What made George Washington great? This is a question that comes to mind at this time of year. Washington’s birthday was observed on the 16th, and his actual birthday is still coming up, on the 22nd.
People who admire the founders often refer to them as geniuses, and there were certainly many who deserved high praise for the power or reach of their minds: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Marshall. Most people, however, would probably not apply the word genius to George Washington, who nevertheless is usually accepted as the greatest man among the founders. Washington was an intelligent man, to be sure. But he did not have the kind of education, nor the philosophic interests, of many of the other leading founders.
What, then, made him so great? Why was he this indispensable man and nobody else? I think it was his character. His unfailing self-command, combined with his intelligence and patriotism, made him the best statesman among the long, even though others might have exceeded him in other departments.
I make this argument at greater length in this piece at the Daily Signal.