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Celebrating Washington

Of George Washington's qualities singled out by historians, especially on the anniversary of his birth, communication ability is rarely mentioned. Washington was not a good speaker. He was shy on the public platform and it was not uncommon for him to tremble on such occassions.

Washington wrote extensively over the course of half a century of public service; analysts have remarked more about the fine quality of his handwriting, however, than the substance of his writings. Although Washington was not as intellectual in his prose as Thomas Jefferson or as deft with the humorous, incisive pen as Benjamin Franklin, he was a clear and succinct writer. His substance, moreover, reflected a philosophy that was not only sound for his era but prophetic and even suitable today, as reflected by the following selections ranging from personal manners to weighty matters of state:

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''However unimportant America may be considered at present, and however Britain may affect to despise her trade, there will assuredly come a day, when this country will have some weight in the scales of empires'' (1786).

''Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad Company'' (1745).

''It is to be regretted I confess, that democratical states must always feel before they can see; it is this that makes their governments slow, but the people will be right at last'' (1785).

''Be not tedious in discourse or in reading unless you find the company pleased therewith'' (1745).

''There is so little dependence on newspaper publications, which take whatever complexion the editors please to give them, that persons at a distance, who have no other means of information, are oftentimes at a loss to form an opinion on the most important occurrences'' (1797).

''If they are good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa or Europe; they may be Mahometans, Jews or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists. I would, however, prefer middle aged to young men, and those who have good countenances, and good characters . . .'' (1784).

''A century hence, . . . will produce a city, though not as large as London, yet of a magnitude inferior to few others in Europe, on the banks of the Potomac , where one is now establishing for the permanent seat of the government of the United States, . . . a situation not excelled, for commanding prospect, good water, salubrious air, and safe harbour, by any in the world; and where elegant buildings are erecting and in forwardness for the reception of Congress in the year 1800'' (1798).