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G. Washington: straight from the heart

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in Leaders & Managers

For any leader who must calm the troops when they are justifiably angry, here’s a heartening lesson from Gen. George Washington.

It was 1783. Many of Washington’s officers hadn’t been paid in years because the states refused to give Congress the money to pay them, and no one believed Congress could honor its promise of pensions. Neither the officers nor the troops felt any gratitude from the citizens they had fought for.

“I am in rags,” one soldier wrote, “and all this for my cowardly countrymen [who] hold their Purse Strings … rather than part with a Dollar to their Army.”

Washington wrote that his unappreciated men were “goaded by a thousand stings.”

An anonymous letter urged the soldiers to raise arms against the new nation, calling the officers to a meeting. Washington showed up to glances of anger and distrust.

He reminded them how much he cared for them. He reminded them he’d been with them through the hell of war. He pleaded with them not to abandon their country, and not to create civil discord.

They continued to regard him in cold silence. He reached in his pocket for a note of encouragement from a congressman, then looked confused and pulled out a pair of glasses. Hardly a soul had ever seen the general wear glasses.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “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.”

That simple statement brought Washington’s men to tears. Once again, America’s commander in chief was first in their hearts.

—Adapted from George Washington for Kids, Brandon Marie Miller, Chicago Review Press.

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