August wanes, statues and reputations lie in the dust, memory and reverence get lost beneath the wild scrawl of black spray paint, the heat intensifies, at least here in Florida, and perhaps, too, in my native New England. The political climate is toxic. Violent history is being made by those who have no sense of — or respect for — history or historic figures, even the most virtuous. For that matter, virtue, objectively defined and understood, is in eclipse.
Excuse a random political meditation, therefore, on one of those people who has suffered at the hands of vandals and historical Marxists in the current vile culture war — I speak of the the man many of us still call the Father of Our Country.
A probing into the life and legacy of George Washington reveals a man who, among all the Founders, was undeniably unique in stature. In his lifetime, he enjoyed the unequaled esteem of his countrymen. The veneration has continued into posterity — and rightly so. Ignore the testimonials of ignorant vandals.
It has become a part of the current rancorous narrative of the culture wars to point out that George Washington was a slave owner, freeing his slaves only very belatedly, though clearly, from the record and his own writings, tortured by the cultural realities from which he knew our nation — and he personally — must aspire be liberated, just as he helped liberate us from the British.
But let us speak about Washington’s well-documented magnanimity — ultimately toward those slaves but also toward the religious — especially the Catholics — of his day who regularly endured hostility in the Anglosphere out of which our nation emerged.
I have learned that when the Continental Army first mustered on Cambridge Common north of Harvard Square in 1775, some soldiers sought to re-enact the anti-Catholic English custom, so popular in the England AND New England of that day, of burning the Pope, the Vicar of Christ in effigy on Guy Fawkes Day. This was in raucous observance of the foiling of the November 5, 1605 Gunpowder Plot, the failed attempt on the life of King James I, Guy Fawkes being one of the prime conspirators.
Washington issued a General Order on November 5, 1775 that spoke of the “ridiculous and childish Custom” of keeping such a prejudicial observance and expressed surprise “that there should be Officers and Soldiers, in this army so void of common sense as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this juncture at a time when we are soliciting and have really obtain’d the friendship & alliance of the people of Canada” (which was overwhelming Catholic at the time). Washington went on, “to be insulting their religion is so monstrous as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are much indebted for every late happy success over the common enemy in Canada.”
It has been noted by C.J. Doyle, Executive Director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, that “Washington’s sympathy for the one percent of Americans who were then Catholic was unusual, profound, longstanding and without possible political advantage.”
Just thought I’d mention this amid the current iconoclastic, venomous and decidedly anti-Catholic atmosphere in which we find ourselves at this hot and ragged end of the summer of this year we shall not soon forget — and that, to borrow another President’s phrase, shall live in infamy — unless we can redeem ourselves before it draws to a close. And I count victory not as mere tolerance of one another, but of the triumph of the kind of magnanimity and virtue so obviously manifested by, yes, our national Patriarch.