February 22, 2018: 286th Birthday of George Washington


It won’t be that long, only fourteen years, until it will be three centuries since the birth of the Father of our Country.  Washington, as one might expect, paid little attention to his birthdays, not taking note of them in his diaries.  However, even during his lifetime the date was being observed with celebrations by the American people.  On his last birthday in 1799 when he turned 67,  the Washington family observed the marriage of his step granddaughter, Eleanor Parke, called Nellie, Custis.  After the death of her father, who died of camp fever contracted during the siege of Yorktown in 1781, she and her brother George Washington Parke Custis, with the consent of their mother who was raising the five other children she and her late husband had, lived with the Washingtons and were informally adopted by them.  Throughout her life she regarded herself as the custodian of her adopted father’s memory.  Much of what we know about the personal life of the Washington’s comes from her correspondence with biographers seeking information about Washington.

I suspect that the topic of mortality may have crossed Washington’s mind on his last birthday.  His father had lived only until 49 and Washington had a bout of his recurrent malaria in 1798 and had only tardily responded to quinine.  Washington had been enjoying his retirement from public life, but he was beginning to feel his years.  However he had no fears of death and approached it with a sense of humor.  Martha Washington in 1797 in a letter to Elizabeth Willing Powel, made the following observation from her husband:  “I am now, by desire of the General to add a few words on his behalf; which he desires may be expressed in the terms following, that is to say, that despairing of hearing what may be said of him, if he should really go off in an Apoplectic, or any other fit, (for he thinks all fits that issue in death, are worse than a love fit, a fit of laughter, and many other kinds which he could name); he is glad to hear beforehand what will be said of him on that occasion; conceiving that nothing extra: will happen between this and then to make a change in his character for better, or for worse.”

Published in: on February 22, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lincoln and Liberty Too



The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,

The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,

State-character but comparative failure at forty

In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,

Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,

Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,

And a self-confidence like an iron-bar:

This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,

Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches

Which make the monumental booming of Webster

Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Something for the weekend.  Lincoln and Liberty Too, the most stirring campaign song in American history.  Mr. Lincoln’s birthday, his 209th, is on Monday which this year coincides with the state holiday in Illinois.  I always close down the law mines on that day.  Lincoln used to say that Henry Clay was his ideal of a statesman and for me Abraham Lincoln has always filled that role.  Presidents come and Presidents go, but Washington and Lincoln remain, the fixed stars of the better angels of our natures.



HURRAH for the choice of the nation!
Our chieftain so brave and so true;
We’ll go for the great Reformation—
For Lincoln and Liberty too!

We’ll go for the son of Kentucky—
The hero of Hoosierdom through;
The pride of the Suckers so lucky—
For Lincoln and Liberty too!

Our David’s good sling is unerring,
The Slaveocrats’ giant he slew;
Then shout for the Freedom-preferring—
For Lincoln and Liberty too!

They’ll find what, by felling and mauling,
Our rail-maker statesman can do;
For the People are everywhere calling
For Lincoln and Liberty too.

Then up with our banner so glorious,
The star-spangled red-white-and-blue,
We’ll fight till our flag is victorious,
For Lincoln and Liberty too!

Published in: on February 10, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln and Liberty Too  
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God and the Father of Our Country

Today is the feast day of Christ the King in the Catholic Liturgical Calendar, signaling the ending of the Church year.  On this date my thoughts turn to April 30, 1789 when President George Washington commenced the government of the United States under its new Constitution with the first inaugural address.  Below is the address.  Pay special attention to the second paragraph where Washington acknowledges the role of God in bringing about the American Republic and his final paragraph where he states that America depends upon God’s continued blessing:  so His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.



Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

AMONG the vicissitudes incident to life no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the 14th day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years—a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence one who (inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration) ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions all I dare aver is that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance by which it might be affected. All I dare hope is that if, in executing this task, I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof of the confidence of my fellow-citizens, and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me, my error will be palliated by the motives which mislead me, and its consequences be judged by my country with some share of the partiality in which they originated.



Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence. (more…)

Published in: on November 26, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on God and the Father of Our Country  
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November 5, 1775: Washington Ends Guy Fawkes Day


The idiotic anti-Catholic celebration of Guy Fawkes Day , observed each November fifth, was effectively ended two hundred and forty-tw0 years ago in America during the Revolution, in large part due to George Washington.  Here is his order on November 5, 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope–He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada. (more…)

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October 19, 1781: British Surrender at Yorktown


After the battle of Monmouth in 1778, the time of large scale battles in the north during the American Revolution came to an end.  The subsequent years were frustrating for Washington as he struggled against a collapsing American economy to keep his army from starving, unable to build up the military power necessary to put New York under siege.  The situation altered in 1781. The French navy achieved temporary control of the waters off Virginia, and Washington secretly marched with 8,000 Continentals and 5,000 French from New York to attack the army of General Cornwallis in Virginia.  Besieged at Yorktown, Cornwallis surrendered his 7,000 men on October 19, 1781.  The War would drag on another two years until the British withdrew from New York under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, but after Yorktown everyone on both sides knew that American independence, against the odds, had been achieved.  Here is the text Washington’s letter to Congress announcing the victory: (more…)

Published in: on October 19, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Pius XII was the first Pope to visit the United States, albeit as Papal Secretary of State.  He visited Mount Vernon while in the country on October 22, 1936.  On  November 1, 1939 he issued the encyclical SERTUM LAETITIAE commemorating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the American hierarchy.  His comments on America are still of interest:



To Our Beloved Sons: William O’Connell, Cardinal Priest of the Holy Roman Church, Archbishop of Boston, Dennis Dougherty, Cardinal Priest of the Holy Roman Church, Archbishop of Philadelphia, and to all the Venerable Brethren, the Archbishops, Bishops and Ordinaries of the United States of America in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.

Venerable Brethren, Health and Apostolic Benediction:

1. In our desire to enrich the crown of your holy joy We cross in spirit the vast spaces of the seas and find Ourselves in your midst as you celebrate, in company with all your faithful people, the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy in the United States of America. And this We do with great gladness, because an occasion is thus afforded Us, as gratifying as it is solemn, of giving public testimony of Our esteem and Our affection for the youthfully vigorous and illustrious American people.

2. To one who turns the pages of your history and reflects upon the causes of what has been accomplished it is apparent that the triumphal progress of Divine religion has contributed in no small degree to the glory and prosperity which your country now enjoys. It is indeed true that religion has its laws and institutions for eternal happiness but It is also undeniable that it dowers life here below with so many benefits that it could do no more even if the principal reason for its existence were to make men happy during the brief span of their earthly life.

3. It is a pleasure for Us to recall the well remembered story.
When Pope Pius VI gave you your first Bishop in the person of the American John Carroll and set him over the See of Baltimore, small and of slight importance was the Catholic population of your land. At that time, too, the condition of the United States was so perilous that its structure and its very political unity were threatened by grave crisis. Because of the long and exhausting war the public treasury was burdened with debt, industry languished and the citizenry wearied by misfortunes was split into contending parties. This ruinous and critical state of affairs was put aright by the celebrated George Washington, famed for his courage and keen intelligence. He was a close friend of the Bishop of Baltimore. Thus the Father of His Country and the pioneer pastor of the Church in that land so dear to Us, bound together by the ties of friendship and clasping, so to speak, each the other’s hand, form a picture for their descendants, a lesson to all future generations, and a proof that reverence for the Faith of Christ is a holy and established principle of the American people, seeing that it is the foundation of morality and decency, consequently the source of prosperity and progress. (more…)

Published in: on June 28, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on SERTUM LAETITIAE  
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George Washington Celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day


Throughout his life George Washington had a great deal of sympathy for the struggles of the Irish against their English rulers, seeing in those struggles a mirror for the American fight for independence.  Irish immigrants to America, Protestant and Catholic, were enthusiastic in their embrace of the American cause, and during the Revolutionary War many of the soldiers who served in the Continental Army were Irish or of Irish descent.  Therefore when General Washington heard in March 1780 that the Irish Parliament had passed free trade legislation, he issued the following general order to the Army on March 16, 1780:

The general congratulates the army on the very interesting proceedings of the parliament of Ireland and the inhabitants of that country which have been lately communicated;  not only as they appear calculated to remove those heavy and tyrannical oppressions on their trade but to restore to a brave and generous people their ancient rights and freedom and by their operations to promote the cause of America. (more…)

Published in: on March 17, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on George Washington Celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day  
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March 4, 1793: Shortest Inaugural Address


The shortest inaugural address was given on March 4, 1793.  Since it was delivered by George Washington it still managed to be meaningful as well as brief.  I wish every one of his successors had to repeat the final paragraph:



Fellow Citizens:

I AM again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.

Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.

Published in: on January 18, 2017 at 10:51 am  Comments Off on March 4, 1793: Shortest Inaugural Address  
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January 8, 1790: Washington Delivers First State of the Union Address


On January 8, 1790 George Washington delivered the first State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress.  Then called the Annual Message, the practice of the President delivering a speech to Congress would be ended by Thomas Jefferson who regarded such a practice as monarchical, too much like the British King’s Speech From the Throne at the beginning of Parliaments.  Perhaps, or perhaps it was simply that Jefferson was a bad public speaker and hated making speeches.  At any rate the custom of delivering the Annual Message to Congress in writing endured for over a century until Wilson revived delivering the Message via a speech to a joint session of Congress.

Wahington’s speech is the shortest state of the union address on record.  In that, as in so much else, one might wish that his successors had observed Washington’s example.  Here is the text of Washington’s address:


Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:
I embrace with great satisfaction the opportunity which now presents itself of congratulating you on the present favorable prospects of our public affairs. The recent accession of the important state of North Carolina to the Constitution of the United States (of which official information has been received), the rising credit and respectability of our country, the general and increasing good will toward the government of the Union, and the concord, peace, and plenty with which we are blessed are circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity. (more…)

Published in: on January 8, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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December 27, 1776: Washington Reports on Trenton


Washington crossing the Delaware is ingrained in the American psyche, and well it should be.  Without Washington’s brilliant attack at Trenton against the Hessian garrison stationed there on December 26, 1776, his subsequent maneuver around the reacting British force under General Cornwallis, and his victory at Princeton on January 3, 1777, it is likely that the American Revolution would have died during the winter of 1776-1777, Washington’s army dissolving in the gloom and pessimism brought on by the string of American defeats of 1776.  Instead, Washington’s victories brought out fresh levies of patriot militia from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, strengthening Washington’s army and causing the British to retreat from New Jersey.  In the span of a week, Washington and his men altered the likely outcome of the American Revolution, and all subsequent history.  Here is Washington’s report to the Continental Congress on the victory at Trenton:


Sir: I have the pleasure of Congratulating you upon the success of an enterprize which I had formed against a Detachment of the Enemy lying in Trenton, and which was executed yesterday Morning. The Evening of the 25th I ordered the Troops intended for this Service [which were about 2400] to parade back of McKonkey’s Ferry, that they might begin to pass as soon as it grew dark, imagining we should be able to throw them all over, with the necessary Artillery, by 12 O’Clock, and that we might easily arrive at Trenton by five in the Morning, the distance being about nine Miles. But the Quantity of Ice, made that Night, impeded the passage of the Boats so much, that it was three O’Clock before the Artillery could all get over, and near four, before the Troops took up their line of march.

This made me despair of surprising the Town, as I well knew we could not reach it before the day was fairly broke, but as I was certain there was no making a Retreat without being discovered, and harassed on repassing the River, I determined to push on at all Events. I form’d my detachments into two divisions one to March by the lower or River Road, the other by the upper or Pennington Road. As the Divisions had nearly the same distance to March, I ordered each of them, immediately upon forcing the out Guards, to push directly into the Town, that they might charge the Enemy before they had time to form. The upper Division arrived at the Enemys advanced post, exactly at Eight O’Clock, and in three Minutes after, I found, from the fire on the lower Road that, that Division had also got up. The out Guards made but small Opposition, tho’ for their Numbers, they behaved very well, keeping up a constant retreating fire from behind Houses. We presently saw their main Body formed, but from their Motions, they seemed undetermined how to act. Being hard pressed by our Troops, who had already got possession of part of their Artillery, they attempted to file off by a road on their right leading to Princetown, but perceiving their Intention, I threw a body of Troops in their Way which immediately checked them. Finding from our disposition that they were surrounded, and that they must inevitably be cut to pieces if they made any further Resistance, they agreed to lay down their Arms. The Number, that submitted in this manner, was 23 Officers and 886 Men. Col Rall. the commanding Officer with seven others were found wounded in the Town. I dont exactly know how many they had killed, but I fancy not above twenty or thirty, as they never made any regular Stand. Our loss is very trifling indeed, only two Officers and one or two privates wounded. I find, that the Detachment of the Enemy consisted of the three Hessian Regiments of Lanspatch, Kniphausen and Rohl amounting to about 1500 Men, and a Troop of British Light Horse, but immediately upon the begining of the Attack, all those who were, not killed or taken, pushed directly down the Road towards Bordentown. These would likewise have fallen into our hands, could my plan have been compleatly carried into Execution. Genl. Ewing was to have crossed before day at Trenton Ferry, and taken possession of the Bridge leading out of Town, but the Quantity of Ice was so great, that tho’ he did every thing in his power to effect it, he could not get over. (more…)

Published in: on December 27, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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