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Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1709

This week on “Oklahoma Horizon,” the life of George Washington and the lessons we can learn from America’s first president.
Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1709

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1709

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George Washington’s Mount Vernon

George Washington Biography

Show Details

Show 1709: Oklahoma Horizon TV Show
Air Date: February 26, 2017

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: Here’s what’s coming up on your “Horizon.” While none of us can predict the future, we can all learn from the past. So today, our entire focus is on the first president of these United States and the lessons we can learn from George Washington. Stay with us for “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Female Announcer: “Oklahoma Horizon” is made possible by CareerTech – a job for every Oklahoman and a workforce for every company -- with additional support from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” I’m Rob McClendon. Well, in these United States of America, probably no one is more recognizable than our first president, George Washington. But what do we really know about the man behind all those iconic images? Today, we’re going to delve into exactly who George Washington was and why that still matters today. In studio with us today is Clark Musser, an Oklahoman who has spent much of his retirement telling the story of George Washington, a great and a good man.

Rob McClendon: So, Clark, of all the enlightened men that started what became these United States, George Washington is always considered our founding father. Why is that?

Clark Musser: That’s a great question, Rob. George Washington’s greatness is established by the fact that he played three seminal roles in our nation’s founding. The first role was as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, victorious over England, from which we earned our independence. The second role that Washington played was the president of the Constitutional Convention. That was a body of men, 39 men at the end, that issued forth unto the world our U.S. Constitution, which of course is the document that frames our national government. It creates Congress, the office of the president and the Supreme Court. George Washington served as the president of that body. The Constitution is today, the most important, most influential secular document in the history of the world, certainly in the history of Western civilization. And the third role is the one that first comes to mind when we think of the father of our country: He was our nation’s first president. He was elected unanimously, and he was re-elected unanimously. Historians tell us that if they had conducted polls at the end of his second term, he would have received a 90 percent popularity rating. But service in those three roles doesn’t necessarily tell us about Washington’s goodness. Washington’s goodness is determined by what he did as commander-in-chief, president of the Constitutional Convention and as our first president, that Washington did not overtly seek any of these three roles of responsibility; in fact, he didn’t want any of these three roles. He reluctantly accepted these roles when he was asked. But once he accepted these roles he performed to the very best of his ability and reached such a degree of excellence that he earned great power and influence over the military and the people, which takes us to the second theme. George Washington, unlike all other comparable figures in Western civilization, save only one, relinquished power. Only one other comparable figure had risen to glory on the battlefield, moved into the political arena, ultimate power over the military and the people, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, ancient Rome 450 B.C., had ultimate power. Cincinnatus relinquished ultimate power and retired to his farm. George Washington relinquished ultimate power and retired to his farm. That second theme is the pinnacle, not only of greatness but of goodness. The relinquishment of power is what I hope will be conveyed today, as George Washington’s most important contribution to our nation and to history.

Rob: Now, when we return, we explore George Washington’s military years.

Female Announcer: You’re watching “Oklahoma Horizon” with Rob McClendon – weekly insight into your changing world.

Rob McClendon: At the time of the Revolutionary War, England had the mightiest navy the world had ever seen, a formidable army and an economy that was unmatched by any other. So how does a ragtag army of revolutionaries prevail? Well, that is where Clark Musser picks up our story.

Clark Musser: So England with its combination of military and economic prowess was in today’s lexicon what we would say the mightiest superpower in the world. George Washington, as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, was the commander-in-chief of an army of one. There was no Continental Army. There were no officers. There were no soldiers, no cannon muskets, no uniforms, blankets. There were no shoes. There wasn’t even money to pay for the creation of that army. There was simply the promises of representatives from all 13 colonies that they would provide the manpower, munitions and the money. And what Washington would soon find out, those promises would ring hollow in many instances. As we all know, the war lasted for eight long, grueling years. It was the longest war in our nation’s history until Vietnam. A professor from the University of Southern California, Peter Mancow, tells us that Washington’s victory over the English was the most improbable military victory in all of western civilization.

Rob: So how did the Continental Army perform a seemingly impossible task? Well, Musser believes much of the credit goes to its commander-in-chief.

Musser: What was it about Washington that made him indispensable? Was he a brilliant military strategist of the yoke of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon? No. George Washington was a farmer. He would have said a planter. Today we say a farmer. He was not a military man. So what was it about Washington that made him so important? What these scholars tell us, it was his character – his sense of virtue that sets him apart from all others. When he was sworn in as commander-in-chief, George Washington refused a salary. Yes, he was offered a salary of $500 a month – a significant sum in those days. “I cannot make a profit from this endeavor.” He was willing to fight, but only for the worthiness of the cause, not for money. George Washington never took a day off. He was with his men during those grueling, freezing winters at Valley Forge, Morristown. The soldiers were freezing to death, literally. George Washington cared more about the safety and welfare of his men than he did himself. When in battle, when retreating from the English as was often the case, Washington was in the rear – the most vulnerable of positions, making sure that his men were moving towards safety. And to say that he was courageous doesn’t really do him justice. He was fearless in battle. The British redcoats were on one side, and Washington’s Continental Army on the other. They were a mere 100 feet apart, maybe the distance of our front yard, firing at each other with muskets. And the British were about to take the day, Washington is off the side, off to the side astride his horse watching the battle. And as his men began to retreat, he rides in on his horse. Thomas Jefferson tells us that George Washington was the greatest horseman of the age. He rides in, between the competing forces, his only protection is the smoke from the musket fire: “Hold your ground my boys. Hold your ground, there is but a handful of them. We can prevail.” His men see his excellancy in this state of peril, they halt, turn, retrench, re-engage, indeed they take the day. And we know about this in part because of a letter that one of Washington’s fellow officers wrote who bore witness to this scene, in which he tells his wife: “My dearly beloved, yesterday I witnessed such courage as I could never have imagined, his excellency rode into the fire, a thousand deaths flying all around him, his life hanging by a single hair. I assure my dear, I feared not for myself but only for this bravest of all men.” And in due time the people of the United States began hearing, and then understanding, and then they came to realize that Washington was one of the richest men in the colonies, in the states. But this man was willing to risk every material thing that he held dear, his Mount Vernon, even his beloved Martha and of course his own life in the furtherance of a principle: liberty, freedom. The richest man in the colony risked everything for this cause.

Rob: A cause that is to soon turn to the birth of a new nation.

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Rob McClendon: Toward the end of the war, when it was evident that George Washington and the Continental Army would prevail, representatives of his officer corps approached Washington to assure him of their support when he became king, something Washington would have none of.

Clark Musser: Every nation in the world, at that time, was ruled by a king, queen, a chieftain. So it was only natural that Washington be king. To which Washington replied, “Nothing that has come to my attention throughout the course of this war disturbs me so much as your suggestion that I would accept such a position. What is it about my conduct that makes you think I would be receptive?” And he dismissed these men, “Never are you to speak of this again.” The point is, Washington would not be king. Washington, at the end of the war, surrendered his commission to the Continental Congress. He, in ceremonial fashion, presented his sword to Congress as an indication of resigning his commission. And I like to think of that ceremonial presentation as, as almost literally turning his sword into a plowshare. Thomas Fleming, the historian, tells us that Washington’s relinquishment of ultimate power is the greatest event in our nation’s history. And if it is, it could certainly be the greatest secular event in all of the world history.

Rob: So for the next five years, Washington retired to his beloved Mount Vernon, but all in the fledgling country was not well.

Musser: The war had taken a devastating toll on the population base. The economy was in shambles and as a result we were disunited – the population toll. The war had costs us the lives of 25,000 boys, and I use the word boys intentionally, most ages 15 to 30, died at the very peak of their productive lives, their reproductive lives. In today’s population, that would be the equivalent of between 3 and 4 million boys no longer with us. The economy had shattered. No trade had taken place, trade of consequence had taken place, during the eight-year war. England had been our primary trading partner, so no trade with England. Profession Alan Gelsoe at Gettysburg College tells us that inflation roared in some areas 5,000 percent. The Continental, that was their currency, was worthless. We had incurred a national debt, roughly $70 to $80 million. Who knows what that would be in today’s currency.

Rob: And George Washington’s services were needed once again with convening of a Constitutional Convention to set up these United States.

Musser: Tempers flared, arguments ensued, but all those delegates knew that the man sitting up there on the desk deemed it to be in their best interest and the best interest of the people of the 13 states that we create a central government. So in due time, under the watchful eyes and the guiding hands of the one man on earth who could be trusted with power, the delegates’ arguments turned to debate. The debate turned to compromise, and in a mere four months, 39 men at that convention signed off on a draft of the document that provides the framework for our central government. Bear in mind, there was nothing like it in world history, the creation of a document whereby the people determined who their leadership would be. Not by heredity, not by birth, but we the people determined who the leaders and how that would function – nothing like it. But the people knew George Washington had overseen the process, that he approved the process and that he thought this central government was in their best interest. So in June of 1788, a mere nine months from the time it went out to the people, the requisite nine states had approved it. And that U.S. Constitution created a central government. That U.S. Constitution would be the supreme law of the land – superior to the law of Georgia, of Virginia, Pennsylvania. The people had to subordinate their states’ laws to this law that George Washington believed to be in their best interest.

Rob: And with that, the United States of America was born. When we return, Mr. President.

Female Announcer: Want to see more stories like this? All our segments are streaming on our YouTube channel at OklahomaHorizonTV.

Rob McClendon: Well, there was probably only one man who did not know who the first president of the United States would be, and that would be George Washington himself. Washington did not want to be president, did not campaign to be president, yet was elected unanimously. And that is where Clark Musser picks up our story.

Clark Musser: There had never been a president in history. What does the president do? The Constitution really doesn’t spell out much in the way of detail as to what the president does. George Washington created the office of the presidency. Washington’s focus was three-fold: cultivate respectability with nations abroad, stabilize the economy and focus on expansion to the West. He believed that the future of the United States was not east across the Atlantic, but to the west. And in his first term, George Washington negotiated treaties with foreign countries, settled disputes amongst the states, settled disputes amongst the states and countries in Europe. He established a national bank, a single currency, the dollar. He put together a plan for the repayment of that $70-$80 million debt and actually implemented the repayment of that debt. Now, I’m not saying that he did it all by himself, of course, but he oversaw the process – he was the key figure. As Thomas Jefferson said, all of his advisers, George Washington’s advisers, were like the spokes on a wagon wheel – we, including himself, we revolved around George Washington, who was the hub. By the end of this term, his efforts had been so successful that foreign investment money, particularly from England and Holland was just pouring in. Our economy had stabilized in his first term. He writes to Madison, Hamilton – Hamilton was his secretary of the treasury, Thomas Jefferson was his secretary of state – informing them that now that the, my first term is almost over, I want to pick up my spade and earn my bread. In other words, I want to go home, I want to be a farmer again. Alexander Hamilton says the nation is not ready, without your unifying presence we will disunite. Thomas Jefferson says it a bit more colorfully, he says, Mr. President, the North and the South will hang together, but only if we have you to hang on to. We can almost see him bowing his head as he says, I will serve another tour of duty. The second term, all the positives of the first continued forward. There were some difficulties, there were some obstacles, but by the end of his second term the country had stabilized its economy, and there was a sense of unity that would prevail for the next 65 years – that was the outbreak of the Civil War. Washington did retire at the end of his second term, returned to Mount Vernon with his beloved Martha. He would live another two and half years in good health, riding vigorously about his farm – inspecting all that was going on. And on Dec. 14, 1799, just two weeks before the new century, it was two months before his 68th birthday, George Washington left us. But, oh, what a legacy he left us. And it was only through the strength of Washington’s character and his sense of virtue that he kept this nation from descending into a monarchy or anarchy. When he relinquished power at the end of the war, he established two precedents: first, this nation would never be ruled by a king; second, military will always be subordinate to civilian control. These two principles were inculcated into our U.S. Constitution with its ratification. And with respect to the presidency, when Washington chose not to run for a third term, he was telling the people of the United States, he was telling the people of the world, and he was telling all future presidents – the president of the United States is not the ruler of the people – the president is merely their servant.

Rob: Now, if you’d like to hear my entire conversation with Clark Musser on George Washington, I believe it’ll be well worth your time. Musser is a masterful storyteller, and the hour I spent with him was one of my favorites. To see the entirety of our visit, just head over to okhorizon.com and look under our value added section.

Rob McClendon: Next time on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we look at how the economy of the ninth largest town in Oklahoma, continues to change.

In Enid, we have a great blend of businesses and municipality.

Rob: From the wheat capitol of Oklahoma, to an oil and gas hub, the town of Enid has earned a reputation for its resilience.

We have almost two billion dollars-worth of construction projects under construction today.

Rob: Enid, Oklahoma; on Oklahoma’s show for the heartland, “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Rob McClendon: Well that is gonna wrap us up for today, but you can see more of any of our stories on our website at ok horizon dot com. You can follow us throughout the week on Twitter at OKHorizonTV or like us on Facebook, where we do post our weekly stories. Thanks for including us as part of your day. I’m Rob McClendon. Hope to see you back here next week.

Female Announcer: “Oklahoma Horizon” is made possible by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, with additional support from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.