March: Caesar and Washington
I guess I could give this article the title: “A Tale of Two Generals.” One who saw an opportunity to grab power for himself and become dictator and did so. And the other who saw the same opportunity and declined. Both of these generals became the heads of state in their respective countries. The first while his country was the most powerful in the world. The second while his country was but a fledgling state, but would eventually become the most powerful in the world.
The first was Julius Caesar. He was perhaps one of the greatest military leaders of all time. After his Roman legions had conquered western Europe, known as Gaul, he brought his army back to Italy. The Roman Senate, fearful that he had plans on using his military to make himself dictator ordered him to stop his advance at the Rubicon River. However, the lust for power was strong in him and he crossed the river and indeed brought a civil war to Rome. He was victorious and consolidated his power, eventually was proclaimed “dictator in perpetuity.”
The second General was George Washington. In 1783, the fighting in the American Revolution was over. English and American diplomats were negotiating the peace. Washington’s army was encamped at Newburgh, New York keeping an eye on the British army, which still had control of New York City. The American officers were disgusted with Congress because they had not been paid and it looked like the pensions Congress had promised were not going to be issued. There was talk of a military coup. Nasty, threatening letters were sent to Congress. Historians look back on this today and realize how close America came to, well, not being the democratic-republic we are today.
On March 15, 44 BC, the Roman Senate solved the problem of Julius Caesar’s lust for power. They called him to the Senate and a number of the noble senators stabbed him to death. However, they could not make dictatorship go away. Eventually the republic ended and the empire began. From that time onward Rome was ruled by dictators.
1817 years later, on March 15, 1783, there was a meeting held in the temple at Newburgh, New York. Angry army officers were gathered to devise a plan to get their money or take over the government. But the door opened and George Washington entered. For the past eight years, they had served with him. They weren’t sure where he stood on the matter of the back pay and pensions. They were hoping he was on their side and would lead them again. He could have. They would gladly let him lead them in their quest to take over the country and be rid of Congress.
General Washington stood before them for a silent moment. He then gave them a short passionate speech in which he called for calm and patience. The officers didn’t seem to be having any of it. Then Washington took out a letter he had received from a member of Congress. He started to read it and then lay it down. He reached into his pocket and took out a pair of reading glasses. He said, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”
The officers thought back over the years of struggle for independence and all that General Washington had done for that cause. Many of them began to tear up and a few wept openly. Washington read the letter and the revolt was over. Later Washington is elected President and after two terms, he refused a third. He sought to serve his country not to rule his country.
Julius Caesar was by far the better general. George Washington was by far the better man and the better patriot.
The Bible warns us about lust for wealth and power. Jesus and Paul admonish believers to assume an attitude of humble service. For those who have the wherewithal, behaving like Caesar is very attractive. To set aside one’s desire for more power, as did Washington, is less attractive, but ultimately more profitable for all. Whether one is serving on a church board or serving as the CEO of a corporation, or the President of a country, one should don the mantle of service and forget the power trip.