A message from the first president to the 45th

By Fred Benson

Dear Sire,

I bring you salutations on the occasion of your inauguration as president. By a process unknown to my generation, I have been made aware of the contentious atmosphere surrounding the contest recently completed. These so-called “tweets” reveal a disturbing array of hostility found rarely in the years separating us.

Admittedly, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, Burr and I had our difficulties in establishing this grand experiment called democracy, and I am sure that Lincoln met with much unhappiness in his time, but the current state of dissatisfaction appears otherwise to be without precedent.

There were some from my era who believed that commitment to the fundamental values thought by us to be essential to the survival of a democracy would weaken over time. But whenever this appeared to be the case, previous presidents rallied the citizenry to ensure that our nation would move forward in a cohesive manner. It appears as though you may be destined, once again, to perform this arduous task.

You will begin your term of office having been elected by a minority of the popular vote into an environment in which a majority of U.S. citizens remain concerned about the manner in which you will discharge your responsibilities. The U.S. presidency is often described as the most powerful leadership position in the world, but the strength inherent in that position need not be on constant display in words of disparagement and divisiveness.

Listening, learning and understanding other views are essential elements of effective presidential leadership. I respectfully urge that you further familiarize yourself with those practices.

As a young pupil, I was given the task of researching and recording then-current writings on the art of human behavior. With all humility, I call to your attention items from that completed assignment most pertinent to the situation enveloping you at present. I pray you may find them helpful in shaping your performance as president on which occasion I and the 43 others who have preceded you wish you well. Our beloved nation is in your hands.

Unedited excerpts from George Washington’s “Civility and Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation”:

“Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect to those that are Present.

“Speak not when you Should hold your Peace.

“Strive not with your Superiority in argument, but always Submit your Judgment to others with Modesty.

“Take all Admonitions thankfully in what Time or Place Soever given…

“Mock not nor Jest at any thing of Importance…

“Wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than Precepts.

“Use no Reproachfull Language against any one, neither Curse nor Revile.

“Be not hasty to believe flying Reports to the Disparagement of any.

“Play not the Peacock, looking every where about you, to See if you be well Deck’t…

“Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy…

“Never express anything unbecoming, nor Act agnst the Rules Moral…

“A Man ought not to value himself of his Achievements, or rare Qualities of wit; much less of his riches, Virtue or Kindred.

“Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest…

“Detract not from others, neither be excessive in Commanding.

“When Another Speaks, be attentive your Self…

“Be not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof.

“Undertake not what you cannot Perform and be Carefull to keep your Promise.

“In Disputes, be not So Desireous to Overcome as not to give Liberty to each one to deliver his Opinion…

“Let thy carriage be such as becomes a Man attentive to that which is spoken. Contradict not at every turn what others Say.

“Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.

“Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.”





Note: Washington’s complete work can be found at www.mountvernon.org.

Fred Benson is a resident of Mount Desert and publishes Capitol Commentary, an independent political newsletter.

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