A new Gallup Poll shows that Americans are most likely to say that Ronald Reagan was our greatest president. Reagan had many good qualities, but this is not plausible. Following Reagan in the poll was Lincoln, who despite a devastating war and a vast expansion of government, did end slavery and preserve the union. Then come Clinton and Kennedy, about whom one can only bemoan the historical illiteracy of the voters. They were actually the top two picks among Democrats, followed by Obama.
Only in fifth place do we find George Washington, the man who led the revolution that created the United States and then ensured that it became an enduring republic. Washington’s accomplishments are the subject of my weekly column at the Britannica blog:
Had he been a Caesar, a Cromwell, a Napoleon, we know what he would have done. A French officer who wrote a book about the new country of America told us what he in fact did: “This is the seventh year that he has commanded the army and that he has obeyed the Congress; more need not be said.” But one more thing was said: The Commander in Chief traveled to Annapolis, where the Continental Congress was meeting, returned his commission, and said, “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.” And he created a new order for the ages.
It is appropriate that we still celebrate the birth of George Washington — and in fact the actual federal holiday on the third Monday in February is Washington’s Birthday.