Can you imagine what it must have been like to be the first president? I mean, the first, ever. In the history of the world. No pressure, right?
George Washington was quite a character. First of all, he was hellbent on making sure that no one mistook the presidency for a kingdom. He absolutely refused to wear outlandish, royal clothes. No thrones. None of this fancy stuff for him. He was not a vain man. He didn’t want to be perceived as superior to the people. He wanted to be considered a unifier.
He spent a lot of time traveling, talking to the people. That’s why so many places can claim, “Washington slept here.” I guess you could say he slept around. In that way, the presidency hasn’t changed much. But it definitely has in other ways.
For example, Washington had a staff of two, as opposed to the thousands that are on staff today. Granted, he didn’t have the population, or nearly as much need to be an international player, that the position has now. Back then, you could walk right up to the White House door and knock without being tackled. People picnicked on the White House lawn. Those days are gone.
According to Wikipedia, Washington was also the first (and last) president to ride at the head of an army to suppress an insurgency. He did so during the Whiskey Rebellion.
I can sort of understand why people were so upset. Here’s this federally imposed tax on a commodity that was often used as a trade good in lieu of currency, when they had just fought the Revolutionary War because of taxation. But governments can’t operate for free, so Washington had to nip that in the bud.
Speaking of nipping things in the bud, I’d like to put to rest two rumors about Washington that seem to persist. First of all, he never had wooden teeth. I mean, hello. Wood expands when exposed to moisture, and who wants to risk splinters in their mouth? No, his extremely uncomfortable dentures were a combination of ivory and human teeth. While they often looked brown, that doesn’t mean they were wooden.
The other myth is that Washington was foul-mouthed. Not only was he not prone to cursing, even though he often had good reason to, but he prohibited cursing amongst his troops. All his writings indicate that he was a dignified man, not inclined to outbursts. He would have sooner died than utter the words “pussy” or “shithole”. In fact, according to NPR, he swore by a set of precepts called the Rules of Civility, as taught to him by Jesuit instructors, which included the following: “Use no reproachful language against any one; neither curse nor revile.”
George Washington was an honorable man. He’d have been horrified by Trump’s language and behavior. He would be sickened by Trump’s mocking attitude. It would have never occurred to him to ask for a military parade in his honor, and he certainly wouldn’t be upset that people did not applaud him when he thought they should. Washington was not about being worshipped or adored. And Washington would never, not in a million years, have dodged the draft.
George Washington was far from perfect, but in terms of ethics, morality, dignity and class, you might say that these two presidents are, indeed, centuries apart.