Throughout the History of The United States of America, through our times of gravest peril as a nation, our country has been blessed with the presence of a leader who was able to rise to the challenge to overcome the difficulties to bring the nation safely through the danger and achieve a successful conclusion. The examples are many.
Even before this nation was a nation, we were astonishingly fortunate to have George Washington step up to the demands of leading the Continental Army against the vastly superior forces of the British Empire. Washington’s particular military skill was to know that winning crucial battles mattered more than winning every battle, and to understand that simply keeping the British forces in the field would wear down the resolve of that mighty Empire. So Washington was able to bring about victory for the cause of independence and to see The United States of America come into being.
But this was not all that Washington was to do for our country, as is well known. When the fledgeling United States was foundering under the ineffective and unwieldy Articles of Confederation, and a Constitutional Convention was called, it was Washington who presided over that fractious body and who ultimately saw the creation of our present Constitution with its carefully crafted scheme of checks and balances to foster liberty and good governance. And of course, Washington finally served this nation as its first chief executive, and established many precedents for the office of President that have served this nation so well for so much of its history.
So ably did Washington serve in these three demanding and difficult roles that upon his death official observances of mourning were decreed not only throughout the United States, but in Paris, London, and much of Europe. Through dangerous and fraught times, and immense, daunting challenges, The United States of America had the incredible good fortune to have a leader who was equal to the need.
When next the nation was faced with a genuine existential crisis in the face of the irresolvable problem of slavery existing in a land which proclaimed its dedication to Liberty, and the perpetual union of states was violently fractured by the slave-holding interests of the southern states, this country was gifted with Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln understood that The United States of America mattered to the world and to world history, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, could not be allowed to vanish from the earth. Lincoln also understood that a nation with so high a calling as that of Liberty could not endure with slavery in its borders.
Through our deadliest, most destructive war, Lincoln provided the leadership and the vision, and inspired the nation’s loyal citizens to commit, even unto their last full measure of devotion, to preserving our union and to doing away with slavery. Upon achieving hard-won victory, Lincoln also exhorted a nation that: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Once again, America was hugely blessed through a time of greatest peril.
Almost seven decades later, The United States found itself in the midst of an economic disaster so great that ever after the term “The Depression” has meant only one such event. So profound was the impact of the economic collapse of the U.S. and its trading partners that one-third of the nation could be described as “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” The average American’s confidence in the economic system of the United States was profoundly shaken as millions became unemployed, and bank after bank failed, wiping out the life savings of millions. President Herbert Hoover was committed to a laissez-faire, hands-off approach to the economic crisis, and was on principle opposed to government assistance to individuals in any form, and the nation suffered grievously.
In the presidential election of 1932, the country voted overwhelmingly for Franklin D. Roosevelt, governor of New York and possessor of a respected and beloved family name. Roosevelt immediately set himself to the task of addressing the myriad problems that beset the nation, including reassuring the public about the stability of the nation’s banking system. Before his inauguration, Roosevelt announced a “Bank Holiday,” promising that auditors would assess every bank, and only permit solvent, stable institutions to reopen for business. This declaration brought an end to the calamitous bank runs of early 1933. FDR famously accomplished so much in his first three months or so in office that ever since, presidents have been evaluated on their “first hundred days.”
Roosevelt’s strenuous efforts did not bring an end to the Depression, however. As is clear from his second inaugural address, (wherefrom the above observation about one-third of the nation is drawn) the Depression was still in full force in 1936. And, in fact, it was not until the massive economic surge demand for military readiness and wartime production from 1940 – 1945 that the Depression was truly overcome. But by 1939, an even greater danger had arisen.
With the Axis powers waging wars of aggression and conquest across Europe, Africa, and Asia, the United States tried to walk a tightrope of non-involvement, a tightrope walk that proved impossible to continue. In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR rallied an isolationist nation to full wartime footing. Again and again through bad news and setbacks, Roosevelt reassured the country that victory would ultimately be achieved. So much had the nation come to depend upon Roosevelt’s leadership that he was returned to the presidency for unprecedented 3rd and 4th terms. Though FDR died before the final victory was achieved, the United States of America had once more had the great fortune of a leader who was able to guide the nation through dark days and peril to achieve victory.
In times of crisis and peril, in periods of grave, existential threats to the nation, The United States of America has been astonishingly fortunate in its leadership.
I suppose every winning streak must come to its crashing end.
— Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision.
You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” — Theodore Hesburgh