Wednesday, February 8, 2012

George London?

Washington: the Conservative as Revolutionary (Photo: James Hooper)
Parliament Square
The Conservative tour of London resumes with a somewhat surprising site--a statue of George Washington in the heart of London, not far from the English Houses of Parliament.  "What is he doing here in Westminster?", you may well ask.

Commander K. with George Washington
National Gallery, London
You can also find another statue of George Washington in front of the National Gallery on Trafalgar square.

George Washington was quite simply "the indispensable man" of the America Revolution.  He was a wealthy man--one of the richest planters in Virginia.  The keys to his material success were 1) working hard as a land surveyor in advance of a huge frontier real-estate boom and 2) marrying well.

He was a conservative landowner, but also the consummate Revolutionary.  He, along with the other founding fathers, was willing to risk his life and all that he owned in order to purchase America's Freedom. As Franklin memorably said, "we must all hang together or assuredly
we shall all hang separately."

Standing 6'2" in height, he was a natural born leader.  He was one of the finest horsemen of his age.  He showed remarkable physical courage and indifference to danger on countless battlefields.  He was a far from perfect strategist (losing more battles than he won during the War for Independence) but he was an incomparable leader and source of inspiration to his men.

As a general of the Revolution and as the nation's first President he was an unbelievably good talent spotter (a talent shared, to some extent, by Ronald Reagan).  He recruited the illegitimate Alexander Hamilton to serve as an aide-de-camp when he was only 22 years old.  He surrounded himself with highly-capable people.  In US history, Washington's cabinet has never been rivalled for sheer depth of talent.  Imagine having John Adams as your VP, Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State, Alexander Hamilton as Treasury Secretary and Henry Knox as your Secretary of War!

He was happy and constant with Martha in his domestic life.  The father of our country was likely sterile--Martha was a widow who had children from her previous marriage.  He was, in some respects, a reluctant Revolutionary who adored his beloved Mount Vernon and longed for retirement from the cares of public life.

Bust of Washington, St. Paul's, London
I heartily recommend Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow.  The author has a gift for bringing Washington the demigod off his pedestal while still preserving an enormous respect for his subject.  Behold Washington in three dimensions, warts and all.

This past summer I happened to be in a doctors' office waiting to receive an inoculation for yellow fever (I climbed Kilimanjaro last summer.) when I read the following passage about the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 that raged through the young nations' capital city, Philadelphia...

"As August progressed, the yellow fever scourge spread from the wharves to the city's interior: victims ran high fevers, spewed black vomit, hemorrhaged blood from every orifice, and developed jaundice before they expired.  By late August the sights and smells of death saturated the city, especially the groaning carts, stacked high with corpses, that trundled through the streets as their drivers intoned, 'Bring out your dead.'  To stem the fever, the authorities tried burning barrels of tar, which polluted the air with a potent, acrid stench...Whether from instinctive courage or a stoic believe in death as something foreordained, George Washington again behaved as if endowed with supernatural immunity.  He showed the same sangfroid as when bullets whizzed past him during the French and Indian war...By mid-October 3,500 Philadelphians, or one-tenth of the population, had succumbed to yellow fever, leaving the city, in Washington's words, 'almost depopulated by removals and deaths..'"  Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow, 2010.

There are times when, even a Conservative, must admit that the world has improved in some significant respects since 1793!

Washington had a complicated relationship with England.  He never actually visited Britain and only left the 13 colonies on a brief trip to the Caribbean.  He served Britain with bravery and ability as a military leader in the French and Indian war--but was passed over for the promotion that he coveted.  As a successful Planter, he aspired to lead the life and an English country gentleman; he bought British fashions and goods and relied on British merchants to sell his crops and to extend him credit.   As is usually the case, he did not come to love his debtors.  Crown-imposed taxes had a direct adverse impact on his farming business.

The statue of Washington you will find at Westminster was erected to honour him for his service during the French and Indian War.

He helped to ground the United States in a rule of laws, not men.  He embodied and encouraged the promotion of individuals based on merit, not birth or social standing.  He was a champion of limited government, limiting own administration to two terms of office and, most critically, never reaching out for the crown that was within his grasp.  Even in his death, he remained a champion of liberty--freeing all of his personal slaves--thereby recognising the evil of slavery in America.

Washington set the template for the Conservative Revolutionary.  Now, in 2012, when the French (1789) and Russian Revolutions (1917) are but historic memories, the American Revolution, that he fathered, endures and continues to evolve in interesting and unexpected ways.

Check out this article as well...


David McCullough on 1776

You can order Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

You can purchase signed copies of An Adventure in 1914

Or you can find regular copies on


Anonymous said...

Quite forgiving these British that they are willing to make a statue to George Washington. Very commendable. Your last bit about the American Revolution evolving is troubling. The country has changed quite a lot in the past 50 years, but not the Consistuion. The Twenty-seventh Amendment was ratified in 1992, but was submitted 203 years prior. Hardly a change to keep up with the times. The Twenty-sixth Amendment ratified in 1971 was a rather simple change of the age to vote starting at 18 years old. The Twenty-fifth ratified in 1967 is a clarification of when the presidency passes to the Vice President. Finally with the Twenty-fouth admendment in 1962 the poll taxes to suppress the black vote were made unconsistutional. This was the last admendment that has acutally been made to enact a change in the relationship of people to the Federal government. Yet, we witness the huge change in the actual relationship over those exact same 50 years. It has been done not through the admendment process, but through a redefinition and reinterpretation of words in the constitution. This is the liberalism that twists in new powers of government where none was intentionally written and none has rightly been in stalled in the constitution. This kind of evolving of the revolution is exactly what a conservative is needs to fight. Even if we find such a change benefitial we must work to make the change to the constitution by admentment not simply accept the "good" evolutions. WMW

David J Gill said...

George Washington was able to recognize talent and insight in those he chose as advisors and subordinates - most notably Alexander Hamilton. He consulted widely and used the advice he received. He was a consummate decision even on matters of which he lacked expertise.

But to compare Ronald Reagan to Washington in this regard is laughable. Once again we have the biased and self serving view of conservatives falsely interpreting history.