George Washington

Chimney corner patriots abound; venality, corruption, prostitution of office for selfish ends, abuse of trust, perversions of funds from a national to a private use, and speculations upon the necessities of the times, pervade all interests.

(1732 - 1799)

  Founder-in-Chief.  Emperor of the Potomac.   His Excellency.  The first president of the United States.


          As George Washington prepared to return to his beloved Mount Vernon at the end of his involuntary presidency, his biographer Joseph Ellis tells us that he foresaw, with mounting dread, that "what was politically essential for a viable American nation was ideologically at odds with what it claimed to stand for."  Click here for more on George Washington

            The nation's First Citizen (and his friend Benjamin Franklin) correctly perceived that America was shaped at its moment of conception by antipodal ideals and paradoxes.  The aspirations of common men were underwritten by deep and worrisome contradictions in the citizenry's actions and behaviors.  Nowhere were these deep flaws more evident than in the nation's dealings with Indian Nations, which Washington admired.  Somewhere along the way to full national maturity there would be a reckoning between what was politically essential for national survival, and what the nation claimed to stand for.  In many respects, we are more deeply caught in that struggle today than the nation was in 1796.

          In fact, it seems to be a little known fact that Washington attempted to make the continued welfare of the Indians a hallmark of his presidency.  He sought to use his influence to make certain the fate of the Indians did not 'end on a tragic note."  During his first term of office he and his secretary of war, Henry Knox, expended more of their energies achieving this objective than on managing diplomatic affairs with European allies. 

          In the end, he returned to Mount Vernon with great forebodings.  He was deeply distrustful of the motives (and ideas) of Thomas Jefferson, and he had profound misgivings about slavery, but Indians were a different matter.  He marshaled his waning energies to write a farewell letter to his friends, the Cherokee people, expressing a vision for mutual coexistence that even today underscores the man's revolutionary boldness.  "I have thought much on this subject," he told them, "and anxiously wished that these various Indian tribes, as well as their neighbors, the White People, might enjoy in abundance all the good things which make life comfortable and happy. "  He closed by promising the Cherokee leaders that if they held up their end of the solemn treaty agreements, the federal government would defend their honor and their rights to survival, both as a people and as independent nations."  Sadly, this was a promise many of his successors, including Thomas Jefferson, had no intention of keeping.