What would George Washington do?

My very favorite person in the world is the person who, with no training and very little history knowledge, truly believes they know what the Founding Fathers would have done. They know in their heart of hearts that the FF’s definitely would have seen the world according to thier, 21st century view point.

If you haven’t caught on I’m being sarcastic. I hate those people. Your sisters boyfriend Deuce is one of those people.

With schools opening or about to open, the rhetoric about founding fathers, vaccines, masks, and the “spirit of 1776” is getting pretty heated. So, I thought I’d take a moment to really talk about what a Founding Father…arguably the Founding Father really did do when faced with a consequential decision.

Let me set the scene. It’s 1777, Georgie has just taken a minor victory at the Battle of Princeton. His Continental Army, however, is sick and dying, in fact 90% are dying from disease, with small pox being a big killer.

Necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure, for should the disorder infect the Army . . . we should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy

George Washington

Most of the men in the Continental Army had not been exposed to smallpox. But, it’s a war, men coming together from all over the country, along with British and German soldiers, opened the door for disease to spread, the army being non-immunes and all. Bowing to circumstances, George Washington (unlike our own politicians) showed leadership. In February of 1777 he wrote to Congress informing them of his mass inoculation plan, and managed to vaccinate up to 2/3rds of the Continental Army.

Ok…So What?

Initially GW did not want to mandate vaccination. He was incredibly aware of the significance of vaccination and immunity, but immunizing the army would take time, and would weaken his forces, so he didn’t initially mandate it. However, when Small Pox became a big problem for his troops, GW understood that larger measures would have to be taken. His decision to inoculate most of the Continental Army (along with their immunity to malaria, which the British soldiers did not share) was likely critical to winning the Revolutionary War, and helped build this country into a place full of toxic individuality.

All jokes aside, I do believe this is an important point to make.

So much rhetoric floats around about what the Founding Fathers meant, or what they would have done. Except, here, we actually have data from history. We are not guessing at what George Washington thought. We can look at his actions, and see what he did.

He mandated vaccination. He built hospitals, and he got the army immunized. Why? Because his people were dying, and he was losing a war.

What’s also important is that he set a precedent for what leaders should do in the midst of a pandemic. Maybe we should follow in his example. I can’t say it’s what he would have wanted…but I can tell you it’s what he did, which I think is much more powerful.

Citations: and with some Mosquito Empires by J.R. Mcneill thrown in.

By mshipstory


I'm Lindsay Adams. I'm passionate about history, teaching, and writing.

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