Integrity

Integrity. The Army defines it as “Do what’s right, legally and morally. Integrity is a quality you develop by adhering to moral principles. It requires that you do and say nothing that deceives others. “ It was exemplified by the life of the man born this date in 1732: George Washington.

We’ve heard the story of the cherry tree, told by Mason Weems in his Life of Washington, published in 1818. When George was six, his father gave him a hatchet—and George went around the yard chopping everything, including a young English cherry tree. When confronted by his father he squirmed for a moment but then bravely said, “ I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.”

Weems tells the story to suggest that Washington’s character was apparent even when he was young. Historians disagree—arguing instead that he forged it through the trials he faced as he rose to prominence.

Historian Gordon S. Wood, in an article on “The Greatness of George Washington,” writes,

Washington had no smashing, stunning victories. He was not a military genius, and his tactical and strategic maneuvers were not the sort that awed men. Military glory was not the source of his reputation. Something else was involved. Washington’s genius, his greatness, lay in his character. He was, as Chateubriand said, a ‘hero of unprecedented kind.’ There had never been a great many like Washington before. Washington became a great man and was acclaimed as a classical hero because of the way he conducted himself during times of temptation. It was his moral character that set him off from other men.

Washington fit the 18th-century image of a great man, of a man of virtue. This virtue was not given to him by nature. He had to work for it, to cultivate it, and everyone sensed that. Washington was a self-made hero, and this impressed an 18th-century enlightened world that put great stock in men controlling both their passions and their destinies. Washington seemed to possess a self-cultivated nobility.

Let us then be men and women of integrity, whose characters inspire trust and confidence, as in the case of that man who was “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”