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How Washington's July 4th Failure Helped Create America

The United States would not exist without its long history of tremendous failures.

In fact, the country might not have made it through the winter of 1776 had it not been for the near catastrophic failure of its first commander in chief, George Washington. With this failure also came learning and growth, leading directly to the George (and the United States) we know today.

On July 4th, 1754, a 22 year old George Washington surrendered and marched his defeated troops out of a flimsy wooden structure built on the frontier of the Ohio Valley: Fort Necessity. He had overreached his command by attacking what was potentially a French diplomatic mission, claiming they were spies (a fact which is still disputed to this day)

In the process of attacking the French, Washington lost control of his troops as they descended into unchecked brutality. The French response was overwhelming, serving Washington an embarrassing and very public defeat that was published in newspapers around the world.

That skirmish directly led to the creation of the United States in two ways. First, it was one of the sparks (if not THE spark) that led to the French and Indian War: the struggle for North American territory that the British empire paid for by -- you guessed it! -- raising taxes on the American colonists. And we all know what happened after that.

Second, it taught a young Washington what NOT to do when leading a military campaign.

He did not invest in soldier discipline, leading to desertions and poor conditions in camp. This was the first thing he invested in when taking command of the Continental Army 20 years later.

His confidence exceeded his ability to command, leading to a complete rout at the hands of the French. 22 years later, he led a daring Christmas Day attack on Trenton that turned the tide of Revolutionary War. He wasn't overconfident. He was prepared and took a calculated, logical risk.

His arrogance and desire for political influence almost cost him his career. After winning the Revolutionary War, he famously put on his spectacles to read his former commanders a written speech -- knowing that his humility would dampen their emotion. That speech saved the United States. His commanders were planning a military coup of the government after Congress had failed to pay their soldiers for years of service.

The United States has been an experiment from the very beginning. Its history is one of enormous success and failures that cannot be separated from one another. At its brightest, the country can be a shining example of what can happen when people are allowed to govern themselves. And at its worst, it can fall into hypocrisy, weaponized bias, systematic disenfranchisement and subjugation of large swaths of society, and civil war.

But the best of the United States comes from learning after failure, and George Washington is a perfect example of how even the most famous visionary in the country's history is human, corruptible, and flawed.

Don't measure yourself by how badly you fail. Measure yourself by what you do next.


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