Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy Birthday George Washington!

I am so inspired by George Washington. Beyond inspiration, I am extremely grateful.

The more I learn of this man, the more amazed I am at the sacrifice he was willing to make for our country.

Born in Virginia, as a boy he was a good student, was strong and ambitious, and loved adventure. His father died when he was eleven, and he and his siblings were left to care for his mother. He learned to work as a surveyor while in his teens and spent much of his time working in the woods measuring the land.

By age twenty-one, he was over six feet tall, strong and tough, but humble and caring. He was a public surveyor for the state of Virginia at this time, but became Major Washington when the governor of Virginia sent him to see a French commander at a fort near Lake Erie. Washington was to tell him that he had built on land belonging to the English and that he and his men must leave or fight. Major Washington had to travel a distance of 1,000 miles to the fort and back. He had to climb mountains and swim rivers--there weren't any roads to travel through what was called the Great Woods.

When he finally returned, after being shot at and nearly drowning and freezing to death, he was made a lieutenant colonel. Washington was then sent back with 150 men to build a fort and protect the same land from the French. In the process, he was almost killed.  He had two horses shot out from under him and four bullets that went through his coat.

The English eventually gained possession of the land from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River.  George III of England was now in charge of a lot of land, but needed to send more soldiers to protect it. He wanted to force the thirteen colonies to pay for the cost of keeping the soldiers. He tried a lot of different ways to force them to pay, but it didn't really go over that well. The colonists knew that they were being taxed without representation, which was against the law of England. They wanted the same rights as the people in England, and they were willing to fight for those rights. Remember the Boston Tea Party?

The colonists began to unify for the first time. The idea of fighting for independence, rather than just representation, was born. They started calling themselves American's. They started gathering weapons and powder. They knew they might be forced to fight. Then one night British soldiers killed seven Americans in Lexington. Remember Paul Revere? 

The fighting had begun. It was 1775. It continued and the leaders of the colonies decided George Washington should command all the forces of the American army.  By this time, he was living a quiet life as a farmer with his wife Martha. He gave up a very comfortable life at Mount Vernon to fight for the cause of freedom.

The fighting continued as Washington led the Continental Army against the British. They had a difficult time--they did not have ammunition, enough food, proper uniforms, etc. There were times when they were freezing and starving to death, but they fought on. So much was at stake!
 Remember Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas night in 1776?

A major turn of events happened about a year later, however. Benjamin Franklin was in France, convincing them to join us in fighting against England. Thank goodness they hated the British and the king agreed to help. They provided money, soldiers, and ships.  The War for American Independence lasted seven years, until 1783.  Great Britain signed an agreement giving the colonies their independence.

When Washington was certain the fighting was over, he returned to Mount Vernon, where he hoped to spend the rest of his life. He would have been over fifty years old. The war had been hard on him.

But the trouble wasn't over. The states began to quarrel. There was no strong central government. The states operated as 13 separate countries.

In the summer of 1787, the leaders of the country joined together to figure out a plan. George Washington didn't want to go, but he was so respected by all, that the Virginia delegates begged him to. They looked to him to pull everyone together.
That summer the Constitutional Convention talked and argued, until they had a plan that would establish the government of the United States. The Constitution was written behind closed doors and nailed-shut windows. When it was finished, Washington returned to Mount Vernon. He was almost sixty years old.
He wanted to spend the rest of his years with his wife, as a Virginia farmer.

Instead, the delegates who had signed the Constitution begged George Washington to be the first president.  They knew he wouldn't try to become the king of America. He said that becoming president was the greatest personal sacrifice he was ever called upon to make. But he accepted, out of duty to the people of his country. He was elected in February of 1789. He recorded in his diary, "I begin the presidency with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express."

As the new president, he established a pattern for other presidents to follow. He was humble and insisted on being called "Mr. President" instead of the suggestions of "His Exalted High Mightiness" or "His Highness the President." He only served two terms, knowing that America didn't need a President who stayed in power too long. He recognized that our Constitution should be what ruled the land, not the President.

When he retired from the presidency in March of 1797, he returned to Mount Vernon again. He died just over two years later. He had given so much to our country, when he really just wanted to be a Virginia farmer.   He was one of the greatest men in the history of the world. 

Celebrate his birthday today by saying the Pledge of Allegiance 
or singing The Star-Spangled Banner 
or flying the stars and stripes!  
Happy birthday to you, George Washington!

I  read these books to my kids as we studied George Washington and early American history:

George Washington's World by Genevieve Foster
The Story of the World vol. 3 by Susan Wise Bauer
Exploring American History by D.H. Montgomery

We love this picture book by Lynne Cheney:

My husband says this one is a "must read":


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