Saturday, May 17, 2014

President's Choice

In the U.S. capitol, our president was dissatisfied with the food service, so he brought in a chef and culinary staff from his home state.

The chef orchestrated elaborate banquets at the presidents home until a problem arose.  Uncle Harkless (or Hercules, as he was known) was a slave, and the law in Pennsylvania required slaves to be freed after six months of residence.  The nation's capitol being in Philadelphia at the time, President George Washington was obliged to set Hercules free, but instead he sent him back to Mount Vernon along with the other kitchen slaves.

President Washington had sworn to never buy another slave, but he sent the staff back to Virginia just short of the six-months residency, intending to return them to Philadelphia after a few weeks.

Hercules eventually escaped from Mount Vernon and was never heard from again.

Louis-Philippe, the future king of France, visited Mount Vernon in the spring of 1797.  According to his diary entry:
The general's cook ran away... and left a little daughter of six at Mount Vernon. Beaudoin ventured that the little girl must be deeply upset that she would never see her father again; she answered, "Oh! Sir, I am very glad, because he is free now."
George Washington was the first among our presidents to make a callous decision based on self-interest at the expense of another.  Slavery dictated  how Hercules and his wife and children would live their entire lives.  When it could have been rectified by the choice of a gracious heart, it was not.
George Washington was a good guy, of course.  He freed his slaves in his will, all 124 of them.  There were 153 more that belonged to Martha Washington that were part of her estate when she died.  Because of property laws, the children of Hercules and his wife remained enslaved and are presumed to have died at Mt. Vernon.
Later presidents have made similar choices.  Viewed in isolated retrospect, the choices were selfish, perhaps shameful. The judgment of history is harsh and laments the broken lives left in their wake.



And it's more fun to get this one right, 
of course; to be a help bringer instead 
of a fight-winner.  GA.5.22

We all do the same kinds of things, do we not?  Choosing selfishly without a second thought is the easiest way, and doing otherwise has a price.  We may not get the attention of history, but the choice and effects remain.

We might ask if our impact today will be a noble one.  
It's a 'life now' question that can open a thousand doors.

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