coat but could not hit him.
Washington wanted his army to act as Christian soldiers. On July 9, 1776, he issued the following order:
“The Hon. Continental Congress having been pleased to allow a Chaplain to each Regiment, with the pay of Thirty-three Dollars and one third per month--The Colonels or commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure Chaplains accordingly; PERSONS OF GOOD CHARACTERS AND EXEMPLARY LIVES--To see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect and ATTEND CAREFULLY UPON RELIGIOUS EXERCISES. THE BLESSING AND PROTECTION OF HEAVEN ARE AT ALL TIMES NECESSARY but especially so in times of public distress and danger--The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor TO LIVE AND ACT AS BECOMES A CHRISTIAN SOLDIER defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.”
The Articles of War adopted by the Continental Congress and approved by Washington “recommended that all officers and men attend divine worship and that if any behaved indecently or irreverently they were to be brought before a court martial to be reprimanded and fined or possibly confined. For swearing or blaspheming God’s name, a soldier was compelled to wear a wooden collar for as long as his commander deemed proper” (Derek Davis, Religion and the Continental Congress).
George Washington was a product of the Bible and a product of America. As Daniel Webster said in his 1843 speech:
“[Washington’s life] is the embodiment and vindication of our transatlantic liberty. Born upon our soil--of parents also born upon it--never for a moment having had a sight of the old world--instructed, according to the modes of his time, only in the spare, plain, but wholesome elementary knowledge which our institutions provide for the children of the people--growing up beneath and penetrated by the genuine influences of American society--growing up amidst our expanding, but not luxurious, civilization--partaking in our great destiny of labor, our long contest with unreclaimed nature and uncivilized man--our agony of glory, the war of independence--our great victory of peace, the formation of the union and the establishment of the Constitution--he is all--all our own! That crowded and glorious life--that life was the life of an American citizen” (“An Address at the Completion of the Bunker Hill Monument,” June 17, 1843).
Washington was convinced that a nation had to please God and keep His laws in order to be blessed and prosperous. In his first inaugural address he stated these memorable words:
“We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained."
It was Washington who founded the custom of American presidents swearing the oath of office on a Bible. Inauguration day was April 30, 1789. The ceremony took place on the second floor balcony of Federal Hall in New York City facing Wall Street. The city fathers called the people together for prayer at 9am. At the sound of the bells, the people were advised to “go up to the house of God and in a solemn manner commit the new government, with its important train of consequences, to the holy protection and blessing of the Most high.” At the inauguration ceremony, Washington placed left his hand on the Bible, which was opened to Genesis, and raised his right hand to heaven. He said, “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” After completing the oath, Washington kissed the Bible. The crowd responded with thunderous applause, and church bells rang out across the city.
After the oath of office, Washington went inside Federal Hall to the Senate Chamber and delivered his inaugural address before a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Washington gave God credit for the nation’s blessing. The address was literally filled with references to God and to His providential acts in human affairs. The God that Washington believed in is certainly no “Deist” God as has been claimed by those who want to write biblical faith out of America’s history. Washington’s God is no absentee God, no “watchmaker God” who created the universe and then left it to itself, no God who does not act in human affairs. By his own testimony, Washington deeply believed in and loved the God revealed in Scripture.
“Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to THAT ALMIGHTY BEING WHO RULES OVER THE UNIVERSE, WHO PRESIDES IN THE COUNCILS OF NATIONS and whose providential aide can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes; and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge.
“In tendering this homage to THE GREAT AUTHOR OF EVERY PUBLIC AND PRIVATE GOOD, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore THE INVISIBLE HAND WHICH CONDUCTS THE AFFAIRS OF MEN more than the people of the United States
“Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some TOKEN OF PROVIDENTIAL AGENCY; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted cannot be compared with the means by which most governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which them past seem to presage
“These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence.
“We ought to be no less persuaded that THE PROPITIOUS SMILES OF HEAVEN CAN NEVER BE EXPECTED ON A NATION THAT DISREGARDS THE ETERNAL RULES OF ORDER AND RIGHT WHICH HEAVEN ITSELF HAS ORDAINED; and since the preservation of sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps finally, staked of the experiment. ...
“I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to THE BENIGN PARENT OF THE HUMAN RACE, in humble supplication that, since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so HIS DIVINE BLESSINGS may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend” (George Washington’s inaugural presidential address, April 30, 1789).
We see from this speech that Washington was convinced that America owed her existence to Almighty God’s blessing and help and that her abiding happiness would depend on her obedience to Him. The smiles of heaven cannot be expected without obedience to heaven’s laws.
After Washington’s inaugural address before the U.S. Congress, he and the Congress members marched in procession to St. Paul’s Church for a service to thank God and beseech His blessing on the new nation. The service was led by Samuel Provoost, the Episcopal bishop of New York and the Senate chaplain for that week. The service included readings from 1 Kings, Psalms 144-150, Acts, and 3 John. Washington worshiped at St. Paul’s the first two years of his presidency until the nation’s capital moved to Washington, D.C.
On October 3, 1789, Washington, with the full backing of the U.S. Congress, proclaimed the new nation’s first national Thanksgiving. This was one week after the approval of the Bill of Rights granting religious liberty. The day was devoted 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.” The objective was to acknowledge “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.”
After Washington died, Jared Sparks (1789-1866), later president of Harvard College, collected and published his papers in 12 volumes under the title The Writings of George Washington. Volume XII dealt with Washington’s religious character. After this extensive research, Sparks concluded, “To say that he was not a Christian would be to impeach his sincerity and honesty.”
In the context of this research, Sparks corresponded with Washington’s step-granddaughter Eleanor “Nelly” Park Custis-Lewis. Nelly and her brother George were the children of Martha’s son John Parke Custis. After John died during the Revolutionary War, their mother could not take care of all four of her children, so the youngest two were unofficially adopted by Martha and George and raised as their own. Nelly and George went to live with the president in New York City at the beginning of his first term of office. She was ten, and during her eight years there and in Washington, D.C., Nelly grew to adulthood. She was said to be lovely, intelligent, and of a bright personality. She and her brother were the first children of the nation’s first First Family, and Nelly especially was the center of attention. She became the “teenage darling of America.” She was given a good education by her grandparents, which was unusual for girls of her day. When the president’s second term ended, she moved to Mount Vernon with them, and her room and some of her possessions can be seen there today. Washington gave her away in marriage at Mount Vernon in February 1799, and she lived with her husband there for about a year before moving to their own plantation nearby called Woodlawn. The 2,000-acre estate was Washington’s wedding gift to her. Seven of Nelly’s eight children predeceased her. The first was born at Mount Vernon while the couple was still living there at the beginning of their marriage. It was born two weeks before Washington’s death in December 1799, and Nelly was still bedridden and unable to attend her grandfather’s funeral.
Nelly was greatly beloved by Washington and spent a lot of time with him.
She wrote the following letter to Sparks in February 26, 1833, when she was 53. The letter discounts the claims that some have made that Washington did not take communion and that he never prayed on his knees.
I received your favor of the 20th instant last evening, and hasten to give you the information, which you desire.
Truro Parish [Episcopal] is the one in which Mount Vernon, Pohick Church [the church where George Washington served as a vestryman], and Woodlawn [the home of Nelly and Lawrence Lewis] are situated. Fairfax Parish is now Alexandria. Before the Federal District was ceded to Congress, Alexandria was in Fairfax County. General Washington had a pew in Pohick Church, and one in Christ Church at Alexandria. He was very instrumental in establishing Pohick Church, and I believe subscribed [supported and contributed to] largely. His pew was near the pulpit. I have a perfect recollection of being there, before his election to the presidency, with him and my grandmother…
He attended the church at Alexandria when the weather and roads permitted a ride of ten miles [a one-way journey of 2-3 hours by horse or carriage]. In New York and Philadelphia he never omitted attendance at church in the morning, unless detained by indisposition [sickness]. The afternoon was spent in his own room at home; the evening with his family, and without company. Sometimes an old and intimate friend called to see us for an hour or two; but visiting and visitors were prohibited for that day [Sunday]. No one in church attended to the services with more reverential respect. My grandmother, who was eminently pious, never deviated from her early habits. She always knelt. The General, as was then the custom, stood during the devotional parts of the service. On communion Sundays, he left the church with me, after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the carriage back for my grandmother.
It was his custom to retire to his library at nine or ten o'clock where he remained an hour before he went to his chamber. He always rose before the sun and remained in his library until called to breakfast. I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, ‘that they may be seen of men’ [Matthew 6:5]. He communed with his God in secret [Matthew 6:6].
My mother [Eleanor Calvert-Lewis, daughter of Martha Washington] resided two years at Mount Vernon after her marriage [in 1774] with John Parke Custis, the only son of Mrs. Washington. I have heard her say that General Washington always received the sacrament with my grandmother before the revolution. When my aunt, Miss Custis [Martha's daughter] died suddenly at Mount Vernon, before they could realize the event [before they understood she was dead], he [General Washington] knelt by her and prayed most fervently, most affectingly, for her recovery. Of this I was assured by Judge [Bushrod] Washington's mother and other witnesses.
He was a silent, thoughtful man. He spoke little generally; never of himself. I never heard him relate a single act of his life during the war. I have often seen him perfectly abstracted, his lips moving, but no sound was perceptible. I have sometimes made him laugh most heartily from sympathy with my joyous and extravagant spirits. I was, probably, one of the last persons on Earth to whom he would have addressed serious conversation, particularly when he knew that I had the most perfect model of female excellence [Martha Washington] ever with me as my monitress [a woman who admonishes about conduct], who acted the part of a tender and devoted parent, loving me as only a mother can love, and never extenuating [tolerating] or approving in me what she disapproved of others. She never omitted her private devotions, or her public duties; and she and her husband were so perfectly united and happy that he must have been a Christian. She had no doubts, no fears for him. After forty years of devoted affection and uninterrupted happiness, she resigned him without a murmur into the arms of his Savior and his God, with the assured hope of his eternal felicity [happiness in Heaven].
Is it necessary that any one should certify, ‘General Washington avowed himself to me a believer in Christianity?’ As well may we question his patriotism, his heroic, disinterested devotion to his country. His mottos were, ‘Deeds, not Words’; and, ‘For God and my Country.’
With sentiments of esteem,
I am, Nelly Custis-Lewis
(Written to Jared Sparks, Feb. 26, 1833)
One warning about Washington’s faith pertains to his affiliation with the Masonic Lodge. He joined the secret organization at age 20.
He expressed his esteem for Masonic principles, such as in 1797 when he addressed the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts: “My attachment to the Society of which we are all members will dispose me always to contribute my best endeavors to promote the honor and prosperity of the Craft.”
Thirteen months before his death he said to the Grand Lodge of Maryland, “So far as I am acquainted with the doctrines and principles of Freemasonry, I conceive them to be founded in benevolence, and to be exercised only for the good of mankind. I cannot, therefore, upon this ground, withdraw my approbation from it.”
When Washington wrote in regard to Masons, he addressed God in Masonic terms as “the Great Architect of the Universe” and referred to the afterlife as “the eternal Temple of the Supreme Architect.”
When the cornerstone for the United States Capitol was laid in 1783, it was dedicated by the Grand Lodge of Maryland, Washington being present in the role of Master.
I make no effort to whitewash this, since the Masonic Lodge is an unscriptural organization and a true Christian should have nothing to do with it.
Masonry denies the absoluteness of Bible Christianity. It promotes an ecumenical, syncretistic approach to religion which puts Masons at enmity with God’s infallible Word and with Christ’s Substitutionary Atonement. Masonry claims to be a society dating back to the dawn of time and built upon the mythical “precepts of Noah,” which are the “only laws of morality enjoined” on a Mason (James Anderson’s Constitutions).
Masonry promotes ecumenism and the downplaying of divisive doctrines, seeking to promote religious unity. “... Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remained at a perpetual Distance” (Anderson’s Constitutions, Vol. I, “Concerning God and Religion”).
It is easy to see that Masonry is a tool of the devil in the promotion of end-time religious syncretism and the destruction of the uniqueness of biblical Christianity. It is a New Age religion.
Masonry is a multi-level secret society, the secrets of which are learned by degrees and which are not to be revealed to outsiders (formerly at least) on pain of death.
Why would George Washington participate in such an unscriptural organization unless he agreed with them in fundamental principles?
“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).
It is possible that Washington interpreted Masonic doctrine in light of his Christian faith, since Masonry is highly esoteric and non-dogmatic and lends itself to multiple interpretations. But if that is true, he was absolutely wrong.
In addition to Washington, great names of the American Revolution who were Masons included Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, Edmund Randolph, John Hancock, John Paul Jones, Paul Revere, and Edmund Burke. A least 15 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons. Thirty-three of Washington’s 74 generals during the Revolutionary War were Masons. The first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, was a prominent Freemason.
Even so, there can be no doubt that George Washington was a man of very high moral character and that he laid the foundation for a moral nation that is unique in the history of Gentile nations.
What Book other than the Bible has produced a George Washington?
And George Washington was only one of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of men and women of high moral character that America has produced.
Though America has been a mixed multitude from its inception and has produced its share of crooks and scoundrels, as a nation it has excelled in moral character in the midst of deeply corrupt world. In former days, when the Bible’s influence was greatest, America was known as a nation of its word. America kept its promises. It paid its debts. To whatever extent such things were true, and they were true to a large extent, it was true because of the Bible’s influence.
THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT
The 555-foot-tall Washington Monument in Washington D.C. was completed in 1884. The world’s tallest building at the time, it memorializes George Washington, America’s foremost founding father.
Humanly speaking, there would not be a United States without this man of great moral character. He played a prominent and decisive role as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, as the head of the Constitutional Convention, and as the nation’s first president.
On a visit to the monument in May 2016, I was told by a U. S. Park Service ranger that the Washington Monument towers over the other monuments in the city as the man himself towered over most men. At 6 foot 2 or 3 inches tall, Washington was about a head taller than the average man of his day.
The most significant symbolism, though, is to see the monument as a signification of Washington’s tall moral character.
Like Washington’s writings and speeches, the monument is filled with references to God and the Bible.
A Bible presented by the American Bible Society is enclosed in the monument’s cornerstone. (There was also a Bible in the foundation of the 1815 Baltimore Washington Monument, and it was recovered during restoration work in 2015.)
Inscribed on the east face of the 6.25 pound aluminum capstone is Laus Deo (“Praise be to God”).
The monument is composed of 36,000 marble and granite stones, and many Bible verses and references to God are inscribed on the stones that were donated by states, territories, and organizations, including the following:
"Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:16)
"Search the Scriptures" (John 5:39)
"Holiness unto the Lord" (Exodus 28:36)
"The memory of the just is blessed" (Proverbs 10:7)
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6)
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