FEBRUARY 23, 1949
HYDE PARK, Tuesday—Every country has certain national heroes, and for us George Washington always has had a special place because he was our first President. He endured untold hardships in his efforts to keep an undisciplined army together so that we might be free. He was a man of means who could have lived comfortably at home and ignored the need for establishing in this new world a free and independent nation. He chose, instead, to part company with the conservative group and to join with the revolutionaries.
Many people in his day must have cried: "Traitor to his class." But General Washington seems to have paid no attention to them. His most intimate friends were those who were working most ardently to bind the various states into a new nation.
I have always been especially interested in the ceremony that took place on the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York when Chancellor Livingston administered the oath of office to George Washington. Since the chancellor was my ancestor it creates a tie for me with George Washington. Afterwards President and Mrs. Washington lived in New York City for a time and there is a little book that describes the house in which they lived and some of their entertainments.
Perhaps General Washington was too stern a character. The acceptance of responsibility at a very young age is apt to make one somewhat stern and yet his letters to his wife show his love and devotion and deep solicitude for those he left at home. No young nation can be born without some leaders who are determined to see the nation live and establish itself as far as possible on a firm foundation. The United States certainly was fortunate to have an outstanding group of statesmen to surround George Washington and doubly fortunate in the fact that General Washington himself was a man of such integrity and unselfishness. May we long celebrate his birthday.
As we celebrate our holiday I think we are sometimes more apt to be concerned about the pleasure that we take in not having to work, and we think very little about the real reason why business is temporarily suspended. Without question, the holiday was arranged in the hope that it would bring to our minds the qualities that our early settlers had, a reminder of the dangers lurking about. At the same time that we have an opportunity to weigh the man who led us in critical times and to compare him to those who are now living and helping us to solve the problems of our day. It is well to gauge the character of the men who carried the burdens of the past to make sure that the men of today, who are our leaders, are as worthy to become the heroes of this period.
Ever since the establishment of our country there have been periods of great stress and strain. I do not think we have any right to feel that we are under any greater strain than were the people in the days of the Revolution. I only hope that several hundred years from now people reading our history will feel that the leaders of today lived up to the traditions of Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe and so are as worthy of our respect and veneration.