The Winning 2009 Oration
By Philip Bryan Hayes
Contest held July 5th, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia
Last summer I had the opportunity to travel to Mt. Vernon, the Virginia home of our first President, George Washington. As I walked the grounds I was struck at how the personality of Washington was evident in every aspect of the plantation. You had the prestigious head of state evident in the immense gardens and lavish mansion, but also the simple farmer in the plain study and unadorned barns. The desire for independence was clearly seen in his efforts to make Mt. Vernon itself self-sufficient, and his pious nature was evident in the chapel. Washington, the Lord of Mt. Vernon, was without a doubt firmly rooted in his principles and values, and because of his lifework the nation he has founded has become the strongest in the world. George Washington's impact is immeasurable, from his work as a Commander-In-Chief, first President of the United States, and his lasting legacy today.
Washington without a doubt adhered firmly to the founding principles. When called upon he left his beloved Mt. Vernon estate to travel to the second continental congress as a delegate. By this time the first shots at Lexington and Concord had been fired and the British held Boston. Washington appeared at the congress in his military uniform, to demonstrate his readiness to fight for freedom. He was even reported as saying, " …I am prepared to raise 1000 men, subsist them at my own expense, and march to the relief of Boston." The statement embodies the qualities that had Washington unanimously confirmed as Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army, a post he held for eight years, enduring hardships, setbacks, privations, but ultimately, through his fortitude, victory. When I read Bruce Chadwick's biography, George Washington's War, I was moved by the account of a British warship that sailed up the Potomac River past Mt. Vernon. George Washington's servant in charge of the estate sent the British Commander numerous provisions and supplies as a way to ensure that Mt. Vernon remains untouched. Upon hearing this George Washington became enraged, so fervent was his adherence to freedom's cause that he said it would have been better for the British to have burned Mt. Vernon to the ground and decimated his livelihood than to have the forces of tyranny aided by his own purse. To further demonstrate his devotion to freedom's principles, he surrendered his commission back to Congress, rejecting the opportunity numerous times to be a military dictator. He was so dedicated to the founding principles that he would not accept a salary for his services, seeing them as a duty to his country. After the war he was unanimously selected to lead the Constitutional Convention, ensuring that the form of government the nation created adhered to the founding principles, and as President he held this nation together through a tumultuous time, enduring the nation remained united and that freedom did not falter.
As President, Washington had to draw on the skills he had used to hold the Army together as Commander in Chief in order to hold the fragile new Nation together. The idea of a national identity to the people was as foreign to them as being a "citizen of the United Nations" is to Americans today. Isn't that a scary thought? The disparate backgrounds of the states caused an understandable mistrust of each other. Washington faced the task of uniting all the different peoples a