Back to my Hero, George Washington!

Quite often of late, I find myself thinking about a particular aspect of George Washington’s life, and that aspect is his death – the manner of it and the timing of it. I can’t help but be impacted by its swiftness. Washington stood strong in time & history, but it seems as though, once his monumental purpose was fulfilled, he was almost immediately removed from the stage. And I have to wonder, why was that?

Previous research has shown me that our first President ofttimes fervently desired a return to the privacy of domestic life. One such example,taken from my post “You’re Only Halfway Home, General” –
“After the {Revolutionary} war’s end, Washington wanted to retire. He very much wanted to retire! In a letter written to a former colleague, in February of 1784, Washington expressed these sentiments: ” I feel now, however, as I conceive a wearied Traveller must do, who, after treading many a painful step, with a heavy burden on his shoulders, is eased of the latter, having reached the Goal…and from his House top is looking back…tracing…the Meanders by which he escaped the quicksands and Mires…” (The Writings of George Washington) Little did he know that he wasn’t even close to being done with his travels in public life.”

Prior to this Revolutionary War time incident, following Washington’s earlier service as a young major in the Virginia militia, he had resigned from the army, returned to establish his Mt. Vernon home, and then been invited to rejoin the British army, with the title of colonel, as an aide-de-camp to General Braddock. His acceptance of that invitation led to continued military involvement & achievement, thus furthering Washington’s public life and moving him away from his domestic aspirations. This pattern repeated itself throughout his life. Though he was granted about seventeen years as a businessman/landowner/farmer, (married to Martha by then) immediately preceding the years of outright colonial revolution, once those fires got started, George Washington was, though unbeknownst to him, in it for the long haul with precious little reprieve.

Between the end of the war & the eventual signing of an ‘interim’ peace treaty between the Americans and Britain, Washington was required to refuse kingship and quell a coup by members of the Continental Army, seeking justice & satisfaction for their service and suffering, before he was finally able to retire (or so he thought!). Returning to Mt. Vernon with his beloved wife, Washington enjoyed about five years of domestic tranquillity, “perhaps the happiest of their lives”, according to Michael Novak in his book ‘Washington’s God’, before duty called again in the form of the Constitutional Convention. Held in Philadelphia in the spring of 1787, the Convention afforded George Washington his first presidential podium. Novak asserts that “the compromises necessary to crafting the Constitution most likely would never have occurred apart from his influence…” (Washington’s God). Washington was, indeed, the indispensable man. (See: Flexner, James T., Washington: The Indispensable Man)!

Ten years and two Presidential terms later, in March of 1797, George Washington returned home to Mount Vernon, to an estate in physical & financial disaster. Cash-poor but rich in land, our first President began going about the business of living – finally! – his personal life. A brief skirmish involving then-President John Adams & suspicions of a French invasion led to the unexpected appointment of Washington as lieutenant general & commander in chief once again! Washington, of course, accepted. When all came to naught & his service was not needed, I think it not at all unlikely that Washington breathed a deep, deep sigh of relief…

George Washington only lived about three years after leaving office. He never got to really imbibe the fullness of retirement, it seems to me. It seems to me that if anyone should have been able to so imbibe, it would’ve been Washington. But such was not the case.

Two days before his death on December 14, 1799, Washington was fine. The weather wasn’t, though, and Washington was out in snow & sleet all day, performing the daily inspections of his property. Forbidding weather continued, so he spent most of the next day indoors. By dinner-time, Washington’s voice was becoming hoarse. Bedtime saw a worsening hoarseness, but Washington refused any medication, according to his personal secretary Tobias Lear, who was present at the end, and recorded these events. (Tobias Lear, “The Last Illness and Death of George Washington” in Raymond Brighton, “The Checkered Career of Tobias Lear”)

During the night, Washington’s throat began closing, and breathing was at times barely possible. (Even today, medical experts are not sure exactly what illness beset our Founding Father so suddenly when his time was come.) The following day brought with it continuing respiratory difficulty and a physical weakening. Washington realized his death was imminent, but even in such straits, his concern for & appreciation of others was apparent. His wife Martha, several doctors & a few close servants attended to our first President during his final hours, quietly & with great sadness, seeking to ease his suffering. “…I am not afraid to go,” he told one of the doctors present, earlier in the evening, as his demise approached. About ten o’clock that night, struggling, Washington attempted speech, but at first could not. His final words, spoken to Tobias Lear, after managing brief burial instruction, were “‘Tis well!”

Martha, after awhile, repeated into the silence, “‘Tis well! All is now over…”

And so the great Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America passed from this world into the next.

I have no doubt that it was the hand of God that removed our first President from his bed in Mt. Vernon when He did, taking the Father of our country unto Himself, the Father of Lights. But I have often wondered, why then? Why wasn’t one of the most worthy men who ever lived given the reward of time to savor & enjoy many long years with his beloved wife, in his beloved home?

Martha died less than two years later, following her beloved.


2 responses to “Back to my Hero, George Washington!

  1. Thank you for your thoughts on George Washington. Reminds me of General George S. Patton of World War II fame. The Lord raised up Patton to help free western Europe from Nazi domination. Patton was a very devout Christian and the Lord would show him things in dreams.World War II ended in Europe in May 1945; Patton died in December 1945. This was the hand of God. I believe that Patton would have been miserable being a peacetime general.You have an excellent blog.

  2. Tim, thank you.And thank you for that great piece of information on General Patton – perhaps I'll do some reading & research, and do a post on him one day.You know, I kind of was thinking along those same lines, re/Washington's death also, in a vague way. So maybe this is the answer to my wondering 'why?'

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