By TIM HORAN
“For me, George Washington was the greatest, the classic American examples of fortitude. . . I’ve thought over many times who may have been the man of greatest stature in this country's history and I always come back to Washington, without whom there would have been no country at all.” –– Dwight D. Eisenhower, July 11, 1966
Their lives spanned roughly 164 years but two American Presidents had a lot of similar interests.
Kim Barbieri, education specialist with the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, noticed many of those similarities when preparing for the “George Washington Acts of Congress” exhibit which opened Monday, a day earlier than planned.
George Washington’s 1789 annotated copy of “The Constitution and Bill of Rights” is on display in Abilene along with a lot of other interesting facts about America’s founding father.
“This book represents the first session of Congress as we know it today,” said William Snyder, curator of the Eisenhower Museum at a press conference to open the exhibit. “This is what gave birth to our country. This one was given specifically to the first President of the United States.”
It is signed by Washington and contains Washington’s handwritten notes which were unusual for Washington to make, Snyder said.
On a wall opposite the book which sold at auction to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association on June 22, 2012 for $8.7 million, similar quotes and similar acts of power of the two Presidents is on display.
“There are some really interesting parallels between George and Ike,” Snyder said. “It is eerie in that so often they are talking about concepts about whether we should have foreign allies, ideas about the economy: very similar concepts. We tried to pull a few bits of the books, the Acts of Congress that Washington found interesting that he bracketed or wrote ‘powers,’ ‘required’ or ‘president,’ things of that nature. We tried to pull those out and what Ike did with the same power, if you will as President. These are just a couple of example of things.”
Eisenhower talked about if there would have been no Washington, there would have been no country at all.
“Just by virtue of that, Washington has to be the greatest American,” Snyder said Eisenhower felt. “If we would have lost (the Revolutionary War), Washington along with many others of our founding fathers would have been executed.”
But Barbieri said those similarities go further.
“The first would be the influence their mothers had on them,” Barbieri said of young Washington and Eisenhower. “They both had a lot to say about that. The big difference is that Washington’s father died when he was 11 years old.”
She pointed to their tremendous military careers.
“They both became, in many respects, the epitome of their generations as leaders,” she said. “Both had a great interest in agriculture, in farming. When they retired, that is what they went back to. George Washington really had three retirements.”
Improving the land and livestock was an interest in both generals who became Presidents. They also both loved horses.
“They had a tremendous sense of duty to their country. They were very selfless,” she said. “One thing that did come up with both of them is they wanted to do what was in the best interest of the country and they were very sincere. In a lot of respects, each sacrificed a great deal of their personal lives for a public life, which I believe was for the greater good.”
She said both presidents also had happy marriages.
“Their wives were truly their partners in life,” she added. “They were long marriages. The Washingtons were married for 40 years and the Eisenhowers were married for 53 years.”
Washington died at the age of 67 while Eisenhower died at age 78.
In politics, she said that both Presidents tried to remain above the political fray.
“Both were very interested in foreign policy and probably saw that as their main interest,” Barbieri said.
With the adoption of the Constitution, Washington became a Federalist who wanted a national government.
“Washington saw at the end of the Revolutionary War under the Articles of the Federation that the states being far more powerful than the national government, was causing the country to really fall apart. It’s from that he sees we need a stronger national government.”
The book, which was acquired by Washington after the end of the Congressional session in September 1789, has changed hands eight times.
While it is the centerpiece of the exhibit which will be at the Eisenhower Presidential Museum until May 3 when it moves on to the Lyndon Johnson Library, other exhibits crafted by the Eisenhower staff give a history of George Washington. The book will be displayed at 13 presidential libraries. The Eisenhower Museum is the fourth stop on the tour.
Also on exhibit, is a life-size painting of Washington which was a gift to Eisenhower by Francisco Franco of Spain.
The museum educates the visitors along the way through the exhibit.
“So many people lack a good understanding of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” said Carl Weissenbach, director. “By the time they see the Acts of Congress, they will have more information of the early years of the republic.
“You are seeing a book,” he said. “It is not going to make sense until you read some of the signs along the way. We did the same thing for the Declaration of Independence. Rather than to just have the Declaration of Independence on display, we decided to beef it up a little bit.”
According to Snyder, there are a lot of myths surrounding President Washington.
“He had previously been a Loyalist,” he said. “He was loyal to the king. We also debunk some of the myths a little bit. Did he really have wooden teeth? Did he really throw a silver dollar across the Potomac River as a young man? Obviously no, because as a young man there was no such thing as a silver dollar. Those are some of the fun facts we tossed in.”
He said the legends got started in a lot of ways in early histories about George Washington and his life.
“Even in his life, he was a mythical figure,” Snyder said. “People would come to Mount Vernon just to visit and he never refused hospitality. He didn’t want to talk about his war stories so I think in many ways, early biographers were trying to find a way to make George more real, perhaps, and more of a human being. If this was the father of the country, of course he wouldn’t tell a lie. He admitted he chopped down the cherry tree. Well, maybe and maybe not. Probably not.
“He never had wooden teeth,” he said. “Actually, as a young man he had smallpox which, of course, at that time could have been deadly. The so-called medicines at the time led to him to have dental problems for the rest of his life. By the time he was 22, he was already losing his teeth. In later years there was a development of using other human teeth and fitting them into forms. Sometimes the teeth would be carved out of ivory.”
The exhibit is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 23 to May 3 and from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on April 27.