Gordon S. Wood, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, delivered the 2010 Founders' Day/ODK Convocation address, "Why the Founders Matter," at Washington and Lee University on Jan. 19, 2010.
Wood is the Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University. In addition to winning the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for history for his book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, he received the 1970 Bancroft Prize for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787.
Wood said that the founders of the United States have a special significance for us Americans.
"No other major nation honors its past historical characters, especially characters who existed just two centuries ago, in the quite the way we do," he said. "We have a special need for these very authentic historical characters in the here and now."
He went on to relate the story of George Washington's gift of $20,000 worth of canal stock to Liberty Hall Academy, which was renamed Washington College (and later became Washington and Lee).
Washington, said Wood, agonized over what he should do with the stock that the Virginia Assembly gave him for his services to the state and to the cause of canal-building.
"Even though he could have used the money-he had a cash-flow problem-he felt he could not accept the [stock]. He had emerged from the Revolution with a reputation for virtue and selflessness that he did not want to endanger," Wood said. "The situation is almost laughable today but was not to Washington."
Added Wood: "On this founding day, keep in mind that you have a special relationship to the founders of the country, especially to the man, George Washington, who another celebrated Virginian, John Marshall, called the greatest man on earth."