In a tribute to one of the men who made the Bicentennial possible, last fall the House and Senate passed, and the President signed into law, a bill posthumously promoting George Washington to the rank of six-star General of the Armies. During his life, Washington had to make do as best he could with the three-star rank of Lieutenant General. The bill, which was sponsored by Representative Mario Biaggi, a New York Democrat, was intended to make Washington stand above “all other grades of the Army, past and present.”
There is, however, some question that it really does. The supreme rank of General of the Armies was established by Congress in 1799 and, while it was doubtless intended to be bestowed on Washington, he died that same year and there is no record that the appointment was actually made. The rank ceased to exist when it was not mentioned in the Act of 16 March, 1802, which formed the peacetime military establishment. But in 1919 Congress revived the grade for General John Pershing. So, it would seem that, despite the recent bill, Washington has to share his lofty rank.
But whether or not the gesture redressed an old oversight, it stirred up some dissent. The most acerbic comments came from Lucien N. Nedzi, a Democratic Representative from Michigan, who felt that Washington’s place in our history was already pretty secure. Nedzi compared the congressional tribute to “a house painter touching up the works of Michaelangelo,” and went on to tell the House that “It’s like having the Pope offer to make Christ a cardinal.”