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MIKE MCKENNA: It’s George Washington’s Birthday, Not President’s Day

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Michael McKenna Contributor
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In the deep of a cold night almost 250 years ago, tired and cold troops waited for their turn to cross a river and head towards their enemy in hopes of surprising them on Christmas. Most of them had less than a week left in their enlistments and were already preparing to head home.

The fading prospects for American independence would go with them.

It would have been easy for those soldiers to have slipped off into the night, to not have gotten on the boats for this one, final probably pointless battle. However, just about all of them stayed to cross the Delaware, to march to Trenton, and surprise and defeat the Hessians there on Dec. 26, 1776.  That victory, more than any other, changed the fortunes of the Revolution.

Today we will, as we have for almost 200 years, celebrate General George Washington, the author of that victory, and much of the reason why the Continental Army — and our nation — survived the dark and terrible days in late 1776.

Contrary to popular belief and the efforts of salesmen throughout the land, no Congress nor president has ever changed this celebration to the abomination that is “President’s Day.” That’s good, because the assortment of mostly mediocre American presidents deserves no celebration.

George Washington, born in Virginia on Feb. 22, 1732, is quite another matter.

He dropped out of school at the age of 15 to tend to the family farm, do a bit of surveying and dabble in real estate.  He wrote no books. He wasn’t a particularly gifted orator. He wasn’t the richest man of his time or place.

He was, however, a natural leader and fearless military officer. He was entrusted with commands by the British army during the French and Indian War when he was just 22 years old. He defeated that same British army — considered the best in the world — 25 years later in the Revolutionary War.

He guided the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention and enhanced its deliberations by his calming presence.  Those deliberations were, of course, made easier by the certain knowledge among the delegates that Washington would be the first president of the new Republic.

He voluntarily stepped down as president after two terms, setting a precedent that no one even thought to challenge until the Republic unfortunately ran across the authoritarian and grasping Roosevelts.

For 250 years, he has set the standard for presidents, generals, leaders and all Americans. To date, no one has entirely matched it.

Even in death he helped the Nation he did so much to create. In the wake of a civil war that would have destroyed any other country or people, North and South managed to rally around the memory of General Washington, which became a unifying force.

Construction of the monument which bears his name was restarted after the war (in 1873) and completed in 1884. In 1889, the State of Washington, which had and has no physical connection whatsoever to General Washington, was admitted into the Union.

In 1965, the historian and writer James Flexner called him the “indispensable man.” The British military called him “the Fox” because of his consistent ability to elude their superior forces during the Revolutionary War.

Americans simply call him the “father of our country” because that is what he was. He made life better for every American who has ever lived, and because America has been a force for good in the world, he made life better for just about everyone on the planet.

That is quite an achievement for one lifetime.

So, if you get a moment today, the day his native Commonwealth of Virginia simply celebrates as George Washington Day, make sure to think about the first and greatest president with whom the United States was blessed, and be grateful.

Michael McKenna is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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