David Boaz’s Cato@Liberty piece, Beyond Toleration: George Washington’s View of Liberty, praises Washington, and concludes:
Let us continue to work toward George Washington’s dream of a world in which “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
I am not inclined to look upon Washington as some hero or paragon of virtue.
See here, for example:
During the Revolutionary War, state governments assumed the colonies’ authority to raise their short?term militias through drafts if necessary. They sometimes extended this to state units in the Continental Army, but they denied Gen. George Washington‘s request that the central government be empowered to conscript. As the initial volunteering slackened, states boosted enlistment bounties and held occasional drafts, producing more hired substitutes than actual draftees.
Nobody ever knows exactly how many people die in wars, but it’s likely that 25,000 to 50,000 people died in this one. … That would be equivalent today to two and a half million people dying to get England off our backs ….
Do you think the Indians cared about independence from England? No, in fact, the Indians were unhappy that we won independence from England, because England had set a line-in the Proclamation of 1763-that said you couldn’t go westward into Indian territory. They didn’t do it because they loved the Indians. They didn’t want trouble. When Britain was defeated in the Revolutionary War, that line was eliminated, and now the way was open for the colonists to move westward across the continent, which they did for the next 100 years, committing massacres and making sure that they destroyed Indian civilization.
Did blacks benefit from the American Revolution? … Slavery was there before. Slavery was there after. Not only that, we wrote slavery into the Constitution. We legitimized it
… Do you know that there were mutinies in the American Revolutionary Army by the privates against the officers? The officers were getting fine clothes and good food and high pay and the privates had no shoes and bad clothes and they weren’t getting paid. They mutinied. Thousands of them. So many in the Pennsylvania line that George Washington got worried, so he made compromises with them. But later when there was a smaller mutiny in the New Jersey line, not with thousands but with hundreds, Washington said execute the leaders, and they were executed by fellow mutineers on the order of their officers.
“[T]he British Constitution is more like a republic than an empire. They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men. . . . An empire is a despotism, and an emperor is a despot, bound by no law or limitation but his own will; it is a stretch of tyranny beyond absolute monarchy. For, although the will of an absolute monarch is law, yet his edicts must be registered by parliaments. Even this formality is not necessary in an empire.” ~ John Adams, Novanglus Papers, 1775….
Empire has always meant, not only a collapse of the idea of Law, but an enormous centralization of power, not only in foreign and military affairs, but domestically as well, with huge unaccountable bureaucracies developed to administer the State.
An interesting question is when did America change from a Republic to an Empire?
… I would suggest, however, that the Empire issue was already evident at the time of the American Revolution and the birth of the Republic itself. The crucial differences within the Revolutionary Coalition, and the debates preceding the Revolution among Classical Republicans dating back to the English Revolution and earlier, are totally obscured by that sweet little phrase, “the Founding Fathers.”For want of space, let us discuss just one issue that concerned Classical Republican theorists; Standing Armies ….
The British proscription of Standing Armies in 1694 meant the Army to put down both the Americans and the Irish rebels must be stationed outside the British Isles. Halifax, Nova Scotia, was an ideal spot on the North Atlantic Triangle to station what Jimmy Carter would centuries later call, “a Rapid Deployment Force (RDF). The unpopularity of the War in America meant Hessian mercenaries as well.
Classical Republican theory’s alternative to a Standing Army that led to Empire, was the idea of a decentralized “People’s Militia.” General George Washington never liked the idea of a Militia because it never fitted into his kind of traditional 18th century warfare, of lines on infantry firing at each other at close range with famously inaccurate muskets. No wonder the British Redcoats prayed for rain so they could fix bayonets for a charge against the less experienced Americans.
Yet, as military historians such as John Shy have noted, it was the Militia that was always the “sand in the gears” of the British military machine. Properly used, as by General Nathaniel Greene in the later campaign in the South, the Militia made a significant contribution. Because the British never controlled very much of North America outside of New York City for any length of time, there was very little of today’s “guerrilla warfare” possible, but in that one area the guerrilla Militia was formidable.
What has been obscured by historians is that one wing of the American Revolutionary Coalition was already into the idea of Empire, and that General George Washington was a prime mover in that view. Even during the crucial battles in the South in 1781, Washington sent General LaFayette to negotiate with the Militia of Vermont, Ethan Allen’s “Green Mountain Boys,” about launching another attack to take Canada. By that time, the Militia understood the game about as well as do our high-priced Halliburton and Blackwater contractors in Iraq today, and demanded “double pay, double rations and plunder,” the last certainly a give-away of the imperial nature of the proposed venture, and a perfect way of countering Washington’s proposed expedition. As a result, the “Boys” returned to Vermont.
Peace might have been had in 1777–78, after the victory at Saratoga, and before the alliance with France, had the War Party in the American Coalition been willing to negotiate with the Carlisle Peace Commission, leaving out its continued demand for Canada.
Washington’s dislike of the Militia carried over into his presidency in the 1790?s with his handling of the so-called “Whiskey Rebellion” by using Militia from distant states, because the local rebels themselves were apt to be Militia. What the historian Richard Kohn called the “Murder of the Militia System” was also related perhaps to the need to use regular army troops for “Indian Removal,” an action many veterans later described as the most despicable in their careers.
Much has been made by some opponents of Interventionism, in suggesting that we go back to Washington’s Farewell Address, of “no entangling alliances,” as a model for the country today. I believe this a misreading of the Washington-Alexander Hamilton view, that this really meant an open door to unilateral intervention.
As exhibit one, I would offer Washington’s aid to the French Creoles in Haiti in 1792, in an effort to thwart the Blacks revolting there. Here was America’s first effort at “foreign aid,” some $726,000 at a time when that was real money! As a southerner and slaveholder, Washington was concerned that Black revolt would carry over into the United States. How different, really, was his effort from the dozens of American efforts in the last decades to prop up despots and counter-revolutionaries with financial resources to keep them in power?
Update: here is Boaz repeating the Reagan myth.