LAtest from your league
Here's the key-note address I delivered to the Worcester County League of Sportsmens' Clubs Appreciation Banquet on Saturday night at Wachusett Country Club. I received several requests to share it. We did not record it so this is the text I prepared. The actual speech included adlibbing.
I have no doubt that if George Washington were to magically appear at the cocktail party prior to our dinner, wearing modern clothing and speaking in the contemporary parlance, he would fit right in with all of the hunters, fishers, and lovers of the outdoors. Truly, he would be one of us.
I'm confident that many of you already know this about George Washington. And like me, maybe this is one of the reasons why you admire him. Tonight, I want to give you one more reason.
Perhaps I'll be sharing new information with you, or maybe I'll say things you already know, but have never heard them presented in this way.
You share so much in common with the father of our country. Yes, George Washington was many great things, and accomplished many great things, but his greatest love, maybe even more than Martha, was the outdoors.
His grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, wrote in 1860 that Washington enjoyed fox hunting during the fall and winter at Mount Vernon, often inviting his neighbors and business associates to join him in the sport. The only extended interruption of this tradition was during the War for Independence.
In his memoirs, Washington's grandson describes the incredible sight of the General on horseback, furiously chasing these "fiery animals" alongside packs of his beloved hunting dogs. Washington and his guests would rise before the sun, eat breakfast by candlelight and then head out. After the hunt, he would gather with the others for dinner and a couple glasses of Madeira. Then to bed by nine pm and up again for another day of hunting. This could go on for weeks.
Thomas Jefferson is one of the many people who describes Washington as THE finest and most skilled horseback rider of his age, whether in battle, the hunt, a race, parade, or just travel.
The only times Washington ever fell off a horse was when the animal tripped or the horse was shot out from under him. During the French and Indian War, two of his horses fell to a musket ball, and four musket balls made holes in his long blue overcoat.
Fishing was another of his favorite pastimes. In Washingtonâ€™s diaries there are entries for days when he would, "Go a dragging for Sturgeon" and sometimes "catch'd one" and sometimes "catch'd none." In 1787, he was visiting Philadelphia, he returned to what was left of his old winter encampment at Valley Forge and spent a day fishing.
Another entry describes an ocean fishing trip, he writes, "Having lines, we proceeded to the Fishing Banks a little without the Harbour and fished for Cod; but it not being a proper time of tide, we only caught two."
In 1790, a newspaper reported President Washington recovered from sickness by visiting the ocean and when he was feeling better, he went fishing. The newspaper account says Washington caught a great number of sea-bass and black fish. Iâ€™m assuming the black fish may have been Tautaug? I wonder, what was the minimum length to keep a Striper back then?
Actually, Washington likely would have supported limits to prevent over fishing or the extinction of a species.
He was a conservationist, devoted to the proper stewardship of the new worldâ€™s abundant natural resources.
He excelled in mathematics, despite having no formal education. He was likely tutored as a child, but he never attended college. His mathematical aptitude led to work as a surveyor in the Virginia wilderness. He understood the importance of planning and land management.
As a farmer at Mount Vernon, he innovated many methods that maximized crop yields while protecting future productivity. He experimented with fertilizers, and seed types. He designed and constructed a gristmill that was considered state of the art for its cleanliness and efficiency.
He kept elaborate records of weather, temperature, rainfall, soil conditions and erosion. He was also an expert breeder of hounds, he treated them like members of the family, much like we do with our own dogs.
And, George Washington presided over the convention that drafted our most important document, the Constitution. Which, as we all know, contains the bill of rights, and I believe all of us have a certain affinity for the second amendment.
So, he was a hunter, a fisher, a conservationist and a protector of the right to bear arms. Again, he would be quite popular here, and probably a better speaker than yours truly.
Follow me now, because in order to make my point, I need to first illustrate how Washington was a mortal, he was human, he made mistakes, had shortcomings, like all of us. For example, if George Washington were to appear here, he would not engage in one of the most common greetings. Washington did not like to shake hands. I donâ€™t think he was a germaphobe, or suffered with some form of OCD. Most historians theorize that he did not think it was a proper greeting and that his was beneath his dignity. Meaning, he was a snob.
Remember earlier when I said Washington may have loved the outdoors more than Martha?
Well, there is a consensus among historians that he married Martha and assumed responsibility for her two children because she was a very wealthy widow.
There are letters that show he professed his love for another woman and corresponded with her until his death.
Washington was vain. Remember when I said he lacked a formal education? In an era of brilliant men, Washington was not a deep thinker. He never wrote a book or even a long essay. He was embarrassed by his lack of training in the classics, Latin, Greek, spelling, and English grammar. How do we know?
Well, Washington's grammar and spelling improved as he aged. When he began to realize that he had an important place in history, Washington went back to things he had written, like his diaries and notes, to correct the misspellings and grammar. Historians regularly come across these notations while researching.
I for one am glad that we have spellcheck now, trust me, Iâ€™m covering my tracks.
In addition, George Washington would have been LL Beanâ€™s worst nightmare. You know, the outdoor catalog store that allows you to return any item, anytime. Prior to the revolution, the British restricted manufacturing in the colonies. Their reason was purely economic.
They wanted the colonists to buy most of their goods from British merchants. I have seen reproductions of many letters from Washington to British manufacturers complaining about the quality of things he had purchased, like Marthaâ€™s dresses or other finery. He regularly demanded refunds or replacements. Our first president would have tried the patience of even the most patient customer service rep.
Iâ€™ll wrap up this partial list of blemishes with this: It has become fashionable for many to dismiss the contributions of the founding fathers because they were slave owners. Iâ€™m not here to debate the complexity of that issue, but it is not widely known that upon his death, Washingtonâ€™s will provided for the freedom of all his slaves. He is the only slave owning founding father to do so. Jefferson wanted to, but he died in such great debt that his slaves were auctioned off on the lawn of Monticello to pay off his creditors.
Now to my point, Washington and Abraham Lincoln are universally considered the two best presidents in our nationâ€™s history. Some believe Lincoln is number one, others say Washington was our first and best president. I propose to you that not only was Washington the greatest president, he is also the greatest leader in the history of the world. I believe he became the greatest leader in world history before he was elected President, yes, itâ€™s what Washington did after the surrender of the British, securing the independence of the colonies and the birth of a new country. What did Washington do?
He went home. Yes, he went home. He resigned as commander of the continental army and went home to Mount Vernon. Iâ€™m not alone in marveling at this great accomplishment, many historians and writers have said the same. Even Washingtonâ€™s greatest enemy recognized the significance.
When it became obvious that the Americans would win the war, King George III asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, â€œThey say he will return to his farm.â€ Upon hearing that, King George said, â€œIf he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.â€
Following the end of the war, many Americans would have been quite happy to replace one King George with another King George. Itâ€™s true, Washington was so revered, that he could have easily assumed leadership over the United States of America.
And, frankly, Washington would have been behaving no differently than any other conquering general or revolutionary in history. Think about it, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Vladimir Lenin. They all assumed power following their victories. Our current president just returned from Cuba, where Fidel Castro led a revolution against a corrupt regime, only to install himself as the leader of a corrupt regime.
Remember the French revolution? They overturned the monarchy and then proceeded to cut many of their own heads off, trying to prove who was more loyal to the revolution. Thereâ€™s only one time in history that a revolution was not followed by another monarch or dictator.
There is only one revolution in history where peace and the orderly formation of a government was accomplished.
That's why when I hear someone like Bernie Sanders calling for revolution a chill goes up and down my spine, unlike the chill that goes up Chris Matthewsâ€™ leg when he hears Obama speak.
Every time someone calls for revolution it does not end well, except for our revolution and we can thank George Washington for that.
But wait, thereâ€™s more. After serving two terms as President, George Washington, again, went home. He could have run for office again and won, probably for the rest of his life.
Every successive president maintained that tradition for 150 years. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who broke it by thinking himself irreplaceable. The 22nd Amendment to the constitution made law, what Washington did himself, two terms and then a peaceful and orderly passing of the presidency to another.
It's no secret that while I always show respect the office of the President, I'm not a political fan of the current occupant. Mr. Obama has joked that he would like a third term and even claims he could win a third term. A bill to abolish the 22nd Amendment was recently introduced into Congress. Again, a chill goes up and down my spine because I do not see another George Washington on the horizon.
So let's raise our glasses and toast the greatest leader in the history of the world. Oh, and by the way, a toast is the most appropriate way to honor Washington. You see, after he left office, he didnâ€™t write a book, get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to make speeches, or form a shady family foundation to siphon money out of countries and corporations. Nope, he hired a Scotsman and built a distillery. At its peak, Washington's distillery produced over 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey. It was one of his most successful enterprises.
So hereâ€™s to George Washington, Sportsman, President, and distiller. Cheers