|The old Prospect Park High School at Pennsylvania Ave. between 9th and 10th Aves. about 1949.|
Old and Gray
In celebrating Presidents day this month, George Washington still stands out. He did so many great things, but one of his greatest deeds has been forgotten. It wasn’t a battle or fight, it was a simple off the cuff remark they saved our country. After the battle of Yorktown, Washington and the army were outside Newburgh, New York waiting for a peace treaty to be worked out between Congress and England. Some members of Congress accused the army and its officers of wasting money, they would not be paid, current or back pay. Congress wanted to deny pensions to the soldiers etc. Officers wanted Congress overthrown and wanted to make Washington a king, if not Washington, General Horiatio Gates said he would take over. Washington said nothing at first, waiting for the situation to blow over, and the army accused him of siding with the Congress.
On March 10, 1783 the Newport Sedition was passed out, demanding the officers do something to get their pay, pensions etc. The army was ready to revolt against Congress, all it needed was a leader. On March 15, Washington met with his officers to discuss the problems and how to fix it. The officers filed in looking grim and ready to revolt. Washington began reading from a prepared speech and those who were there that day said he never seemed so tall, so like a rock. When he finished, there was just silence in the room, his speech had failed. Washington picked up a letter from one of the few congressmen who sided with the army about pay etc. and began reading the letter, then he hesitated and then stopped. Unfamiliar with the handwriting, coupled with years of reading by fire and candlelight had taken their toll on his eyes. Washington put down the congressmen’s letter and reached in his pocket for his glasses which he had never worn in public before.
NOTE. In Washington’s day, no man wore glasses in public. It was a sign of old age, infirmity, senility etc. Only Ben Franklin, who believed glasses should be worn all the time was ever shown wearing glasses.
As he was putting the glasses on, he looked up at the officers and with a shy smile said,” You have seen me grow old and gray in your service. Now I’m growing blind”, and began reading the congressmen’s letter. At the mention of his blindness a gasp filled the room and the officers who had come with stern and set faces now had tears in their eyes. It was the casual mention of his blindness that had bought back all the affection his officers had for him over the past 7 years in a rush. When he was done reading the letter, Washington said nothing and walked out of the room leaving the officers to discuss the problems without him. About an hour later he received a resolution from the officers expressing their “unshaken confidence in the justice of Congress”. After reading the resolution, Washington knew he had won one of his most important victories.