Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

Personality of Washington

It would seem that a few personal remarks about George Washington at this point might not be out of place. Later on his part in this history will more fully appear.

The author points with some pride to a study of Washington's great act in crossing the Delaware, from a wax-work of great accuracy. The reader will avoid confusing Washington with the author, who is dressed in a plaid suit and on the shore, while Washington may be seen in this end of the boat with the air of one who has just discovered the location of a glue-factory on the side of the river.

A directory of Washington's head-quarters has been arranged by the author of this book, and at a reunion of the general's body-servants to be held in the future the work will be on sale.

The name of George Washington has always had about it a glamour that made him appear more in the light of a god than a tall man with large feet and a mouth made to fit an old-fashioned full-dress pumpkin pie.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


George Washington's face has beamed out upon us for many years now, on postage-stamps and currency, in marble and plaster and in bronze, in photographs of original portraits, paintings, and stereoscopic views. We have seen him on horseback and on foot, on the war-path and on skates, playing the flute, cussing his troops for their shiftlessness, and then, in the solitude of the forest, with his snorting war-horse tied to a tree, engaged in prayer.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


We have seen all these pictures of George, till we are led to believe that he did not breathe our air or eat American groceries. But George Washington was not perfect. I say this after a long and careful study of his life, and I do not say it to detract the very smallest iota from the proud history of the Father of his Country. I say it simply that the boys of America who want to become George Washingtons will not feel so timid about trying it.

When I say that George Washington, who now lies so calmly in the lime-kiln at Mount Vernon, could reprimand and reproach his subordinates, at times, in a way to make the ground crack open and break up the ice in the Delaware a week earlier than usual, I do not mention it in order to show the boys of our day that profanity will make them resemble George Washington. That was one of his weak points, and no doubt he was ashamed of it, as he ought to have been. Some poets think that if they get drunk and stay drunk they will resemble Edgar A. Poe and George D. Prentice. There are lawyers who play poker year after year and get regularly skinned because they have heard that some of the able lawyers of the past century used to come home at night with poker-chips in their pockets.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Whiskey will not make a poet, nor poker a great pleader. And yet I have seen poets who relied on the potency of their breath, and lawyers who knew more of the habits of a bobtail flush than they ever did of the statutes in such case made and provided.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


George Washington was always ready. If you wanted a man to be first in war, you could call on George. If you desired an adult who would be first baseman in time of peace, Mr. Washington could be telephoned at any hour of the day or night. If you needed a man to be first in the hearts of his countrymen, George's post-office address was at once secured.

Though he was a great man, he was once a poor boy. How often you hear that in America! Here it is a positive disadvantage to be born wealthy. And yet sometimes I wish they had experimented a little that way on me. I do not ask now to be born rich, of course, because it is too late; but it seems to me that, with my natural good sense and keen insight into human nature, I could have struggled along under the burdens and cares of wealth with great success. I do not care to die wealthy, but if I could have been born wealthy it seems to me I would have been tickled almost to death.

I love to believe that true greatness is not accidental. To think and to say that greatness is a lottery, is pernicious. Man may be wrong sometimes in his judgment of others, both individually and in the aggregate, but he who gets ready to be a great man will surely find the opportunity.

You will wonder whom I got to write this sentiment for me, but you will never find out.

In conclusion, let me say that George Washington was successful for three reasons. One was that he never shook the confidence of his friends. Another was that he had a strong will without being a mule. Some people cannot distinguish between being firm and being a big blue donkey.

Another reason why Washington is loved and honored to-day is that he died before we had a chance to get tired of him. This is greatly superior to the method adopted by many modern statesmen, who wait till their constituency weary of them, and then reluctantly pass away.

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N. B.—Since writing the foregoing I have found that Washington was not born a poor boy,—a discovery which redounds greatly to his credit,—that he was able to accomplish so much, and yet could get his weekly spending money and sport a French nurse in his extreme youth. B. N.