America Needs a Leader Like George Washington

by | Feb 16, 2021

America needs to rediscover the Founders' commitment to individual rights.

A version of this article was first published in 2004. Capitalism Magazine is republishing it again because its message still remains relevant today.

On President’s Day, Americans have an opportunity to reflect on its Presidents–past and present–and particularly on those who have been great leaders. History is replete with examples of charismatic power-lusting “leaders” directing mindless and obedient legions on campaigns of suppression and destruction. But America’s great leaders have been different.

America has often been blessed, in times of crisis, with principled, moral leaders, directing this nation against history’s tyrants and in pursuit of freedom and the rights of man.

Now, once again facing a crisis, America searches for great leadership. Awash in a morass of moral compromise, poll-taking, and hesitation to offend world opinion, Americans desperately seize on any hint of strength, of moral certainty, of a refusal to swim with others in the swamp of compromise, empty rhetoric, and threats that now passes for “leadership” in Washington, D.C.

Where can Americans turn to witness the spectacle of great leadership?

On Presidents’ Day, this country should look, for inspiration and conviction, to America’s greatest leader, George Washington.

Washington, in company with the other Founding Fathers of America, was a son of the 18th century Enlightenment. His vision of America was one of responsible, independent, free, and hard-working citizens, prospering in a system of political and economic freedom. He believed that America would become a beacon of liberty and justice to men everywhere.

In the first 40 years of his life, Washington developed his guiding vision through hard work, the acceptance of military and entrepreneurial risk, and constant study. When the revolutionary crisis arrived, Washington had achieved economic, military, business, and social success. But much more important, he had achieved character. He was a man with a serene confidence in his own judgment, and with an implacable bedrock of principled moral conviction. All the personal prerequisites of great leadership were there, awaiting a national stage. And when, in 1775, the occasion arose, Washington displayed the greatest of his virtues, the one that has placed him, to this day, as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

George Washington was a man of impenetrable and towering integrity. He did not just espouse a vision; he acted in order to achieve and defend it.

Integrity is the virtue of remaining loyal to one’s convictions and values. A man who is able to hold to a principled course of action, to pursue his values relentlessly, without compromise, and to do so under duress and the scorn of others, deserves our deepest respect.

This is what George Washington can give to America on Presidents’ Day–the spectacle of vision and moral certainty, backed up by action. He realized the importance of freedom and individual rights, and he pursued these values rather than power, approval, or prestige. And when we realize that human life was at stake and that he entered this battle on a world stage, and at the risk of his life and everything he loved, we know we are in the presence of a man who deserves our reverential awe.

Washington’s integrity was on display, relentlessly and without interruption, from the time he accepted command of the colonial army until the end of his life.

We see him, at the beginning of his career, arriving in Cambridge to find a dispirited, sick, and unruly army looking out on a Boston harbor full of the masts of the British armada. Six months later, through determination, discipline, personal example, and effort limited only by fatigue, we find his army organized and ready to attack, watching Boston harbor empty, as the British withdraw.

In the middle of the war, we see him on that hazardous and fateful Christmas night, leading his army across the Delaware River to turn the tide of war. After a night-long march and the successful rout of a highly skilled enemy, he returns victorious across the Delaware.

Throughout his military career, we see him lead his troops into battle and ride into enemy fire. Sporting bullet holes in his hat and tunic, he was ever the inspiration to his troops.

At the end of the war, we find Washington quelling, through character alone, an incipient officer revolt.

And through two presidencies, we see his commitment to liberty underscore all of his acts and explain why, remaining aloof from political partisanship and petty squabbles, his integrity led him to being “the indispensable man” in America’s founding.

To rejoin–in spirit–Washington’s army, America needs to rediscover the Founders’ commitment to liberty, justice, and individual rights. On President’s Day, we should salute George Washington. The spectacle of his integrity can give us courage as we confront the tyrants who once again threaten our freedom and our lives.

Copyright 2004 Ayn Rand Institute. All rights reserved. That the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) has granted permission to Capitalism Magazine to republish this article, does not mean ARI necessarily endorses or agrees with the other content on this website.

Dr. John Ridpath, a retired associate professor of economics and intellectual history at York University in Toronto, Canada, is a member of the board of directors of The Ayn Rand Institute ( in Irvine, CA.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.


  1. The average American must rediscover the Founders’ commitment in order to even recognize a great leader if one appears. We need, more than a great leader of the past to look back to, important as that is, such a leader today, and even more, the Founders’ commitment. Washington, and the revolution, despite the victories after 1775, incurred serious setbacks before final, ultimate, victory. The character, integrity and commitment were indispensable before the odds, and setbacks. The same is true today and in the future, short range AND long range. The challenges will become as great as they were back then.

  2. President Washington owned slaves. I don’t think we need another president like that. Sorry but I am not a believer of this article. Is the author of this article trying to say that our nation should go back into the past and undo all of the progress that we have made so far? Is that what you are trying to say? That we need to own slaves again? The only thing I have to say about Pres. Washington is thanks for starting this great nation of ours. Because with our current President, we can now move into a future that is accepting of social equality and helps the disadvantaged. Not reflect on a turbulent past that was rooted in prejudice, segregation and social class hierarchies. Check your history books. I do not give thanks to Pres. Washington or Pres. Lincoln or Christopher Columbus. I give thanks to a leader that has no history of owning other people, who is trying to make a better future, and who is representative of the “working class”. Thank you Pres. Obama for sticking your neck out there for people, like the author of this article, to ridicule and demean and call names and throw sticks and stones at, so that the rest of us can have a better, brighter future. Thank you for taking the brunt of all of that so that our children will be able to grow up independent and assertive and be able to take your example and say: we will not take the ridicule and inequalities anymore. We will stand up for what is right and what we believe in no matter what anyone says or tries to influence other people to say, do or think. Thank you President Barrack Obama.

  3. Ms. Dunbar – I don’t think you read the same article that I did. There was nothing stated or implied in that article that we should “go back into the past and undo all of the progress”, or that we “need to own slaves again”. The article focused on Washington’s _integrity_ and other positive character traits, and held those up as examples of what is lacking in today’s “leaders”.

    Washington, as did most of the other founders, recognized slavery as the moral abomination that it is, and took the most important, essential first steps to eliminating it: declaring the inalienable rights of Man, and creating a government dedicated to securing those rights. History shows that they did the right thing, for it was _their_ ideas, codified in the Declaration and the Constitution, that were used to ban slavery – once enough people in the country reached the Founders level of understanding to make that possible (and it took a civil war to do it even so).

    The article did not go into any of that, however, since that was not its theme or purpose.

    To focus on the theme of the article, you express respect and admiration for Obama, but for what? What acts of his demonstrated integrity, honesty, courage or any other virtue? How can your claim that he deserves admiration or respect stand in the face of these acts of his:

    – Attending a church twice a week for 20 years that was run by a
    virulently anti-American, racist pastor, thereby showing that he himself is either a racist or a supporter of racism?

    – Blatantly lying to the American public numerous times?

    – Consciously ignoring or bypassing the Constitution many times?

    – Doing nothing while Americans, including an ambassador and soldiers defending him, were being attacked and murdered in a foreign country, and then lying to the nation for two weeks about what was happening?

    – Invading a country without authorization of any kind, resulting in that country being taken over by Islamic militants?

    – Supporting the ouster of a authoritarian leader in another country in favor of an Islamic militant who then imposed an Islamic dictatorship on its people?

    – Requiring the leaders of civilized nations such as Britain and Israel to enter the White House by the back door, while inviting dictators and their domestic advocates to enter by the front door?

    – Spending more money in one term than all previous presidents combined, making much worse an economic crisis caused by prior Presidents (including Carter and Clinton) who followed the same policies, and thereby creating a debt that cannot be repaid?

    – Getting numerous destructive, unaffordable and impractical laws (e.g., Obama care) passed?

    The acts stated above (and many, many more not mentioned) show that Obama has the character of a snake, and is therefore not even in the same universe, morally speaking, as people like Washington and Lincoln. Those men, as Dr. Ridpath said, were moral giants – Obama, as demonstrated by his own acts, is a moral zero.

  4. “social equality” = precisely identical automatons who think, feel and act precisely alike; who have exactly the same opportunities, react to them in exactly the same way and achieve exactly the same result; in a society that is stagnant, backward and brutal, with no achievers and no progress–only rulers whose arrogance is only surpassed by their desire to flatten everyone to the same level (like Obama, the poster boy for Plato’s Philosopher King).

    Or, speaking of Plato, if you prefer, the Ideal for which he (Plato) yearned:

    “The best ordered state will be one in which the largest number of persons … most nearly resembles a single person. The first and highest form of the State … is a condition in which the private and the individual is altogether banished from life, and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and in some way see and hear and act in common, and all men express praise and blame and feel joy and sorrow on the same occasion, and whatever laws there are unite the city to the utmost …” (Plato’s _Republic_ & _Laws_ c. 370 BCE)

    Thus, in essence, social equality makes everyone a slave. If slavery, to you, is so vile–and, incidentally, all African princes owned slaves, too; the diff between them & Washington is that the latter provided the means to wipe out slavery, which was done a mere 68 years (‘mere’ since slavery had existed for millennia (see Egypt; India; China; etc.)) after his presidency ended–why do you support such a despotic concept such as “social equality”?

    Rather than equality (in rights) before the law?

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