By Greg Caput, County Supervisor
To what standards are we held or judged by? If the standard is perfection, then everyone fails. A symbol of George Washington is under scrutiny at the Watsonville City Plaza. He was a victorious hero of the revolution 245 years ago that gave individuals the right of self-determination.
Certainly, he was not perfect because slavery remained in the United States. If we weigh the benefits and the burdens of Washington, maybe, we can examine his history. He and the other revolutionaries had to form an alliance to overthrow a monarchy in order to have self-rule and democracy, which was unheard of at the time. In order to reach this goal, an alliance included free and slave states to fight the British army. Could they have formed a constitution and democracy without unjust alliances? Probably not. However, every road to justice started somewhere. It can be argued that was back in the year 1776 and we should know better now.
Abraham Lincoln was criticized for moving too slow with the Emancipation Proclamation during the civil war from 1861-65. He made many statements of keeping the union Together as the primary goal. His fear was losing the support of the border states that were split with the Union or Seceding, for example, Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee. He made his decisions during a war that cost the lives of 900,000 Americans.
Let’s look at modern history to put this in perspective. In 1941 the allies during World War II fought against a man named Hitler, who sought world domination. Germany was steam rolling over Europe and Africa, and had to be stopped by force. Compare Neville Chamberlain to Winston Churchill. At the same time, our allies included England and Russia. However, later, Stalin, the leader of Russia, turned out to be almost as cruel as our enemy at the time. After losing more than 450,000 Americans during the war, the big three of Franklin Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin worked together. Yet, we universally recognize Roosevelt as a great President that led us out of the Great Depression, put America back to work and formed social security. Roosevelt also had negatives, he signed the opening of relocation camps and had American citizens of Japanese descent uprooted from their home and sent to live in prison-like camps in different parts of the United States.
Should Roosevelt be judged by a current standard or do we forgive him for his faults and recognize his actions were a product of circumstance?
George Washington and the other mostly wealthy leaders at the time risked their lives and fortunes to fight for a free government run by the people. Washington was so popular during his time that he could have been like a King in power. He stopped a rally of veterans from overthrowing the Continental Congress because they were not paid a pension or back pay for their military service. Yes, Washington had slaves that he set free in his last will and testament. He was from Virginia. Yet he also created the justice system that some would want to tear down with him. He created our justice system with the Judiciary Act of 1789. Washington has the wonderful words of atonement, forgiveness and rehabilitation on his side.
If we apply our current moral standards to the past, we may set the bar at almost unreachable height. Our nation’s history is flawed but hopefully we are trying to make it better. I love our country and I am proud of George Washington as one of our founding fathers.
Greg Caput is Santa Cruz County Supervisor in the Fourth District. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian. Contact Supervisor Caput at [email protected]