Listen to Mozart and hear the stately minuet transformed into a free, lively rondo, then brought back again to balance and moderation after some of the most unlikely yet, once heard, most predictable of steps. Mystery is turned into symmetry. So with Washington's leadership.
George Washington would lead a revolution and, once in authority, put down a mutiny.
He would prosecute a war for independence, and later declare neutrality for the same purpose.
He would preside over the creation of a new, highly complex and most uncertain constitutional scheme full of verbal artifice -- without saying a word.
He would put down a full-scale rebellion with force, declining to make a single conciliatory gesture to the rebels, and then pardon all involved.
As president he would listen to equal but opposite counsel, each presented forcefully and articulately, and make his decision. Then he would sincerely implore the adviser whose advice he regularly rejected, Mr. Jefferson, to remain in his Cabinet.
Washington's now distant music is really a familiar 18th century medley, a working out of old and new into a blend that is balanced, stable, moderate, yet ever new. Washington's policies may have changed from time to time, but never his grand and civil vision.
If this is a young country, it is the oldest of living republics. The French are now on their fifth republic, but who counts? Meanwhile, the first and only American republic marches along toward its tricentennial.
What is the key to the remarkable longevity of this American experiment?
The answer to that question may lie in its spirit, which is the well-calculated spirit of Washington. His is still a standard to which, in his phrase, the wise and honest may repair.
In this mass democracy that the republic has become, dignity and decorum may now have only an antique appeal. They are scarcely recognized as what they are: guarantees of freedom's permanence.
In a perceptive essay, the historian Edmund S. Morgan pointed out two guiding themes in Washington's politics: interest and honor. The old general understood that republics must appeal to both if they are to endure.
It is clear enough that politicians still know how to appeal to our interests; there are times when they appeal to nothing else. But on this Washington's Birthday, let us encourage leaders to appeal to our honor, too.
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