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Why the First Election and A Reluctant President Still Matter

Win McNamee/Getty Images News

Over two hundred years ago, Americans cast their votes for the first President of the United States of America. Wildly popular, George Washington ran virtually unopposed.

In the wake of winning independence from Britain and establishing a government, Washington was tired. He wanted to return to Mount Vernon and live the quiet life of a country gentleman. He resisted the idea of being his young country’s first President, but a deluge of letters from citizens everywhere implored him not to refuse. Of course he eventually acquiesced, but not before remarking, “I feel very much like a man who is condemned to death does when the time of his execution draws nigh.”

Each elector, appointed by states who’d ratified the Constitution at the time of the election, was given two votes. All cast at least one of their two votes for Washington resulting in his unanimous election.

At the end of his first term, President Washington wanted badly to retire. His eyesight and hearing were failing, but problems were already visible in an adolescent and tempestuous America. A political fracture emerged between the Northern and Southern halves, and his advisers warned the South was eying the formation of a separate nation. Once more, Washington cast aside his own preference to heed the distressed call of his nation and her people.

Washington’s service as President of the United States concluded in 1787. He returned to his beloved home and set to work erasing the damage wrought by ten years of neglect. On December 13, 1789, Washington dipped his quill in ink and scratched his thoughts across the pages of his diary for the final time. The next morning, he complained of a sore throat and by midnight the following evening he was gone.

Contained in his forty-two page will were the instructions that his swords be passed to his five nephews. He implored they never “unsheathe them for the purpose of shedding blood, except it be for self defense, or in defense of their Country and its rights; and in the latter case, to keep them unsheathed, and prefer falling with them in their hands, to the relinquishment thereof.”

Protecting this admittedly flawed, yet magnificent democracy was never far from the corners of Washington’s mind, even as death approached. What a remarkable lineage we have.

Today, let us honor those who defend the rights that Washington fought so completely for.

Unsheathe your swords and vote.

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