This year marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the death of George Washington, whose unimpeachable character laid the foundation for America’s experiment in freedom and self-government.

Americans today know Washington as the first president, but his peers knew him as something more: a leader of towering integrity who never compromised his moral principles.

Those principles were tested during the revolutionary war. When the harsh winter at Valley Forge left Washington’s troops cold and starving, Congress instructed them to steal food from farmers. Washington threatened instead to hang any of his men caught plundering American civilians.

Washington’s honest reputation also served him well as president, when he made mistakes in the Michigan Territory. Afraid that Britain’s economic dominance in the territory would cause Michigan to join the British, he established a government-run fur company to compete with British Canadian firms.

The inefficient government fur company failed miserably; but entrepreneurs emerged to capture Michigan’s market for America. Americans forgave Washington for this wasteful failure, knowing he had the country’s interests at heart.

George Washington’s strong character inspired a nation fighting for its freedom and independence two centuries ago, and it continues to inspire us today.

For the Mackinac Center, this is Catherine Martin.