It is time we really celebrated George Washington, father of our country

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Judge Michael Warren and his daughter Leah, co-founders of Patriot Week, in 2009

LEGAL NEWS FILE PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Judge Michael Warren

Let’s take a quick free association test:  George Washington.

If images of wooden teeth, cherry trees, dollar bills, and carpet sales popped into your mind, I suspect you would be in very large company.

Do these images accurately reflect his importance to America? Not so much. His contributions to the American experiment in self-government are unparalleled:  Virginian legislator and revolutionary; Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army; President of the Constitutional Convention; and first President of the United States of America.

He is also great because of what he did not do. After he led the Continental Army to victory, he resigned his commission and returned to Mt. Vernon. James Madison basically berated him into becoming President of the Constitutional Convention. He never sought a kingship when some urged him to do so.  In fact, he angrily denounced such overtures. When most thought he would be President for life, he retired after two terms. His character was unassailable. He believed in, and acted to guard, liberty and the republic. His nemesis, King George III, remarked upon hearing of Washington’s retirement from the presidency that made him “the greatest character of the age.”

In light of his indispensable role, why do we fail to properly remember him? First, he has become disconnected from his holiday. Born on February 22, this year we celebrated his birthday on February 15. Although the holiday is still officially designated for Washington, since the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971 – tying the holiday to the third Monday of February – it has been popularly recognized as Presidents’ Day. Instead of focusing on Washington, we celebrate the collage of presidents – good and bad. Well, “celebrate” might be the wrong term – we might take advantage of a discount on a new TV or refrigerator.  Undoubtedly we spend our time on anything other than commemorating Washington. 

Second, a quick review of most history and civics curricula will quickly reveal that Washington is introduced a bit in elementary school, and mentioned in passing in high school. In college, assuming a student actually attends an American history course that addresses the founding era, there is a distinct bias to dwell on other more cerebral Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson. When Washington is the focus, it is usually through a condemnation as a slaveholder.  A most fair critique. Still, Washington’s remarkable manumission of his slaves upon Martha’s death is usually overlooked as are his remarkable career. 

Third, our culture is tied to the here and now - preferably in 140 characters or less. History – and  particularly heroes – are seen as passé, irrelevant and pointless, except perhaps as good fodder for trivia crack. This lackadaisical attitude to our origins is perilous. As Edmund Burke reflected, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”  The last 10 years we have forgotten much history. If you think American Constitution and dominance are inevitable, tell that to the Roman, Ottoman, Persian, Byzantine, British, and Mongol Empires.

There are other causes as well. Suffice it to say, Washington’s importance has been eclipsed by Lady Gaga, football, Modern Family, and Kanye West.

Time to turn the tide by reinvigorating our civic celebrations. And not just by reviving his own holiday. Washington’s legacy should not be relegated to a single day each year—especially when that day is combined with every other President. That’s why my then 10-year-old daughter Leah and I included him as a vital part of Patriot Week. Patriot Week renews America’s spirit by celebrating the First Principles, Founding Fathers and other Patriots, vital documents and speeches, and flags that make America the greatest nation in world history. Anchored by the key dates of September 11 (the anniversary of the terrorists attacks) and September 17 (Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution), the schedule for each day has a separate focus. Washington, the Congressional resolution forwarding the draft Consti-

tution to the States for ratification, and the current USA flag are commemorated in connection with their tremendous contributions for the First Principle of the Social Compact.

Washington was the indispensable man who bequeathed us our freedom. Our generation has a responsibility to ensure that Washington’s contributions and vision burns in our hearts and minds for generations to come.

The Hon. Michael Warren is an Oakland County Circuit Court Judge and co-founder, with his daughter Leah, of Patriot Week (www.Patriot Week.org). He is also the author of America’s Survival Guide (www.AmericasSurvivalGuide.com) and a former member of the State Board of Education.