Good evening. I thank Senate President Mike Miller for inviting me to speak to you tonight. Frances Anne is here with me tonight. Her father was a member of our Senate for many years. I especially thank you for your cards and letters during Frances Anne's recent illness.
Mike, I will quote the letter you sent to me. It captures the moment that we celebrate this evening."Each and every time I've been humbled by the courage and conviction of those who have entered before me. It serves as a constant reminder of the role we play in Maryland's rich history and the responsibility we have not just to our constituents but also to those whose vision and tenacity lead they way."
Mr. President, you are absolutely correct. To serve as Governor or Senator in any state is an honor. But, to serve in this Statehouse, the oldest continuously operated statehouse... to be in the chamber where General George Washington retired his commission... indeed, it is a true honor. Mike, every single day I cannot believe how fortunate I am to serve here!
It is my distinct privilege to be your guest tonight in this historic chamber where on December 23rd, 1783, in an emotional ceremony, General George Washington became Citizen Washington. That act set the first of many precedents for the better governing of America. From that day forward our State and our Nation continue to respect General George Washington's bow to Civil Authority.
Washington understood that the success of a Nation depends, in large part, on enlightened civil rule. This is an idea, that even today, is resisted by many military regimes around the world. Fortunately, it is also an idea that every year is rapidly moving towards universal acceptance.
George Washington, not only did you lead the United States on this crucial philosophy, but today, your ideas impact the world! During his brief years of retirement before being called back to public life as our first president, Washington continued to help shape public policy. One example, important to Maryland, was his dream of improving the Potomac River as a water route to the west.
He envisioned a canal that would serve as a path of commerce to the lands west of Fort Cumberland, where he began his military career. General Washington successfully lobbied your predecessors, just as many of you are now successfully lobbying me, in 1785 for public funds to help with that Potomac canal expansion. Today his canal no longer carries our commerce west, but its path is a wonderful tourist attraction, a place for quiet walks and thoughtful contemplation.
We gather here tonight to celebrate the 268th anniversary of George Washington's birth. I will take a few moments to reflect on George Washington's legacy, and how that legacy has guided me, and I am sure so many of you, through our career in public service.
George Washington was more than a military commander, or a local politician in the right place at the right time. He was a great leader who took the art of governing seriously. Think about it... his closest advisors and his cabinet included some of the best and brightest political and social minds of his time --- some of the most recognizable and respected names in all of American history: John Adams; James Madison; Thomas Jefferson; and Alexander Hamilton. Of course, these men, who helped shape the power and mission of our country did not always agree.
History tells of the fighting and bickering between these men, disagreements based on their individual philosophies of what America should be. But President Washington, a home schooled farmer from Virginia, used his insight of human nature to forge consensus and build bridges between these men for the good of America.
For 17 years I have served in an executive office. I, like Washington, have come to understand the value and intrinsic need in weighing the voices of others. As legislators, I know you too must weigh the input of your staff, of your constituents, and your conscience to make decisions that help not just one... but all in our blessed State. Together, through the executive office, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch, we are coming together in consensus to build a brighter future for our State. A network of ideas of which George Washington himself would be proud.
Washington's style of governing was first apparent as he presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia's red-brick statehouse during a hot summer in 1787. He listened patiently to what must have felt like endless debates in the un-air conditioned halls. He spoke officially only once to remind the delegates that they needed a more 'generous method' of representation, a recommendation that was adopted without dissent. It is because of George Washington's vision that the average citizen can today have a voice in our Democracy.
He also favored a one term presidency of seven years, but accepted the constitutional four-year term. Washington felt that no one should or could govern too long without endangering his own health and possibly that of the republic. George Washing served just two terms as President... a widely followed precedent for over 100 years. After President Franklin Roosevelt, it was incorporated into the most basic law that governs our country.
The members of the Maryland General Assembly thought so highly of George Washington's Farewell Address, that they incorporated it into their proceedings and authorized its publication in the Session Laws of 1796. I had planned to read the entire Address to you this evening..... but the Maryland State Archives has provided a copy in honor of tonight's ceremony. I must thank Dr. Ed Papenfuse and the Maryland State Archives for making these available tonight.
The general outline of the Address is well known. President Washington reminds us of the perils of party bickering and the need for a strong Union under the Constitution. What I find most compelling however, is Washington's strong focus on the importance of well educated, well informed citizens. He challenged the nation to not only provide, but also to promote and encourage access to learning facilities. Maryland has taken Washington's philosophy to a higher-level by realizing his dream.... and working toward a system of higher education that is truly open to all within our borders.
If we take away anything away from tonight's continuing tradition of honoring Mr. Washington, we must walk away with the advice that our First President, George Washington, gave us.
Washington observed that only through the education of our children, will we be able to enjoy the fruits of our liberty. It was that fundamental pillar of our democracy that he asked the nation to remember. He saw at the dawn of our country the importance of higher education. In fact, right on our very own Eastern Shore, he became a patron of Washington College, the 10th oldest institute of learning in the nation.
The 21st century is a knowledge-based economy. We must take Washington's personal insight on how education would shape our new country, and have the foresight to protect the dream he had to shape our new century.
Our link to Washington cannot be held within these chamber walls. We must see the future of higher education he mapped out and take it into the next century. When we adopt and extend the Hope Scholarship... when we make the monetary commitment to higher education in the budget before us... when we show the personal commitment that I and Senate President Mike Miller, Senator Barbara Hoffman, and Senator Clarence Blount have made to the minds of our young people..... when we do all this, we are links to George Washington's personal insight on higher education. That link to Washington directs us to unite the needs of each Marylander and all Americans for the 21st Century.
Washington also knew that if we did not pay attention to the blessings of unity, if we did not teach our children to constantly work toward common solutions, that the future would be bleak. Sixty-five years later, a bloody civil war that pitted families and friends against each other proved his point. But its outcome gave the country a second chance.
Throughout these comments I talked about George Washington and his contemporaries... white men all. But certainly, if he spoke here this evening he would tell is that we must strengthen our country. Not only with civil rule, not only with a representative democracy, not only with higher education, but also with a commitment to a fair, just, and inclusive society.
There is a final element of Washington's character that I would like to touch on this evening. His recognition of the value of public service. I have always shared Washington's vision that: "Every post is honorable in which a man can serve his country." If President Washington were alive today, I am sure he would add, "or woman."
Many of you have heard the Lt. Governor and me speak at length of the "noble calling" of public service. It is a mission that each and every one of us in this room has taken up. And together, working for the greater good, we are shaping and crafting an exciting future for each citizen to achieve his or her full potential in the new millennium.
George Washington, President Washington, Citizen Washington. Thank You for giving us an opportunity to serve. We hope our good works do honor to your good hopes.
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