Saturday, October 13, 2012

Who's the Boss?

 No, this isn't about a tepid sitcom  from the late 80s.  It's about who is the highest ranking military commander in American history.  Sounds like an easy call, right? But as with most things, it gets complicated.

As you read the Yankee Doodle Spies Series ( start with Book One, The Patriot Spy) you will see George Washington called variously, General Washington or His Excellency.  The British derisively referred to him as Mister Washington.The term His Excellency was an often used honorific in 18th century America, particularly used for colonial governors. The term was first used for George Washington when  Congress proclaimed him commander in chief of the Continental Army to set him above all the other generals and competing interests of the states (that means to set him above politics).

US Grant
He was also given the official rank of Lieutenant General (a three star general), the only one to hold that rank during the American Revolution - the others being "merely"  Major General (two stars) or Brigadier General (one star).  But herein lies the problem.  Arguably our greatest military leader was later eclipsed in rank by four star generals as our forces grew in size during the Civil War (U.S. Grant) and WWI (J.J. Pershing) and later five star generals (Dwight Eisenhower, George C. Marshal, and Douglas MacArthur during World War II.  Fortunately, during the year of the American bicentennial this long-standing slight was fixed.
John J, Pershing

A joint resolution of Congress (this was the last era of bipartisanship in America too) called Public Law 94-479 passed in   January 1976 recommended Washington's promotion to four star rank and further declared that "George Washington shall always be the most senior United States military officer, forever outranking any and all other military officers."

Therefore, thirty-six years ago this past week, on October 11th 1976, President Gerald R. Ford by Executive Order posthumously promoted Washington  to the rank of General of the Armies of the United States, and naming him forever the highest ranking general in the US Army.
George C. Marshal
Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Congressional Resolution is quoted below:

"Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington of Virginia commanded our armies throughout and to the successful termination of our Revolutionary War; Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington presided over the convention that formulated our Constitution; Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington twice served as President of the United States of America; and Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list; Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That

(a) for purposes of subsection (b) of this section only, the grade of General of the Armies of the United States is established, such grade to have rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present.

(b) The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.

Approved October 11, 1976.
Public Law 94-479"

His Excellency, General of the Armies of the United States

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