Published on: February 18th, 2020

Hillsdale Students Visit Mount Vernon and Lay a Wreath on George Washington’s Grave

By Isabella Redjai

A visit to George Washington’s estate seemed especially apt as the Class of Spring 2020 Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program (WHIP) began its new semester. The visit showcased the private life of our nation’s earliest and greatest leader – George Washington.

Since Washington reluctantly accepted the presidency in 1789 and the White House was not completed until 1792, Mount Vernon served as the first presidential mansion and house of the people.

Along the Potomac River, hidden among the trees of a Virginia hill, the Washington family had owned the estate since 1674. Mount Vernon served as Washington’s estate prior to the presidency, but as president, Washington and his wife, Martha, would come to use the estate as a place to host guests throughout his time of service.

WHIP students along with Hillsdale alumni and Hillsdale in D.C. staff members began their tour at the front door of Washington’s home, ready to enter just as his former guests had 200 years ago.

“Seeing the place where George and Martha Washington spent their time, and how they accommodated their guests and used the house as a temporary White House made the residence come to life,” said junior Allison Schuster, who is interning at The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal news site.

The students then made their way to Washington and his wife’s memorial site. Washington was originally meant to be buried under the rotunda of the Capitol building, but he was memorialized at his residence instead. Martha wished to lay beside her husband.

An arched brick tomb houses, in marble sarcophaguses, the first President and his First Lady, where it reads, “Within in this Enclosure Host the remains of Gen. George Washington.”

To pay respect to General Washington, it is a tradition of the estate to perform a wreath-laying ceremony in honor of his memory. Two students were selected to perform the honor: one to read a letter from Washington to governors, and another to lay the wreath within the tomb.

Washington’s letter reads, in part,

“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for the brethren who have served in the Field…”

Junior Kate Ford, who is interning for Congressman Devin Nunes, carried the wreath to the tomb.
“I’ve been to Mount Vernon before, but I didn’t know they held a wreath-laying ceremony,” Ford said. “Participating in the same ceremony as previous dignitaries was an incredible experience. It was a somber moment.”

Others who have honored Washington through the ceremony, in the past, include President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and foreign ambassadors.

Although the tour of Mount Vernon began with a view into the life and sobriety of the passing of America’s first leader, Washington’s legacy and integrity of private life lasts beyond his time on earth.

“The trip to Mount Vernon provided a unique opportunity to experience how history comes alive, as well as gave a glimpse to the man behind the legend,” junior Braden VanDyke, said. “The beauty of the land, the richness of its history, and the familiarity and calmness it impresses upon you makes it no wonder George Washington earnestly desired to retire to it.”

About Hillsdale in D.C.

Hillsdale in D.C. is an extension of the teaching mission of Hillsdale College to Washington, D.C. Its purpose is to teach the Constitution and the principles that give it meaning. Through the study of original source documents from American history—and of older books that formed the education of America’s founders—it seeks to inspire students, teachers, citizens, and policymakers to return the America’s principles to their central place in the political life of the nation.

About Hillsdale College

Hillsdale College is an independent liberal arts college located in southern Michigan. Founded in 1844, the College has built a national reputation through its classical liberal arts core curriculum and its principled refusal to accept federal or state taxpayer subsidies, even indirectly in the form of student grants or loans. It also conducts an outreach effort promoting civil and religious liberty, including a free monthly speech digest, Imprimis, with a circulation of more than 4.5 million. For more information, visit hillsdale.edu.