Saturday, December 18, 1999

Keeping Washington alive, by George! by W. Times Stacy McCain

Keeping Washington alive, by George

by Robert Stacy McCain

George Washington lives.

America's first president died 200 years ago today, but James Renwick Manship of Mount Vernon has dedicated himself to keeping Washington's memory alive.

"I've had Washington on the brain for years," says Mr. Manship, 46. "I've had an interest in history that my grandparents instilled in me."

That interest has led Mr. Manship, a former Navy officer, to a second career portraying Washington in living history presentations for school, church and civic groups.

"I've given over 100 presentations this year, including over 6,000 high school kids from all across America," he says of his costumed performance titled "George Washington Lives."

Mr. Manship, who was named last year to the Mount Vernon Board of Visitors by Gov. James S. Gilmore III, believes that teaching about the life and beliefs of Washington helps promote greater unity among Americans.

"Telling about George Washington . . . is the best way to reunify the nation," he says. "That's basically the goal, to tell about the principles of George Washington and the founding fathers, and how they created a nation unique among all other nations on Earth and throughout history."

Mr. Manship first donned his gray wig, tricorner hat and blue-and-buff Colonial uniform in 1997, when he participated in Alexandria's Washington Birthday Parade - and won the George Washington look-alike contest.

In 1998, he gave presentations about Washington's life at Christ Church in Alexandria, where Washington attended. This year, Mr. Manship began giving presentations for visitors to the Washington area for tourist companies, including American Christian Tours.
Mr. Manship says he tries "to present a three-dimensional George Washington." He says historians usually present only the founder's public career and his private family life, neglecting Washington's Christian faith.

"George Washington was definitely a man of faith," says Mr. Manship, noting that when he was first inaugurated as president, Washington concluded his oath of office with "so help me God," a phrase that has since become a traditional part of the inauguration ceremony.

In presenting the spiritual aspect of the "three-dimensional" Washington, Mr. Manship has reprinted a 1919 book by William J. Johnson, "George Washington, the Christian." He has also distributed thousands of fliers calling attention to the record of Washington's faith:

* On July 8, 1776, the day the Declaration of Independence was read to the Continental Army, Washington wrote to his troops, "The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier."

* At Valley Forge, Pa., on May 2, 1778, Washington wrote, "In addition to the distinguished character of a Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of a Christian."

* In his Farewell Address, Sept. 19, 1796, Washington said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports."

Schools seem to be purposely demoting Washington from the pantheon of American heroes, Mr. Manship says.

"As part of the historical, or hysterical, revisionism that's going on in the schools today, the schoolbooks have reduced the coverage of Washington from say, a dozen pages to maybe half a page," he says. "It used to be . . . that every student studied Washington's Farewell Address. And we would have a wiser nation if students again studied Washington's Farewell Address."

Another lesson today's students could learn from Washington, Mr. Manship says, is good manners. When Washington was a boy, he copied out in his notebook "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation," a list of 110 rules and principles that guided him throughout life.

"I go to public schools and talk about the `Rules of Civility,' " Mr. Manship says. "If American students at Columbine High School had studied the Rules of Civility, we wouldn't have had that tragedy, if they had made it part of their hearts the way Washington made it part of his heart."

Mr. Manship has created the nonprofit God and Country Foundation - - to support his effort to promote the ideals of Washington and the founding fathers. His office, in the attic of his Mount Vernon home, is packed with books of history and biography.

At 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Mr. Manship will participate in "a celebration of the Christian life of George Washington," at Christ Church in Alexandria. The Mount Vernon estate is sponsoring a re-enactment of Washington's burial Saturday morning.

One of Mr. Manship's favorite images of Washington is of the general kneeling in prayer - an image that has been reproduced in statues, paintings, on postage stamps, and in stained glass in the Capitol. Mr. Manship points out that President Reagan in 1982 said, "The most sublime picture in American history is of George Washington on his knees in the snow at Valley Forge."

Mr. Manship adds, "The thoughts, works and work of Washington are still relevant for America today.