On this day in 1775, George Washington took command of the Continental Army. How different would the world be if he had refused?
Washington took over an inexperienced and poorly equipped army of civilian soldiers and faced the mightiest military empire the world had ever seen. The nation on whose behalf he served was bitterly divided as well: when the Revolutionary War started on April 19, 1775, with “the shot heard round the world,” at least a fourth of the colonists supported England.
After leading his army to victory in 1781, Washington retired to his estate at Mount Vernon (an amazing site I have visited and encourage every American to see). However, he heeded his nation’s call six years later and agreed to preside over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The drafters created the office of president with Washington in mind. In February 1789, he was elected the first president of the United States, the only person ever elected by the unanimous vote of the Electoral College.
Henry “Light Horse” Lee, one of his officers, summed up the nation’s feelings about their new president: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” The Philadelphia Journal said of him in 1777, “Had he lived in the days of idolatry, he would have been worshiped as a god.”
Abigail Adams, the wife of our second president, described Washington as “polite with dignity, affable without familiarity, distant without haughtiness, grave without austerity, modest, wise, and good.” Her husband agreed, stating that Washington’s character “will remain to all ages a model of human virtue.”
But Washington knew that the American people’s future depended not on his character but on theirs. And he knew that religion was the foundation of the morality that was essential to their nation.
“Religion and morality are indispensable supports”
In his Farewell Address, he stated boldly: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on the minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
As our nation prepares to celebrate an Independence Day unlike any in living memory, we do well to agree with our first president.
Fireworks and parades are limited by the pandemic; the recession and civil unrest are making headlines. But our foundation and future are not based on anything in today’s news: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).
The psalmist noted: “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love” (vv. 16–18).
As we celebrate our nation, let’s join the “father of our country” in trusting in our Father’s “steadfast love.” Let’s pray for the day when all Americans join us in such faith. And let’s give thanks to God for our nation and those who served and died that we might live in freedom.