Excellent read over at the Opinion Journal.
BY THOMAS FLEMING
Tuesday, December 25, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
There is a Christmas story at the birth of this country that very few Americans know. It involves a single act by George Washington–his refusal to take absolute power–that affirms our own deepest beliefs about self-government, and still has profound meaning in today’s world. To appreciate its significance, however, we must revisit a dark period at the end of America’s eight-year struggle for independence.
The story begins with Gen. Washington’s arrival in Annapolis, Md., on Dec. 19, 1783. The country was finally at peace–just a few weeks earlier the last British army on American soil had sailed out of New York harbor. But the previous eight months had been a time of terrible turmoil and anguish for Gen. Washington, outwardly always so composed. His army had been discharged and sent home, unpaid, by a bankrupt Congress–without a victory parade or even a statement of thanks for their years of sacrifices and sufferings.
Instead, not a few congressmen and their allies in the press had waged a vitriolic smear campaign against the soldiers–especially the officers, because they supposedly demanded too much money for back pay and pensions. Washington had done his utmost to persuade Congress to pay them, yet failed, in this failure losing the admiration of many of the younger officers. Some sneeringly called him “The Great Illustrissimo”–a mocking reference to his world-wide fame. When he said farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York early in December, he had wept at the sight of anger and resentment on many faces.