Bill Steigerwald

They don't make American presidents like George Washington anymore, and they never will. As Richard Brookhiser points out in his book "George Washington on Leadership," he did it all and he did it well:

"He ran two start-ups, the army and the presidency, and chaired the most important committee meeting in history, the Constitutional Convention. His agribusiness and real estate portfolio made him America's richest man. ... Men followed him into battle; women longed to dance with him; famous men, almost as great as he was, some of them smarter, did what he told them to do. He was the Founding CEO."

Brookhiser, a Time magazine columnist and senior editor at National Review who has specialized on the American Revolution, has also written a highly praised biography of Washington, "Founding Father," as well as "Alexander Hamilton, American," and "America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918." I talked to him Tuesday by telephone from his home in New York City:

Q: Is there evidence you’ve found that George Washington was either an alien or an angel sent down to Earth to make sure we won the Revolution?

A: (laughs) No. No such evidence.

Q: Can you quickly remind us what great things Washington did -- before he even became president?

A: Well, the greatest thing was he was the first commander in chief of the brand new Continental Army. America had never had an army before. There had been 150 years of fighting in British North America, but that was always done by the militias of individual colonies or by the British army against various enemies -- French, Indians, combinations of both. In the spring of 1775, fighting has broken out around Boston. The battles of Lexington and Concord are fought. Congress picks one of its own, George Washington, to be commander in chief. He is sent up to Boston to take charge of the militias that are already there and of troops from other states that are to come. His job is to create an army out of these materials. And he does this and about a million other things over the next eight and half years until the war ends in 1783. It’s the longest war we’d fight until Vietnam. It’s longer than the Civil War and our share in World War II put together. It’s longer than Iraq. There are many, many defeats and screw-ups in the course of this war, but Washington sticks with it and ends up victorious.

Q: Was there ever a time when Congress thought about replacing him?


Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..