Tue, 16 Jun 2009 09:00:51 +0000 – On June 16, 1775, George Washington addressed the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, accepting command of the American armed forces in the coming revolutionary struggle against Britain. Washington refused a salary for his military leadership, which would stretch out over nearly eight years. In so doing, in asking for nothing, Washington set a tone of service and sacrifice which inspires Americans to this day.
Here are some memorable and inspiring quotes from Washington, illustrating his civic, patriotic--and moral--vision: "I have no other view than to promote the public good, and am unambitious of honors not founded in the approbation of my Country."
In part because because of Washington's great example, America is not saddled with a costly nobility or an opportunity-killing class system. For Washington, the esteem of his fellow Americans was reward enough for his hard work and heroism.
Washington also understood that a leader had to set a good example to the nation: "I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man." And, of course, he was completely successful in burnishing his reputation for honesty, a reputation that still shines brightly, more than two centuries after his death.
And yet all Americans, too, could and should set an example, because, as he explained, "Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected."Washington believed, along with the other Founders, that limited government without personal self-government was a disaster waiting to happen.
But Washington knew that human beings could not do it all by themselves. As he said,"Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience."Going further, Washington made it clear that morality needed a profound source: "Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
And finally, he told us,"Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God."
Indeed it is. But more than two centuries later, in our own lives, we can take increased devotion from the life of George Washington, who didn't just talk the talk--he walked the walk.