Friday, March 29, 2013


America has always been noted for innovative and revolutionary ideas. Though Americans did not originate the concepts of democracy and republican government, it was in America that these concepts were given their best chance to take root, flourish, and survive. It was not a forgone conclusion that the American Revolution and its following experiment in government would be successful. On the contrary, it could have only been judged highly unlikely and improbable at best. The great American experiment of government by the people and for the people, as Abraham Lincoln later described it, was only made possible by great thinkers and great doers, willing to make great sacrifices of personal blood and treasure, putting all at risk. No one individual was more responsible for its birth and successful early years than the ”father” of our country, George Washington, my latest instalment and chapter of Profiles of Leadership in America.


George Washington
February 22, 1732—December 14, 1799

In May of 1787, the Constitutional Convention of the newly formed United States of America met to determine how their new government would function. These Americans of British decent were exploring new political territory. Once before, in the mid-Seventeenth Century, Englishmen attempted to live without a monarchy, but after little more than a decade of the political experiment, England invited Charles II to assume the throne. The Americans, via a successful war for independence, had again rejected an English king. The challenge for the Americans would be to avoid relying on an Oliver Cromwell-type dictator. The answer came in the form of a three-branch form of government with a president at the head of the executive branch. The unanimous choice of the convention, to fill the office of president, would be George Washington.

George Washington was exceptionally prepared to fill the role of the nations first President and set the precedence and model for future holders of the office. Washington, primarily a farmer and businessman, was first brought to prominence by his military exploits in the French and Indian War as a militia officer serving under British General Edward Braddock. Though he was involved in few victorious actions, Washington is credited for great bravery under fire and for lessening, through his calm leadership, the degree of loss caused by blundering superiors. When the 2nd Continental Congress met in 1775, Washington arrived in a military uniform expressing his support of Massachusetts (which the English Crown considered to be in a state of rebellion) and his willingness to fight against Britain. On June 15, 1775, Washington was unanimously elected General and Commander and Chief of the Continental army. Though there was obvious danger that a strong general might use his army to set up a military dictatorship, the Congress expressed total trust in his character. Washington’s commission stated: “you are hereby vested with full power and authority to act as you shall think for the good and welfare of the service.”

Washington’s leadership during the war was exemplary. He recognized that the army needed to be under civil authority preserving congressional control. Often, when haste was necessary, Washington would act and then report to Congress. If Congress was displeased, he would not repeat the action. He was able to bridge the social gap between rich (including many members of congress) and poor (which included most of the soldiers in his army). He also bridged the political gap between militants (including Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin), the moderates, and conciliationists (like John Dickinson). These difficult tasks were accomplished while conducting a war against the most powerful army in the world. At his urging, a reluctant Congress declared independence from Britain to distinguish their war from a mere rebellion. Though he had many military successes during the war, perhaps his greatest success was keeping his outnumbered and ill-equipped army from being overrun and demoralized. Time and time again he exercised great control, and was able to preserve his army until the opportunity for ultimate victory presented itself.

After the war, Washington performed the duties of his presidential office with the same leadership qualities that he exhibited as a military leader. He again, by force of his personality and character, bridged the gaps between social and political groups. He included representatives from both conservative and liberal--not to be confused with the current definitions of the terms--persuasions in his cabinet. Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State) and Edmund Randolph (Attorney General) were Liberals, while Alexander Hamilton (Secretary of the Treasury) and Henry Knox (Secretary of War) were Conservatives. Washington chose to steer his young country through its fledgling years by adopting a neutral stance in foreign affairs while leaning towards a stronger central government in domestic affairs. By doing so, he was able to both strengthen the nation’s economic union and keep the United States out of costly new wars with both Britain and France. Although he was generally averse to harsh measures, Washington was able to calmly use force when necessary (as with the whiskey rebellion) without bloodshed or reprisals. His steady guidance allowed his young republic the time it needed to safely start defining itself politically.

Unlike many other revolutionary first ‘presidents,’ George Washington was not forced from office by death or threat of death. After fulfilling a second term (again he had been unanimously elected), Washington retired, urging his countrymen to avoid party strife and to cherish the union and the constitution. Thomas Jefferson, who at times strongly disagreed with Washington, wrote of him, “His integrity was the most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known. He was, indeed, in every sense of the word, a wise, a good, and a great man.”

It has been suggested that the founding fathers of the United States of America represented more than their fair share of the greatest intellects of their time or possibly any other. The Constitution of the United States bears witness to their profound and inspired wisdom, as does their choice of a leader. In a time in history when the world was full of kingdoms, they chose a democratic republic. And to protect their political experiment they chose George Washington--the man who would not be King.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013


On of my favorite pesonalities from Americanhistory is Benjamin Franklin. In my opinion, he should be at or near the top of everybody's list.  Here is my reposting of the segment of this remarkable man from my Profiles of Leadership in America:

America is known as a place of opportunity, as a place where one’s genius can be developed and given a chance to be productive and, possibly, benefit mankind. In its youth, America was much the same, with entrepreneurs and visionaries exploring the possibilities. The British Government had settled its colonies in America for economic and strategic reasons, but the British subjects that actually came to these shores were seeking freedom to be what they wanted to be, to be free from perceived religious, political, and economic shackles. During the 17th and 18th Centuries, America was seen by many without opportunity as a place where a “nobody” could become a “somebody”. And, in some special cases, they could become a very important and universally celebrated “somebody”, like Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin
January 17, 1706—April 17, 1790

There are few people, if any, in today’s world who compare with Benjamin Franklin. In fact, there are few people of any age that compare with Benjamin Franklin. He was a writer, publisher, scientist, inventor, educator, politician, statesman, diplomat, philosopher, patriot, and philanthropist. No one, who did not serve as President of the United States, has influenced our country for the better more than Benjamin Franklin.

Born in Boston in 1706, Franklin was the 15th child and youngest son of Josiah (a soap and candle maker) and Abiah Franklin. He only attended school for two years and did not do well enough that his father felt he could afford to further educate him. His father kept young ten years old Benjamin home to work in the family shop. His schooling may have stopped but he continued to educate himself by reading every book he could lay his hands on, believing that, “the doors of wisdom are never shut” (Eiselen 413). Franklin did not like the soap and candle trade, so his father sent him to be apprentice to his older brother James, a printer. Franklin proved to be a skilled printer, but he frequently argued with his older brother. Franklin was secretly writing some popular articles under the pen name “Mrs. Silence Dogwood” that James was publishing. When James discovered that his younger brother was writing the articles, he refused to print any more of them. Franklin ran away at age 17 to Philadelphia and at age 24 opened his own shop and started publishing The Pennsylvania Gazette, writing much of the material himself. He also married Deborah Read that same year with whom he had two sons (William became governor of New Jersey) and a daughter.

As a printer–writer-publisher, Franklin developed his newspaper into the most successful one in the colonies. As a businessman he was innovative. Historians credit him as the first to publish a newspaper cartoon and to illustrate news stories with a map. He was even more successful with his publication of Poor Richard’s Almanac, which he wrote and published for 25 years. In the almanac he preached much of his philosophies of virtue, industry, and frugality with memorable wise and witty sayings such as, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy wealthy and wise.” “God helps them who helps themselves.” “Little strokes fell great oaks.” And “He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals” (Eiselen 413).

Although Franklin never actively sought public office, civic leadership was constantly thrust upon him. In 1736 he became clerk to the Pennsylvania Assembly and then agreed to be Philadelphia’s postmaster. His work as postmaster so impressed the British government that, in 1753, they offered him the position of deputy postmaster general of all the colonies. Franklin improved the postal service throughout the colonies and even Canada. He worked constantly to improve his city by establishing the world’s first subscription library, organizing a fire department, reforming the city police department, starting a program to pave and light the dirty city streets, and raised money to build a hospital. By these efforts, he helped Philadelphia to become the most advanced city in the British colonies.

As a scientist and inventor, Franklin was inexhaustible and completely philanthropic, choosing not to patent or benefit financially from his many inventions. One of the first men in history to experiment with electricity, Franklin proved, with his famous kite experiment of 1752, that lightning was electricity. He used this knowledge to invent the lightning rod, urging others to use his device to protect their lives and property. Once, he tried to electrocute a turkey only to shock himself unconscious. He later remarked, “I meant to kill a turkey, and instead, nearly killed a goose” (Eiselen 415) (Perhaps this is the real reason that he esteemed the turkey above the eagle as a symbol for The United States). Other inventions that benefited his fellow man were his fuel-efficient stove design and the bifocal glasses. Once, after viewing the first successful balloon flight in France, he heard bystanders scoffing, “What good is it?” Always a forward thinker, Franklin responded, “What good is a new born baby?” (Eiselen 415).

In 1754, when the French and Indian War broke out, Benjamin Franklin offered a plan for the colonies to unite to defend themselves. He printed the famous cartoon of a disjointed snake with the caption, “Join or Die.” His ideas for “one general government” that was presented to a conference in Albany would later find its way into the Constitution of the United States. Though his plan failed to be ratified, Franklin worked hard to support the British army in its fight against the French and their Indian allies, securing horses, wagons, and other supplies and equipment while raising volunteer armies to help defend frontier towns.

When friction started to develop between Britain and her colonies after the French and Indian War, Franklin worked to keep the colonies British, while protecting what he believed were the colonies rights. In 1757, Franklin was sent by the Pennsylvania legislature to London to lobby parliament in respect to tax disputes. For most of the next 18 years until 1775, he remained in Britain as an unofficial ambassador representing the American point of view. Franklin preferred that America remain in the British Empire, but only if the colonists’ rights were protected. He pledged to pay for all of the tea destroyed in the Boston Tea Party if Parliament would only repeal its tax on tea. His proposal was rejected and he returned home two weeks after the American Revolution had begun.

Again, Franklin was chosen to serve in the Second Continental Congress, where he again proposed a plan (similar to the Albany Plan) to unify the colonies, which laid the groundwork for the Articles of Confederation. He was chosen to again organize the postal system, which he quickly accomplished, giving his salary to the relief of wounded soldiers. He helped Thomas Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence and signed it, declaring, “we must indeed all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately” (Eiselen 415b). Later that year (1776) at age 70, Franklin left for France where he would, as ambassador, eventually charm the French into joining the Americans against the British. Without Franklin’s success in securing the help of France, the American Revolution would likely have failed.

After the war Franklin returned to Philadelphia and served as president of the executive council of Pennsylvania (Governor, basically) and attended the Constitutional Convention. He was instrumental, by his wisdom and common sense, in keeping the delegates from going home when negotiations got sticky. At his suggestion, the delegates prayed, at the beginning of each day of business, for spiritual guidance. Franklin declared, “…without his (God’s) concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a by-word down to the future ages” (Benson 18).

Franklin was proud of what his country had accomplished. He had personally signed the four major documents in early American history; the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of peace with Britain, and the Constitution of the United States. He even hoped that the example of the Americans would lead to a United States of Europe. But, Franklin knew that much was left to do. Two years before his death, he was elected President of the first anti-slavery society in America. His last public act was to appeal to Congress to abolish slavery.

He had accomplished many marvelous things in his lifetime. He was a great man that did many great things and was greatly loved. In 1789, (one year before Franklin’s death) George Washington wrote in a letter to Franklin, “If to be venerated for benevolence, if to be admired for talents, if to be esteemed for patriotism, if to be beloved for philanthropy, can gratify the human mind, you must have the pleasing consolation to know that you have not lived in vain” (Eiselen 416). In his will, Franklin simply wrote of himself, “I, Benjamin Franklin, printer…”(416).


Article on Benjamin Franklin by Malcolm R. Eiselen from the World Book Encyclopedia 1970.

This Nation Shall Endure by Ezra Taft Benson.

Charming Rogues Are Out And About!

I have not blogged about Obama's presidency recently because, honestly, it depresses me to think about it much.  With the direction he is taking us with domestic and foreign policies, the United States will be in serious trouble, and we will be hard pressed to make amends. Frankly, I believe it may be too late.  This morning, I read a face book posting by my friend, Terry Conley, which made me both sick to my stomach and seriously amused.  His posting was about a news report about Obama's state visits to the Mideast, including Israel, and the expectation that he would use his charm to get Israel and the crazy (my word) Muhammadans to respect one another and get along.

I guess the plan is for him to go around the leadership in the countries involved and appeal to the sensibilities of the young masses to put pressure on the leadership. The laughable part is that he thinks that anybody over there cares at all about what he thinks. I guess the sickening part is also that he thinks anybody over there cares at all about what he thinks.  For example, when the youth of Iran were trying to act out and demand a change in their government, Obama was silent.  Also, what are the Israelis supposed to think of a guy who embraces the Muslim Brotherhood so heartily and gives so much monetary aid and weaponry to Egypt--Mohamed Morsi is a Holocaust denier and has repealed Egypt's policy under Mubarak, that Israel had a right to exist--who are again technically at war with Israel.

Now, I understand that true charm can get people a lot of things they want.  Even perceived charm can get people a lot of what they want. However, I dispute that Obama is charming at all, for people who see him as he really is--that would be people like myself--and who know a thing or two about phonies and cheats. Obama is even more transparent and less charming than Bill Clinton. He and Bill Clinton got to the highest office in the land because they were able to fake sincerity well enough that the most gullible among us--which may have been a majority of us, judging by election returns--thought that they deserved our trust with power and authority.

We all knew that the cartoon character, Snidely Whiplash, was a dastardly criminal, who had a penchant for placing damsels in distress. You knew he was dastardly because he acted like one and he twisted his mustache in a suspicious way and laughed about what he planned to do in a dastardly and comical way. I guess in reality, Snidley had a degree of charm, in that his attempts to do evil were always thwarted by the half-wit, Dudley Do Right, who exhibited the same kind of charm as another hero of book and film, Forest Gump.  Sadly, we are not living in a cartoon world and there are circumstances, both here and abroad, that will undoubtedly result in disaster. As I see it, Obama's perceived charm is killing us here at home and will likely kill a lot of people abroad. I guess I shouldn't think the idea of him being charming that amusing after all.