Being Martha Washington…

I have started to read the book “Being George Washington.” This is Glenn Beck’s most recent book. It’s not about politics or the stuff that he usually discusses on his radio show or GBTV. Instead, with the help of some well respected historians, he has put together this story that tries to show us the true man behind the imposing legend that we know of as one of our founding fathers. Often times we forget that the person is more than just the marble statue who stands tall in front of a municipal building, or that he’s more than just a portrait on our one dollar bills. George Washington was an actual living, breathing, and imperfect man who strove to do the right thing and be the best that he could be at all times.

I haven’t finished this book, and in fact am barely halfway through it, but I’ve come across a section that has really made me stop and ponder a few things. Would you be kind enough to allow me to ponder these things out loud?

In the book Benedict Arnold has just shown his traitorous side and dealt a blow to George Washington that left the general’s head spinning. He couldn’t fathom how such a great man as Benedict Arnold could do such a horrible thing. Arnold was one of the best, if not THE best, generals in the entire Continental Army; he had used up much of his own money to help fight the battles; and was known for his great boldness and bravery in battle. Yet, one of the other commanding generals took all of the credit for the win at Saratoga without mentioning Arnold’s involvement. There were numerous junior officers who were promoted above him after this battle as well. Benedict Arnold felt like all of his hard work, his loyalty, and his courage had been for nothing. Why wasn’t he being honored and praised for his sacrifice and defeats dealt to the British? he had been slighted and that really pissed him off. What did he do? Did he attempt to get his praises sung? Did he patiently wait for somebody to recognize his deeds? Did he decide that even though he wasn’t getting the credit for the win, that it was still a win in the war and was helping his cause to be furthered along? Nope. Today we all know that to become a traitor is to be a ‘Benedict Arnold’. Why? He decided to sell West Point to the British and allow them to take over one of the strategic areas in the colonies. It would have been a death knell if things had gone as Arnold had planned. Instead, providence came through (the ‘Invisible Hand’ as Washington referred to it) and the plot was discovered before it was too late.

Glenn Beck thinks that a lot of this had to do with the women behind these two men. Both of them were great soldiers and leaders. Both of them loved their country and fought hard for its freedom. Yet, only one of them ever turned against the cause or played the game of ‘victim’. Yes, each man made his own decisions, but as Glenn points out, one of those decisions was also who to take as their spouse. Let’s take a look at the two women involved.

Peggy Shippen was eighteen when she married Benedict Arnold. She was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Philadelphia and quite the catch. In today’s standards she would also be thought of as being ‘high maintenance’. Peggy was quite demanding and was used to a high style life. Her father was quite wealthy, but was also thought to hold Loyalist feelings. They socialized with the British and had many Loyalist friends. Benedict Arnold met Peggy Shippen at the time in his life when his feelings had been hurt by being passed over for both glory and promotion with the Continental Army. Who’s to say that Peggy didn’t use her persuasive powers to cajole her husband into siding with the British? After all, it would be worth some money to the Crown and they could use that money to live high on the hog, as she was used to living.

Martha Custis Washington is a completely different story. Here we have a woman who was almost Peggy’s opposite in every way. Maybe it was because Martha was older when she married George. Perhaps the span of years helps to mature you and so you know what is more important in your 40’s than what you would in your teens. Martha had no desire to elevate herself socially or be involved in the latest gossip. Instead, she occupied herself by loving her husband and supporting him and his endeavors completely. While Mrs. Arnold was off dancing at balls and flirting with every man in the room, Mrs. Washington was visiting her husband’s camp with wagon loads of supplies that she had purchased and gathered, then tending to the wounded and suffering soldiers. Not only did she herself gather things for the soldiers, but she also organized other women together to do what they could for the cause as well.

Glenn asks the question on page 107 of his book, “It may be a cliche to say that behind every great man is a great woman, but I’d like to see someone disprove the theory. And while it may be a pointless exercise, imagine for a moment if the roles had been reversed. What if George Washington had married Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold had married Martha Custis? Do you think both men would’ve turned out the same way?”

I turned this over in my head tonight. The conclusion that I came to was that if we had to go on a purely hypothetical situation and imagine for a second that Washington would actually choose somebody like Miss Shippen for a wife, that he would still have been the same George Washington. Now, I do believe that Benedict Arnold would have been different. He would not have turned traitor because he would have had Martha behind him, believing in him. Sometimes that’s all we need. It’s like the saying goes, “To the world you may just be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” To have the most important person behind you, believing in you and urging you to be the best that you can be is all we need. Instead, Arnold had a scheming woman pushing him to do what SHE wanted.

Of course, you can be the most steadfast, loyal and supporting wife, but still not have any kind of bearing on the person that your husband turns out to be. I’ve known many good women who have tried their hardest, but their husbands just were unable to follow through with the moral character that they needed to be a good person. There’s only so much supporting and self-sacrificing that you can do when your husband refuses to live by the vows that he took in front of God and decides that he’s above that and it’s perfectly okay for him to carry on with other women. I think that Benedict Arnold lacked a bit of moral character, and that’s why he turned traitor. I can’t imagine George Washington doing the same thing if he was in the position that Arnold had been in. Washington would have never turned into a traitor. It just wasn’t in him.

So if you are a person of moral character does it matter what kind of spouse you have? Ideally we would all love to have a supportive spouse behind us, but would that make you act any differently? Turn that around, too. Are you being the supportive person that your spouse/partner needs? Are you doing your best to encourage and enable them?

Is it wrong that I hope to be like Martha Washington? I would like to think that I’m a good influence on others and that I do what is best at all times. Does it mean that I’m going to become a volunteer for Hospice? Probably not. I would get too emotionally involved and I don’t know if my heart could take it. Does it mean that I will do my best to encourage and support my husband in his endeavors? Yes, of course. I would like to think that I could be a positive influence and bring out the best in him, just as he would bring out the best in me. I know that a lot of women would call me old-fashioned, but would it really be so bad if more women tried to be more like Martha Washington and more men tried to be like George Washington?

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