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George Washington: From Good Man to Great General

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 13, 2022 3:01 am

George Washington: From Good Man to Great General

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 13, 2022 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, George Washington is remembered in our history books, our nation's capital, and the values Americans still esteem today. He can often seem more marble than mortal. Woody Holton brings us the story of Washington wasn't always the man we celebrate today... as well as how he became the hero we know him as.

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Slack, where the future works. And we're back with our American stories. George Washington's service to our country can't be overstated. He's a man who's been immortalized in our nation's history books, our nation's capital, and in the values that we still hold dear to this day. But Washington's service as both president and general was the result of personal growth, something we're far more familiar with than monuments. Here's Woody Holton to tell us the story of how our nation's founding father became the man we remember him as today. Before Washington could become a better general, he had to become a better person. So that means talking about some things that make us feel a little bit uncomfortable about his early years when if there was one word that defined him, it was greed. So you heard me saying how greedy was as a young man.

Don't give out my address. To me, the before picture makes the after picture even more interesting. But I'm worried about people only hearing the before picture and saying, what the heck is this guy talking about? He married the wealthiest widow in Virginia, Martha Dandridge Custis, in January of 1759. And, you know, you'd think that's enough. But he was determined to go out and increase his wealth. And one way he did that was by speculating in Western land. And, of course, that land was being taken from Native Americans. But Washington actually, again, only as a young man, he did worse than that because he not only stole land from Native Americans, but his fellow soldiers who had fought with him in this war against Native Americans that we call the French and Indian War, the enlisted men had been promised bounty land, a total of 200,000 acres. And he and his fellow officers shouldered the enlisted men aside and took that land from them for themselves. And then among the officers, he ensured that he got much more land than he was entitled to. Specifically by going around to the officers, he had his brother do it, approach them, as he put it, in a joking way to get them to sell their land rights to him for the 18th century equivalent of pennies. And then he made a huge killing. He ended up with 27,000 acres. He once said, the greatest estates we have in this colony, referring to his home colony of Virginia, the greatest estates were made by taking up the rich back lands. And he really mastered that art. Not the George Washington that we all revere today.

And that's the question. What changed him? What made Washington different?

And before talking about that, let me first talk about all of the ways in which he did change. You know, he served as eight years as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army that won the Revolutionary War, made this a free country. He served without pay.

He agreed to serve for expenses only. A lot of the most virtuous things that Washington did were acts of self-denial. You know, after the Revolutionary War, many people believed he could have used his success as Commander in Chief to remain Commander in Chief.

That is, to sort of become the King of America in some fashion. But he very deliberately decided not to do like Julius Caesar, you know, who had all those victories in France and came back and made himself dictator of Rome, Emperor of Rome. Washington decided not to do that, but willingly resigned from the Army and went back to his farm. And he did something similar after two terms as President. This is in the early days, right up until the middle of the 20th century, Presidents under the Constitution were allowed to serve as many terms as they could get elected to. And people kind of assumed that he would just stay in office until he died, but he didn't. He resigned after two terms, and sure enough, he did pass away in what would have been his third term.

But by resigning, not running for a third term, Washington set a pattern that would follow right up until Franklin Roosevelt in the middle of the 20th century of limiting yourself. And as I say, the thing that really makes him stand out as a great person by the time he died was that he freed his slaves and his will. Martha gets part of the credit for freeing all of those hundreds of people.

He was the only major Southern founder to free all of his slaves. So he became a better person, and that raises the question, what made Washington a better person? And I think there was a personal and a public circumstance. The personal circumstance was one he mentioned, actually, in I think it was his second inaugural address, and that was that he never had any children. He was probably infertile because his wife Martha had had four kids, all of whom, I'm sorry to say, she married. That is, all of whom died before she did.

Martha had had four kids before in her previous marriage. They had none together, so it was probably he who was infertile, possibly because he had suffered from smallpox as a young man. It took him a while to figure out that he was infertile, that he wasn't going to have kids. All this time he's making all this money, as I said, speculating in land, raffling off slaves, doing all this stuff to make, marrying a rich widow, all this stuff to build up this giant patrimony that he could pass on to George Washington, Jr. And then from him on to George Washington III, that is, he was setting himself up to create a dynasty. But sometime in the 1760s, George Washington realized that there was going to be no Washington dynasty, that the family tree was going to end with him. And had there been no Revolutionary War, I think his life would have been kind of a tragic life because he was programmed to make money and acquire more wealth to pass on to his kids, but then no kids.

Almost he would be like a hunting dog, you know, that nobody ever takes hunting. He was programmed to do that, and now here there was no motivation to do that anymore. But then along came the Revolutionary War. They really wanted a southern commander because the war had started in New England and people wanted to make the point that it was not just New England involved in this fight, but all 13 colonies are involved in the common cause.

And he had proven himself in the previous war, and so he was the natural choice. And we all know how much George Washington influenced the Revolutionary War, but it's also worth stressing how much the war influenced Washington. Because here he is in 1775, kind of a tragic figure who had hoped to build up this big patrimony to start the Washington dynasty, and he's now not going to be able to do that. Well, in a sense he adopted the Continental soldiers as his children, and by 1778 people were calling him what we still call him today, the father of his country. And I think that really helps explain how this greedy young man becomes a generous, patriotic, self-sacrificing old man is that he realized he's not going to have children to bequeath his wealth to.

And so he had unofficial children, that is, the Continental Army soldiers, many of whom were young enough to be his kids, and the nation as a whole. So instead of being the founder of a dynasty, he became the father of his country. And you're listening to Woody Holton tell the story of the man who George Washington was, and the man George Washington would become. And in the beginning of his life, in the early stages of his life, dynasty was what he was thinking about.

And when it was no longer an option, legacy became what he cared about, and duty, and so many other noble things. What a great line by Woody Holton. We all know he said how George Washington impacted the Revolutionary War. What we didn't know, or should know, is how the Revolutionary War impacted George Washington.

When we come back, more of this remarkable story, George Washington's story, here on Our American Stories. Hey, you guys, this is Tori and Jenny with the 90210MG podcast. We have such a special episode brought to you by NerdTech ODT. We recorded it at iHeartRadio's 10th Poll event, Wango Tango. Did you know that NerdTech ODT Remigipant 75mg can help migraine sufferers still attend such an exciting event like Wango Tango?

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What I learned is never the right time because life doesn't work that way, and the pressure I felt and feel wanting to be the father I never had is a heavy weight at times to bear. Compound that with the career and lifestyle that goes with my career, I find myself in dual worlds that often don't mesh. Nothing comes easy and every day is a work in progress, but as long as you're working on yourself, you're moving in the right direction. BetterHelp is secure online therapy that offers video, phone, and even live chat sessions with a licensed professional therapist. When you sign up, you can filter results by age, gender, cultural background, and expertise. BetterHelp strives to meet their clients where they need them. For those not ready for traditional therapy, there are support groups available to join for community.

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5G that's ready right now. And we're back with our American stories and the story of how George Washington became both a better man and as a result, a better general. We just heard how George Washington's lack of an heir led him to practically adopting the Continental Army and eventually the entire country. Let's return to Woody Holton to tell us more about what set Washington apart from his contemporaries. Much more so than, say, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, Washington was a believer, a steady church goer. And yes, I think there's every indication that he was serious about his faith, but I also don't personally think that's what made him different because there were lots of people of faith who found ways to justify enslaving people.

Even a great religion can be manipulated to justify terrible things. So my point is that his religion, I think, was important to his eventual decision to emancipate his slaves because he knew that it was a moral wrong. But it's a complex calculus that makes Washington different in that respect, I think. We don't know for you know, we can't read somebody else's mind and certainly not Washington who kind of prided himself on being hard to read. But likewise on his generaling, Washington has been described as the indispensable man by many historians.

And I'm certainly in that group. You can imagine John Adams writing the Declaration of Independence. It wouldn't have been as good, but it would have been good enough. You can imagine Thomas Jefferson negotiating the treaty with France instead of Benjamin Franklin.

It would have been fine probably. But the one person you can't do without is Washington as commander in chief. And the fascinating thing about that is that while he became a great general who won a war against a great power, Great Britain, he didn't start off that way. He started off by making what most of us today believe to be mistakes. The first one is Washington's relationship with African-American soldiers serving in the Patriot Army. African-Americans had served with valor at the Battle of Lexington and Concord in April of 1775 and then at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775. But then in July 1775, they got a new commander in chief, George Washington.

And you have to understand where he's coming from, and that is a plantation with hundreds of slaves. And he couldn't get his mind around the idea of African-Americans as courageous soldiers in his army. And so I'm sad to have to report that one of the first things that Washington did after taking over the Continental Army in July 1775 was that he threw out all of the African-Americans serving in the Continental Army. There were really two groups, some who had been free even before the war and others who had made deals where they would agree to serve in the army and then obtain their freedom as a result. And he threw out both the free blacks and the slaves serving in the Continental Army. But then some things external to Washington changed. For one thing, the British said essentially to African-Americans, well, the Patriot Army doesn't want you, but we do.

And if you will come fight in the British Army, we will reward you with your freedom. And Washington began to worry that African-Americans would flock to the British Army since they were the only game in town. And that became a reason for him to reconsider maybe he should take blacks back into the Continental Army.

And even more so, that happened when a bunch of his officers petitioned to free a black man who had fought with great valor at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775. And Washington saw that petition. Some combination of those practical factors and sentimental factors changed Washington's mind. One of the great qualities that Washington exhibited with respect to African-Americans in the Revolutionary War is a quality that people kind of look down on in politicians and generals today. And that is he changed his mind.

He realized that he'd been wrong and he changed his policy. The most important way in which Washington changed his mind as commander in chief of the Continental Army, he switched from offense to defense. As a young man, Washington had had two great dreams, one to become wealthy, but the other was to become an officer in the British Army.

Of course, it's important to remember that right up until they declared independence, most Americans really loved the mother country. They were mad at Parliament for what it had done, but they loved the mother country, they loved the king, they loved the British Army and Washington wanted in. He was a tough, strong guy himself and he knew he would do well as an officer. He'd fought well in the so-called French and Indian War and that was a way to get distinction and fame by being an officer as it is today. And so he was taught to join the British Army. And it's interesting to imagine what if they had allowed him in, would he have been a general on the other side?

We don't know that, but we do know that that was his great aspiration. And so he picked up a lot of the culture of the British Army and part of that whole lust for fame that those British officers had was that all the glory came from going on offense. That is not defending entrenchments or a fort or staying on one side of the river and shooting at the enemy as they cross the river.

Those are all seen as kind of wussy things to do. You want to be the guy that crosses the river or leads his men towards the trenches or towards the fort. That is, you want to go on offense and do these dramatic attacks where you drive the enemy off. And he thought the only way to win this war against the mother country was with a dramatic assault. Now, his officers serving under him told him, no, that's not the way at all. Hey, you became commander in chief in July of 1775. Right before that, on June 17th, 1775, we fought a battle against the British at Bunker Hill, which was officially a British victory because we were defending a hill. The British had charged us once and didn't succeed, charged us twice, didn't succeed, charged a third time, finally took the hill. And so officially the British won the Battle of Bunker Hill, but they suffered 50 percent casualties. And what did the Continental Army do?

They just dropped back to the next hill, a pair of hills called Winter Hill and Prospect Hill outside Boston. And then the British would have to suffer 50 percent casualties again to take those hills. And in fact, the commander, the British commander who led the successful assault on Bunker Hill in June of 1775, he was deeply depressed. General William Howe was his name because he said, we, the British, are going to lose this war because the nature of the American Revolutionary War was that whichever side is on offense is going to lose.

And the British were kind of stuck in the position of offense because they had to conquer territory to prove that they still controlled America. And you've been listening to Woody Holton, professor of history at the University of South Carolina and author of Liberty is Sweet, when we return more of the story of George Washington and some stories you may not know that tell us much about the formation of his character and the man we all have come to know. More of Washington's story here on Our American Stories. Hey, you guys, this is Tori and Jenny with the 9 0 2 1 OMG podcast. We have such a special episode brought to you by NURTEC ODT. We recorded it at I Heart Radio's 10th poll event, Wango Tango. Did you know that NURTEC ODT Remigipant 75 milligrams can help migraine sufferers still attend such an exciting event like Wango Tango?

It's true. I had one that night and I took my NURTEC ODT and I was present and had an amazing time. Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NURTEC ODT Remigipant 75 milligrams.

Life with migraine attacks can mean missing out on big moments with friends and family, but thankfully, NURTEC ODT Remigipant 75 milligrams is the only medication that is proven to treat a migraine attack and prevent episodic migraines in adults. So lively events like Wango Tango don't have to be missed. This is DJ EFN. The Black Effect Podcast Network is sponsored by BetterHelp Online Therapy. Life can get overwhelming for all of us. For many people, it's not easy to open up to someone and discuss our vulnerabilities. But not long ago, I found myself in a place where I needed someone to talk to. I'm a relatively new father with two very young children in the home. And although I always wanted kids, I waited because I was wanting to be as stable as possible in my life, both mentally and financially.

What I learned is never the right time because life doesn't work that way. And the pressure I felt and feel wanting to be the father I never had is a heavy weight at times to bear. Compound that with the career and lifestyle that goes with my career. I find myself in dual worlds that often don't mesh. Nothing comes easy and every day is a work in progress. But as long as you're working on yourself, you're moving in the right direction. BetterHelp is secure online therapy that offers video, phone and even live chat sessions with a licensed professional therapist.

When you sign up, you can filter results by age, gender, cultural background and expertise. BetterHelp strives to meet their clients where they need them. For those not ready for traditional therapy, there are support groups available to join for community. Therapy can be done from anywhere.

And you can also switch therapists as much as you want. The Black Effect podcast network is sponsored by BetterHelp online therapy. Visit betterhelp.com slash black effect and join over two million people who have taken charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced BetterHelp therapist. Our listeners get 10 percent off their first month of online therapy at betterhelp.com slash black effect.

That's betterhelp.com slash black effect. Hi, I'm Jonathan Strickland, host of the Restless Ones. Join me as I sit down for in-depth discussions with the leaders at the intersection of technology and business. Leaders like Robert Morkos, founder of Social Mobile. Workforces are being mobilized now, and it's clear that everyone needs a secure, connected device. Whether a vaccine administration machine, remote patient monitoring where they set up your house, electronic visitor verification where someone comes to your home. A lot of it could have been driven by the pandemic and the necessity to build up this infrastructure. But I think it's just clear now that health care is mass adopting all types of enterprise mobility solutions as homes need to be turned into like hospitals now.

The Restless Ones is now available on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you listen to podcasts presented by T-Mobile for Business 5G that's ready right now. And we're back with our American stories and our final segment on George Washington's hidden strength. That being his ability to change. Woody Holton was just telling us how the British military strategy was dominated by one word, offense. Because of Washington's long-held desire prior to the revolution to be a British officer, he was fighting a battle within himself when it came to this tactic. A battle he won internally, if not on the battlefield, during the Battle of Bunker Hill where the British Army was led by General William Howe.

Let's return to the story. So General William Howe, who was the hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill, was very depressed afterwards because he had suffered 50% casualties capturing that hill. And the Americans just retreated to the next hill, meaning he was going to have to suffer 50% casualties to get that. And so Howe believed after this great victory at Bunker Hill that the British had no chance of winning the Revolutionary War. That basically all the Americans had to do was dig trenches and use that dirt to build walls in front of themselves, palisades as they called them, and they could win. Because even if they had to give up those forts, they would be giving them up, like at Bunker Hill, at the cost of 50% casualties on the British side. And so when Washington came in July 1775, took over the Continental Army, his subordinates were all saying, okay, you can win this thing, you just have to stay on defense. But Washington was programmed for offense, and so less than two months after taking over, he ordered this massive assault on the town of Boston. Boston in those days was almost an island, so they were going to have to cross this very narrow neck of land, which was very well defended. Okay, they could also go over water, but an amphibious assault was the most dangerous thing you could do in those days.

And so his officers talked him out of it. But then the Charles River, which is the main river around Boston, froze in that winter of 1775, 1776. And so Washington says, oh, now we can just run across the ice and capture Boston. But the cannon were still there, they were firing something called, the British had something they fired called Grapeshot, sending huge chunks of metal over this broad area. And the officers again thought, our soldiers are going to be slaughtered if we try to walk across the river to Boston.

So don't do that, don't do that. But Washington was just feeling real pressure from the people he called chimney corner heroes. That is, the people today we would call armchair generals or Monday morning quarterbacks.

They're all saying, oh, come on, we can win this easily. Come on, Washington, let's see some, let's see some spunk from you. And he really felt that they were censuring, to quote him, they were censuring my inactivity and basically calling him a coward for not going forward. But his officers once again restrained him, but Washington was disappointed. Well, the British moved first to New York and then to Philadelphia. And by the fall of 1777, they had captured, they still had both New York and Philadelphia. And the winter of 1777, 1778, we all know, think of as the Valley Forge winter. And it's literally true that you could track a Continental soldier by his bloody footprints in the snow.

So many of them didn't even have shoes. But while the soldiers were dealing with that, Washington was planning his assault on Philadelphia. Because again, he was stuck on this notion that you've got to capture cities. The officers once again talked him off of that. And sure enough, in June of 1778, the British voluntarily left Philadelphia, just like they voluntarily left Boston.

And so he was starting to get the message. But then the British really hunkered down in New York City. And Washington was determined to capture New York City.

And as most people know, New York is literally an island. So this was going to have to be an amphibious assault across the Hudson River. And the British had the most powerful navy in the world had ever known, and they controlled the river. And so his men were going to have to first dodge British gunboats in the very wide Hudson River and then come up the cliffs, sort of like what would happen 200 years later at Normandy. And the officers once again got into the habit of convincing Washington not to attack. In fact, Washington formed more than a dozen plans to storm the British Army's headquarters in New York City.

And he never carried out any of them. That is, in every case, he'd listen to his officers and let them talk him out of attacking New York. This went on right up until 1781 when Washington learned that a French fleet was coming to America, 28 battleships. And he thought, OK, this is finally my chance to control the water around New York City and land troops on the island of New York and capture New York. But what he hadn't reckoned on was that his own counterparts, France was an ally of the United States in the Revolutionary War, and the French commander in chief named Rochambeau and the French admiral named de Grasse, they said, no, it's too dangerous to attack New York.

Here they are. They've got 28 battleships. They've got a French army of 6,000 plus Washington's army of about 10,000. Even with all of that, they thought, oh, it's just insane to attack an island. And the French had a different idea, which was to attack a detachment of the British Army at Yorktown in Virginia. And Washington went back and forth with his French counterparts over whether the better place to attack was in New York City or down in Yorktown in Virginia.

And as everybody knows, the French won that battle. It's ironic because we think of this is where Cornwall surrendered, as he did on October 19, 1781. But in a sense, Washington had to surrender first. That is, he surrendered to his own allies, the French, because they were determined to attack in Yorktown, Virginia, rather than in New York City. And he eventually was persuaded to move his army south with this French army to meet the French fleet, and together they secured Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, October 19, 1781.

It wasn't the last battle of the Revolutionary War, but it's the one that persuaded the British Parliament to give up, to end offensive operations and begin peace negotiations that eventually led to the end of the Revolutionary War. And so what's striking to me about Washington was here was another area where he changed his mind from feeling like he had to be on offense to realizing that defense was the better move. And he never fully convinced himself because he still kept making plans to attack.

But to his credit, he never acted on those plans. And so I agree with the historians who say that Washington was the indispensable man in winning the Revolutionary War, but he made himself indispensable in a very interesting way that we don't always think about when we think about military heroes. And that is, Washington's greatest contribution to the American victory in the Revolutionary War was that he restrained his own aggressive instincts and realized that the way to win the war was to stay on defense, make it a war of attrition, where the British would eventually lose so many men and spend so much money that they would just give up and allow the Americans to have their independence.

And that's what happened. We think of pride and self-confidence as the great qualities of a military hero, and often they are. But in Washington's case, the quality that really won the Revolutionary War was almost the opposite of that. It was humility. That is, he gave up the opportunity to be the guy that leads the massive amphibious assaults on Fortress New York and wins the heroic battle. He gave up that chance for glory because he realized that wasn't the way to win the war. The way to win the war was to be the humble guy. There's a great line from Milton's poem, Paradise Lost.

They also serve who only stand and wait. And Washington is a classic example of that. And a terrific job on the editing and production by Faith Buchanan and Robbie Davis. And a special thanks to Woody Holton, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina and author of Liberty is Sweet. And what a story he told us about Washington. And here in America, well, we were fighting an insurgency.

In the end, it was just a straight old insurgency warfare. They've got the watches and we've got the time. Very famous line about such battles.

The story of General George Washington, his restraint, his humility, and in the end, his courage. Here on Our American Stories. You can say yes and to everything when you take a next level beach vacation at Barcelo Resorts in Mexico in the Caribbean with CheapCaribbean.com. Hi, I'm Ebony Monet and I'm Rick Schwartz. And we're here from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-06 21:56:13 / 2022-12-06 22:10:20 / 14

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