Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
Dew-drops, which the Sun
on every leaf and every flouer
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.
E = M
Energy is eternal delight.
Impearls: GWAC: Introduction
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Most people forget the role Washington performed between the war (the Revolutionary War, where he played a decisive part in obtaining the victory), and his two terms as first President of the United States. Historian Allan Nevins wrote about that seeming hiatus, especially with regard to Washington's commanding presence as presiding officer at the Constitutional Convention, full of portent for the future: 1
For insight in this regard, let's turn to that delightful collection of fantasy dinner conversations with great personages of history Van Loon's Lives, published 1942 — prepared for the edification and inspiration of his grandchildren by Dutch-American historian and journalist Hendrik Willem van Loon, who arrived on America's shores in 1903 at the tender age of 19.
In the foreword to his imaginary dinner with both William of Orange (known as the Silent; founder of the 16th-century Dutch Republic, whose declaration of independence from the Habsburg Spanish Empire, the Act of Abjuration, left reverberations echoing down through history to our own Declaration of Independence), as well as George Washington (father some two centuries after William of America's Republic), van Loon ended his introduction to Washington's life (which we'll soon consider in detail) with the following penetrating comment: 2
We've already pointed to Washington's critical role in the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, which may also be attributed to the force of his character on the Convention and country. But there is another aspect in which Washington's character had a terrific impact on the future of the fledgling nation, and that is the manner in which he departed the office of Presidency.
One should observe that in all the centuries-long history of the Roman Empire (so analogous to America in certain ways, but in this respect so totally different) there was only a single emperor — to wit, Diocletian (regnant 284-305 a.d.) — who managed at the end of his reign to retire and devote the remainder of his days to gardening. * All other emperors of the Empire either died in office or were bloodily overthrown.
(*Diocletian's retirement palace — one can see an illustration of what it looked like here — over time transformed into the ancient historical core of the modern Adriatic coastal city of Split in Croatia.)
Washington retired from office after only two terms, less than a decade. He could have run again, but chose not to, setting a lasting, shining example for future American Presidents — whose tradition continued unbroken until, with World War II raging abroad, Franklin Roosevelt chose to stand for a third, and then a fourth term. (After the war, a constitutional amendment enforcing a two-term limit was ratified.)
Washington and the Founders went even further in emphasizing a specifically Roman counterexample in an attempt to offset any tendency toward military instability such as Roman history so well exemplified, by creating an official association of Revolutionary War officers — the Society of Cincinnati — explicitly inspired by the Roman citizen-farmer Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (born circa 519 b.c.), who became Roman Consul and then (emergency) Dictator, but after the foe was vanquished, retired once again to his farm.
Washington and subsequent Presidents' example was such a success that nothing like a military rebellion has ever occurred in U.S. history.
And still, even today, America continues to transition authority wholly peacefully from one President to the next — in what is really a revolution: every election in a democracy is a revolution — an entirely peaceful revolution — yet one so many people in this country blithely take wholly for granted.
For me, though, given the stark precedents from Roman history, whenever I see each peaceful transfer of power occur, I consider it almost a miracle.
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