Being indispensable has lofty connotations. Some might say that it is the highest prestige and most generous compliment. A statement that includes one’s indispensability lends itself to be scrutinized by skeptics and researched by historians. By boldly concluding that George Washington was absolutely necessary, essential, and irreplaceable, James Flexner proposed an interesting question: Could the young republic of the United States have survived with similar success had Washington not been the original executor? Throughout his political career, Washington continued to prove himself to be one of the most courageous, knowledgeable, qualified, and mature leaders in U.S., if not world, history. If the definition of indispensable is irreplaceable, than George Washington was truly an indispensable man.
The main quality that Washington possessed that made him and his term in office so distinct and essential to the early republic was his powerful mentality that he was going to make the new government work, no matter what. He was not interested in personal gain and was not motivated by a selfish agenda. He never saw the position as a soapbox for his own views, but rather a podium for the Constitution. Washington purposefully surrounded himself with some of the best minds that this country had to offer. He certainly was also well aware of the fact that his cabinet members’ political views contrasted sharply. By appointing Thomas Jefferson and Edmond Randolph, Washington could collect information from two of the brightest liberals in America and become more learned of the action in the South and West. With the appointments of conservatives Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox, he was able to keep tabs on the Northeast1. Receiving advice from both sides of the political system, Washington was able to make much stronger, more advised decisions.
To assert that someone was indispensable, one must provide arguments that prove that nobody else could have taken his place at the time. Looking at two of the most influential political figures of Washington’s time, Jefferson and Hamilton, one is able to draw comparisons and theorize how they would have acted in Washington’s place. Hamilton would have been a much more biased president had he been inaugurated first. A personal agenda would have been strikingly evident throughout his tenure. Not only would it be obvious that his extremely partisan stance was guiding his presidency, but Hamilton would also succeed in alienating the entire south and west with his one-sided approach to politics. Hamilton’s policy was acted out with a “seeming disregard for states’ rights and agrarian interests,”2 and this was the cause for distrust in much of rural America. Likewise, Jefferson, had he been the original president rather than being able to learn from those in front of him before he took office, would have upset a strong percentage of the population (mostly in major cities) with his stances. If Jefferson’s ideals had been the ones that began laying the foundation for the United States, than the cities in the Northeast would have surely suffered from it. Also, Hamilton probably would have never gotten a chance to express his brilliant ideas for the country had the executive branch been run by anybody other than Washington, especially Jefferson.
George Washington was a very knowledgeable man. Not specifically book smart knowledge, but that of experience. As a surveyor at a young age and a soldier for a good portion of his life, Washington was well aware of the country, both economically and geographically, he was soon to govern. His military career made him experienced in diplomacy and by spending an seemingly large amount of time with his soldiers (i.e. Valley Forge), Washington learned about the character of Americans and became more in touch with them.3 His inclusion in the Continental Congresses and the Constitutional Convention made him experienced in the debates that lingered throughout his two terms, as well as very informed about the Constitution itself. The fact that Washington seemed to experience many different aspects of American society had an impact on the way that he governed. Originally he was but a meager farmer, raises through the ranks of society by inheriting Mt. Vernon, becomes a soldier, and raises through the ranks of military as well. Adding in his political life, Washington was a fairly well rounded individual with both humbling and glorifying events defining his life.
Washington was responsible for keeping the young United States out of war. By staying neutral in the war between France and England on North American soil and on it’s seas, Washington didn’t accept entirely the recommendations of either Jefferson, with his pro-French views, or Hamilton, who leaned more towards the British.4 Washington saw that the country was much too fragile to go through another war and even more hardships. “Washington…saw beyond the immediate provocations of Old World powers to a day when a mature and united America might defy any aggressor on earth.”5 The new Constitution needed enough time, in peace, so that it could properly spread its roots and begin growing into what had been dreamed up in the convention in Philadelphia in 1787. His devotion to staying out of war was one of the best foreign policy moves that has been made in United States history, mostly because it had a huge part in the forming of the United States.
If the definition of indispensable is irreplaceable, than George Washington was truly an indispensable man. His display of courage, justice, judgment, wisdom, and self-control has been a model of strength and stability for the successors of his position. It becomes obvious through his wide array of virtues that the country certainly needed a man of his stature and stability. Jefferson wrote of his friend years after his death, “On the whole, his character was, in its mass, perfect, in nothing bad, in few points indifferent; and it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him n the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance.”
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