THOUGHTS ON WASHINGTON
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Introduction: Washington always displayed a keen sense of loyalty to God and his fellow man. The 20 years of his life after Monongahela were a time of service to God and country–two roles he always seemed to mix with ease. These years of his life can be grouped under these headings:
I. MILITARY COMMANDER
Immediately after Monongahela, Governor Dinwiddie appointed 23-year-old Washington as commander over all of Virginia’s military forces. The youngster, from the very first, was very strict in military discipline. In one of his first reports to Dinwiddie he wrote,
I have both by threats and persuasive means, endeavored to discountenance gambling, drinking, swearing, and irregularities of every other kind.
Washington never allowed cursing among the troops. He also avoided it in his own life. He sometimes lost his temper and shouted, but never cursed. He required nothing more of his men than he required of his own self.
During this command, Washington made repeated requests that a chaplain be sent to his army. Dinwiddie was always unable to find someone to fill the position. Hence, George became their chaplain. On Sunday mornings he read the Scriptures and led the men in prayer. He was their pastor as well as their commander.
Washington also maintained private times of devotion. One morning his aide, Colonel Temple, rushed into the Commander’s quarters with a message. The aide immediately backed out quietly, for Washington was on his knees at his devotions, Bible in hand. He was a man who knew from whence came his strength.
II. MILITARY SAFETY
While in this command Washington once made a routine trip to inspect one of his outposts. He finished the journey safely, but only through another direct intervention from Providence. Prisoners of a band of Indians later described what happened.
An ambush party of Indians had hidden along the path, waiting for two white traders who regularly came from the south. The Indian leader left his braves and climbed a slope to get a better view of the trail toward the south. When he left the men, he ordered that they not attack anyone until he returned.
While he was away, George and his few men arrived from the north. They could not be seen from the Indian leader’s vantage point. The obedient braves did not attack.
Soon thereafter the Indian leader saw the two traders, returned to his men, and helped them rob and kill the traders. Once again, Providence had intervened in the life of Washington.
In the Fall of 1758 Washington assisted in General John Forbe’s successful expedition against the French and Indians. Though the peace treaty was not signed until 1763, this British victory ended the war for all practical purposes.
George was tired of military life and decided it was time to begin married life. On January 6, 1759, he married Martha Custis, a wealthy widow who lived in a plantation mansion called “The White House.” The marriage increased George’s wealth by some $100,000 in property. He was suddenly one of the richest men in the colonies.
George moved Martha and her two children to Mt. Vernon. He was an excellent father, though Martha did accuse him of being too strict at times. He once bought two beautiful leather-bound gilt-lettered Bibles for his step-children. One of the servants remarked, “My, my, the Lord’s Word is sure dressed up.”
These were George’s most tranquil years. He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, to which he was elected without running a campaign. His early morning quiet time with God and the Bible was maintained.
The Washingtons attended church regularly, even when they had house guests. If weather hindered travel, George conducted family services at home. In 1763 he became a Vestryman (similar to the position of deacon). He later became Church Warden, which put him in charge of benevolence, church discipline, and building repairs.
These were peaceful days. Washington was surrounded by the things he loved most–farming, friends, family, and church work. But it would not last long. A dark cloud was looming on the horizon.
IV. MILITARY ADVOCATE
Britain’s war debts were heavy, and they wanted the colonists to help bear much of the debt. A series of repressive tax measures began to cause unrest in America. The colonists had enjoyed freedom too long. Britain would not be able to coax them into a tax noose.
The crisis finally came to a head at the Boston Tea Party on the evening of December 16, 1773. King George demanded that the culprits be punished, but no one would turn them in. Hence, he decided to punish the whole city of Boston.
General Thomas Gage, who had been one of Braddock’s men at Monongahela, was sent with four regiments of troops to occupy Boston. Colonial leaders were stunned by what they considered an act of aggression and oppression. They decided to meet together and discuss alternatives.
In 1774 Washington and others represented Virginia in the first Continental Congress. He was from the first a strong defender of colonial rights. Patrick Henry described him as having “more solid judgment and information than any man on that floor.”
In September Congress learned that Gage had bombarded Boston with cannon fire. The mood suddenly became somber. The delegates sent for a preacher. Rev. Jacob Duche arrived and was asked to lead in prayer. As the minister began, Washington, Henry, and others knelt to pray.
After Congress recessed, Washington returned to Virginia. The state assembly had been dissolved by the king, but the delegates met secretly at St. John’s Church in Richmond during March 1775. It was here that Washington saw Patrick Henry trembling as he shouted, “Give me liberty or give me death.” One visitor in the meeting was so impressed by Henry’s words that he purchased a grave site just outside the nearest window to which Henry stood. He wanted to be buried there, and is.
The delegates declared June 1 as a day of fasting and prayer. On that day George wrote in his diary: “June 1st, Wednesday, Went to church, and fasted all day.” It’s no wonder he fasted, for in April Paul Revere had ridden, and Lexington and Concord had become immortal. In May he returned to the second Continental Congress.
To express his desire for action, Washington wore his military uniform to all the sessions. It still fit perfectly after 16 years in a trunk. He was the only man thus attired. He was ready to fight.
V. MILITARY COMMANDER AGAIN
New Englanders had flocked to Boston and had the British army at bay. However, a leader was needed to guide and build an army. John Adams, of Massachusetts, knew that the colonies would have to be united for their cause to succeed. He also knew that the powerful colony of Virginia would be essential for victory.
Hence, Adams, a northerner, made a formal motion that Washington, a southerner, be elected Commander-in-chief. Adams hoped this move would promote solidarity. When Washington first heard himself alluded to, with typical modesty he left the room.
Congress unanimously elected him to command the colonial forces surrounding Boston. He was commissioned on June 17, 1775. Washington refused any salary and asked only that his expenses be reimbursed.
The General did not take time to go home. He knew his duty. He headed to Boston and wrote to Martha, “I shall rely, therefore, confidently on that Providence which has heretofore preserved and been bountiful to me.”
It is said that Martha trembled and wept when she read the letter. That’s understandable, for if the British captured her husband, he would be hanged for treason. He would soon become the “most wanted” man in the colonies.
Only July 3, 1775, Washington took command of the colonial troops at Cambridge. He immediately began training and equipping his 15,000 men. They were a rag-tag lot with no uniforms. To be recognized, officers either wore colored arm bands or colored ribbons diagonally across their chests.
On the second day of his command the general issued an order forbidding cursing, swearing, and drunkenness. He also required all officers and soldiers not on active duty to be punctual in “attendance on Divine service, to implore the blessing of Heaven upon the means used for our safety and defense.”
The men were required to meet twice daily on a grassy plot called the Common. There Rev. Emerson, the army chaplain, led in prayer every morning and evening.
It is hard to understand how Washington survived the first nine months of his command. Everything seemed against him. The obstacles to overcome were awesome:
· Disease – In late autumn smallpox swept the camp. Washington thanked God he had suffered the disease in Barbados.
· Colonial poverty – The troops were supplied by occasional skirmishes and surprise assaults against the British. They also depended on charity from anyone who cared to help.
· Congressional impotence and bickering.
· Criticisms from those who felt he should be more aggressive and launch an attack.
· Jealousy among his officers.
But the worst problem of all was a lack of powder. When Washington arrived, he was told he had 308 barrels of powder, not nearly enough to launch an attack, nor even enough to make a sustained defence.
Nevertheless, he had his army entrench themselves strategically all around Boston. It was a brave bluff, and evidently it worked. For some unknown reason, the British never came out to attack.
Gage continued to wait and never showed any interest in attacking. The British had evidently tasted their fill of colonial determination at Bunker Hill, a battle that took place just before Washington arrived.
In August Washington received a crushing report. The original report of 308 barrels of gunpowder was in error. It had been based on anticipated incoming supplies, which never arrived. instead of 308, there were only 36 barrels.
Washington was awestruck. For a month his men had been entrenched before the British with barely enough powder to issue each soldier only nine cartridges (that would provide for less than five minutes of heavy combat).
If the British had attacked, the whole cause would have been lost. Gage could have destroyed Washington’s army with quick action. Somehow the British always overestimated the actual condition of the colonial army. Their ignorance of the actual state of the matter was always an ally to the colonial cause.
Every day Washington prayed that the British would remain lethargic. He had no other recourse but to God. The General send this memorandum to a friend in Congress:
Few people know the predicament we are in . . . . If I shall be able to rise superior to these and many other difficulties, I shall most religiously believe that the finger of Providence is in it, to blind the eyes of our enemies; for surely if we get well through it this month, it must be for want of their knowing the disadvantage we labor under.
And God did exactly that. he blinded their eyes. They never did attack.
Conclusion: Godly Patriot! “Who but an infidel does not see the hand of heaven in raising up and qualifying a Washington for the several important stations he so ably filled?”
Wisdom from George Washington: “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”