While in D.C. last week, in this most unusual season of the American Presidential election, it seemed more than appropriate, if not imperative, to visit Mount Vernon – the estate of our first president, George Washington.
This historic property has been painstakingly maintained and developed into an exceptional educational facility on unspoiled grounds with uninterrupted, breath-taking views. Experiencing the beauty of the surroundings is magnificent. Learning about the history and minute details of this extraordinary man’s life is fascinating.
Did you know when Washington was elected our first President in the initial forming of the United States, presidents were selected only through the vote of the Electoral college, rather than by popular vote? The 69 votes that Washington received in 1789, and the 132 he received in 1792 were all of the available Electoral College votes, and resulted in thereby making Washington the only president in United States history to have been elected unanimously.
Did you know that Washington’s presidency founded the United States Navy, established the nation’s official currency, created the State Department, and established the Supreme Court?
Gary S. Smith wrote in March 2010: While praising his military and political record, many scholars contend that Washington’s genius lies principally in his character. The only other American president who has been so highly extolled for his character is Abraham Lincoln. Since Washington, all presidents have been ultimately measured not by the size of their electoral victories or the success of their legislative programs, but by their moral character. His character helped sustain his troops throughout the travails of the Revolutionary War, convince delegates to the Constitutional Convention to assign significant powers to the presidency, secure ratification of the Constitution, and enable the new republic to survive in a hostile world….He took the standards of his age very seriously and diligently strove to be virtuous. To many, the crowning achievement of Washington’s character was his simultaneous resignation in 1783 as commander in chief o the American army and his retirement from the world of politics. Throughout the western world, his unprecedented relinquishing of power (which he did a second time when he declined a third term as president) was widely heralded. Unlike other victorious generals, he did not expect a political or financial reward for his military exploits. Washington’s character, Jefferson argued, probably prevented the American Revolution from subverting the liberty it sought to establish. The Virginian had a sterling reputation for integrity and honor, dedication to duty and his country, and remaining above the fray.
It is with such depth of character and broad view of his world that he was unanimously regarded as the only man who could effect change of the magnitude required to bring people together.
This many years after his death he still has a powerful effectiveness for bringing people together. The tour of this amazingly preserved property is intimate and familiar – even on one’s first visit. It’s partly scale and partly due to the well-versed guides that are scattered in every pocket of the place. They bring the historic home and it’s people to life.
While attending my Alma Mater, Mount Vernon College (no relation), in the interior design program, we toured this historic interior with rapt attention to decorative art and architectural details. One expects the facade to be white painted wood – but as you see it up close, you realize that it reads like beveled stone blocks. It is actually wood, shaped to replicate stone, with a sanded coating that gives a stone-like texture.
Interior finishes also reveal faux artistry upon closer inspection, with the paneled walls and doors painted with wood grain creating stunning matched patterns. Superficial treatments of faux finishes were elegant touches of the day.
Washington was truly a Renaissance man. He worked with the finest minds in agriculture and technology to develop new techniques for farming, implements and gadgets around the property. He recognized the toll tobacco took on depleting the nutrients in his fields paired with the time it took to grow and harvest and heavy taxes that were levied during trade and changed his operation to grow wheat which had limitless less expensive outlets for marketing and was easier on all counts of growing.
On the advice of his Scottish farm manager he created a distillery which produced more whiskey than any of its kind in his day. You too can purchase a bottle of Washington’s whiskey today for a mere minimum of $100 per.
His sensitivity to art and architecture, entertaining and hospitality, paired with the strength to lead the noble cause of freedom, managing troops, raising morale and keeping promises while always at the helm risking his life alongside his men and participating to the fullest in his every endeavor speaks to the moral character and brilliant creativity of this extraordinary man.
So, to sum up this unprecedented level of discourse in the current election season and questionable characters on the part of our candidates, I was left with finding levity in the Mount Vernon gift shop…