The nation's first president "became the father not just of a country, but of the greatest experiment in freedom the world has ever known."
George Washington used to be every schoolchild's hero, but he seldom earns more than a passing mention these days. The arguably greatest American of all time has become just another dead white male.
Washington did not cut down a cherry tree with a hatchet and confess the deed to his father by saying, "I can not tell a lie." That is just a legend. Nevertheless, his real deeds turn out to be far more amazing than any of the tall tales that have been told about him.
He was born in 1732 on a small, struggling tobacco farm in Virginia. His father died when Washington was 11, and he had to work to help the family make ends meet. As a young boy, he also had to memorize more than 100 roles of conduct devised by French Catholic monks, such as "Speak not when you should hold your peace"; "Always submit your judgment to others with modesty"; "Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any"; "Let your conversation be without malice or envy"; "When you speak of God or His attributes, let it be seriously"; "Let your recreations be manful, not sinful"; and "Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."
He didn't forget these rules or outgrow them. They were roles for life, not just about common courtesy, but about developing moral character and moral discipline.
By age 15, Washington was working as a professional surveyor far beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. The wilderness had a profound impact on him. It tested his mettle and endurance, forced him to improvise to meet unexpected challenges, and opened wide new vistas in his imagination. He was filled with the restless longing of the pioneer and, if it were not for his family obligations, he undoubtedly would have become a woodsman and explorer like his contemporary, Daniel Boone.
By age 21, Washington was a major in the Colonial Army. He fought during the French and Indian War, and his bravery made him a living legend. In one battle, he had two horses shot out from under him and his hat and uniform were riddled with bullet holes.
In 1775, after the first shots between the Redcoats and the Minutemen were fired at Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress unanimously elected Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army even though he was not a general. He was just a simple country...