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George Washington: The Man Who Refused to be King and Stunned the World

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 20, 2024 3:02 am

George Washington: The Man Who Refused to be King and Stunned the World

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 20, 2024 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, "The Greatest Man in the World." That's what King George said George Washington would be if he resigned his military commission. Dr. Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, and author Nathaniel Philbrick share this remarkable story of America's indispensable man.

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Take a pause and enjoy a Keebler Sandys. This is Lee Habib and this is our American Stories. Up next, the story of America's indispensable man, George Washington.

Here's our own Monty Montgomery to get us started. On July 4th, 1776, representatives from our 13 original colonies came together and agreed to an act of treason, the Declaration of Independence. Here's Hillsdale College President Dr. Arnn with the story of what happened next. The stakes were life and death. There was a warrant issued for their arrest to the British general commanding the troops in North America.

In other words, not an order to a policeman who would put them in jail and then take them before a judge, a soldier who would detain them and ship them to England or hang them on the spot where they were arrested. So that's, you know, the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence says, in support of this declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. And many of them lost those lives or their fortunes, none of them their honor.

So the huge stakes. You know, it's hard for us to look back on the past and understand that they're living just the way we are without knowledge of the future. And if you can grasp that fact about the people in Philadelphia, those men in that little room, were both, by the way, the same room, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted and ratified. They just passed it and put their names on the Declaration of Independence in that room. And, you know, we know what the king thought. The king thought, this is a crazy claim. I'm the king. There's always been a king. There has to be a king. And you have to obey the king.

And the king, by the way, has to be good to you. And so this is crazy. So they're introducing a thing that nobody believes. And then add to it, they're introducing it in controversy, ultimately treason, against the strongest living force, the British Empire, and its navy especially, but also its army, recently twice beaten France in major wars, right?

And so what possible chance could they have? You know, because they, when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, they didn't really have anything that you could call an army. And George Washington had been appointed head of it because he had the most experience of anybody in war, of anybody in the revolutionary side.

But he had never moved a large body of troops from one place to another or fed them along the way in his life. And the British were practiced at all that stuff and had hundreds of staff guys who knew all about how to do that. And so in the beginning, the war was ridiculous because we couldn't get our army around anywhere. And the British would always just encircle us, right?

It was just funny how bad it was. We didn't have opinion polls back then, but the guesses tend to congregate around 30% strongly for the revolution, and a majority of the rest against or leaning against, and a bunch of people trying to make up their minds. So it wasn't propitious. And if you just think about it, this is a people, by the way, you have to have to remember this, for 150 years, English settlers especially had been on the North American continent, and they had developed the richest, deepest practices and institutions of self-government in human history. And they did that on their own, and the British had influence on it through the appointment of a governor general in each of the colonies.

But that was it, right? And they raised their own taxes, and they paid their own bills. And so they had all that, and they're used to deciding things for themselves. Now, on the other hand, this is like a huge decision, and nobody knows where it's going to go.

And we're used to these British, and are they really so bad? And so, of course, it's plausible to me, although we don't really know, that most people were very reluctant about this. And so the implausibility of it also demonstrates something, and that is, they really believed this, and they were prepared to die for it.

And that's the only reason it worked. The Declaration of Independence is ratified, and then, of course, everything goes wrong for months. They did take Boston, because Henry Knox went and got the cannon from Fort Ticonderoga, which Ethan Allen had liberated, dragged them across winter roads, got them up on a hill, and they now could shoot down on the British ships, and the British ships had to leave.

But after that, everything was a disaster. They went up to New York, because the British are going up there now. Here's Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Valiant Ambition, George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, presenting a Hillsdale College CCA with the story of what happened next. The empire is about to strike back, and a huge fleet arrives in New York. Ultimately 40,000 soldiers and sailors and a fleet of 400 vessels.

This is more people than in all of Philadelphia, the largest urban center in North America at that time. And there is Washington, dug into New York and the high ground in Brooklyn. He's completely out-generaled in what will be called the Battle of Long Island. The British just simply completely out-maneuvered Washington.

I mean, it was embarrassing. And he had to run his army down New Jersey, escaping with their lives. He's lost most of his army to desertion. But what Washington had an ability to do is Washington had an... I speak of him, he had a true genius. He wasn't a genius like, let's say, founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and Hamilton. He was not a jittery, brilliant person, eloquent and a mind that could go anywhere. He had the ability to dial out the static of life. And believe me, as Washington retreated across New Jersey to the other side of the Delaware River, there was a lot of static out there, a lot of naysayers. He had the ability to just say, okay, what is the most important thing for me to do now? And so there in the Delaware, he realized we've got to have some kind of comeback strategy here. If we're going to do it, we have to shock them. It's the only way we can turn this around. When we come back, more of the story about this remarkable American here on Our American Stories.

This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And all of our history stories are brought to us by our generous sponsors, including Hillsdale College, where students go to look and learn all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that matter in life. If you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses. Go to

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Let's get back to the story. He's lost most of his army to desertion but what Washington had an ability to do is Washington had an, I speak of him, he had a true genius. He wasn't a genius like let's say founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and Hamilton. He was not a jittery brilliant person eloquent and a mind that could go anywhere. He had the ability to dial out the static of life and believe me as Washington retreated across New Jersey to the other side of the Delaware River.

There was a lot of static out there, a lot of naysayers. You know he had the ability to say okay what is the most important thing for me to do now? And so there in the Delaware he realized we've got to, we've got to have some kind of comeback strategy here. If we're going to do it we have to shock them.

It's the only way we can turn this around. In our first year we're going to have only defeat so on Christmas night he crosses the Delaware and attacks Trenton and he hoped to wake him up. He had a main man in his army who organized all the boats to get everybody over and of course they were three hours late so now it's 10 o'clock. Their hope of surprise they think is gone and now Washington says we're going to go on anyway because if we don't win here we're going to be dead by nightfall. And while they get there and the Hessian soldiers and they were from a German state called Hessia they'd had a very nice Christmas night and they were drunk in bed when the Americans got there and they took the place and hardly a casualty on the American side.

And then something bad happened. The report comes that Cornwallis is coming down in relief. He's got to stop Cornwallis at Princeton and when he gets there the American troops are in flight.

They're running. Washington didn't say it. He just rode his horse directly through the troops toward the enemy.

When Washington got close to the British he didn't have any way to know if anybody was with him. But they had all turned around and fallen in line alongside Washington and he pulls his sword out. His horse is just walking steadily and there's a great volley and Washington is shrouded in smoke and then the smoke cleared and there was a great cheer because he was just still on his horse in the same posture still going. The British they basically just turned around ran from him.

It's one of the most amazing comebacks in military history. But what I began to realize with Washington his genius was also and primarily so political. He had to deal with Congress.

So most of Washington's career in the Revolutionary War was a tremendous mess. The Congress wasn't paying them and it wasn't paying them because it didn't have any money and it didn't have any money because the states wouldn't give it any money. Although they would probably give it to the British.

They couldn't give it any money although they would promise to. And the great danger when it came to revolutions and republics that all of them would end with a military coup. The civil government in the the wake of a revolution is inefficient, frustrating. The military whether it's Caesar, whether it's Cromwell in England or in the future Napoleon.

Someone takes control and the same ends. And this is what Continental Congress was fearful of. So they kept Washington on a very tight leash. And the more successful Washington got the more untrustworthy congressman became. And the following year would come the Battle of Saratoga in which largely through the heroics of Benedict Arnold America would score a great victory with Horatio Gates as the commanding president. Meanwhile Washington lost a series of battles that battled Brandywine and Germantown allowing the British to move into Philadelphia.

This got the the politicians to wondering whether Washington was the right person. His army is dug into Valley Forge that terrible winter and there was an attempt to replace Washington with Horatio Gates. And he suffered with the troops and he kept it together and he kept his army in being. You know he was one of these people he was not necessarily the greatest military strategist in the world but he was terrific at working with people at seeing the big side of things.

And when people see things like that it's printed in them it makes them better because they aspire to such things. And his integrity was never doubted. He succeeds in getting through that terrible winter at Valley Forge and from then on particularly with a stellar performance the Battle of Monmouth he's in. He is the unquestioned face of not only the Continental Army but he is becoming the face of America and absolutely essential to all this. One of his best generals Benedict Arnold moves in in the other direction. He ultimately decides that it while Washington's destiny to hold the country together it's his destiny to try to tear that country apart. And he unsuccessfully attempts to surrender West Point where there are 3,000 soldiers and all sorts of armaments and ammunition. That is foiled but America is at an absolute low point.

Recruitment levels in the states were miserable. There just was nothing going on but there was good news. In 1778 after that great victory at Saratoga France had decided to enter the revolution on our side. Cornwallis is dug into a town at the end of the point formed by the James and York Rivers, Yorktown. And the trap closes around Lourdes. And the trap closes around Lord Cornwallis. Lord Cornwallis is forced to surrender. Thus delivering the victory that Washington had foreseen. And Washington could have been made a king after this great victory.

Some people wanted him to be. Thus ending our experiment and proving the suspicions of some members in Congress right. But that's not what happened.

So what did? Washington has determined that he will surrender his military commission to Congress. When George III hears that this is Washington's intention he says that if Washington does that he will be the greatest man in the world. And that's what Washington did.

He does that. He was so overwhelmed with emotion that he had to hold his shaking right hand with his left while he delivered his speech. Here's Dr. Arnn delivering that speech. Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable nation. I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence. A diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task. Which however was superseded by confidence in the rectitude of our cause.

The support of the supreme power of the union and the patronage of heaven. It is an indispensable duty to close this last act of my official life by commending the interest of our dearest country to the protection of almighty God. Having finished the work assigned to me I retire from the great theater of action and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body under whose orders I have so long acted.

I here offer my commission and take my leave of all the employments of public life. What a way to end. You know which has got to be one of the most consequential wars in all of human history. It established the United States of America and he was the man who commanded it and everyone knew it was his strategy that had won and everyone knew that it was his determination and moral force that had kept an army in being able to fight through many defeats and through and through impoverishment and lack of supply. And so he was the greatest man in the world. And a special thanks to Dr. Larry P. Arendt, president of Hillsdale College. Hillsdale are proud sponsors of and we're proud to have them of our American stories. Also Nathaniel Philbrick for sharing this story with us and what a story this is about our nation's founder.

The story of the indispensable man George Washington our nation's first hero here on our American stories. With so many streaming devices out there today what sets Roku apart? Roku players are made for one thing to get you the entertainment you want quick and easy. That means a simple home screen with your favorites front and center channels like iHeartRadio that launch in a snap and curated selections of TV for when you only sort of know what to watch. Not to mention all the free TV you can stream including over 300 free live channels on the Roku channel. Find the perfect Roku player for you today at Happy streaming.

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