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Washingtons » Why George Washington?


Why is the connection with George Washington so important? In certain respects George Washington appears an irrelevant figure in the modern world. He was, after all, a wealthy Virginia landowner, a large slaveholder, a gentleman farmer, and a hierarch who, as a man of his time and class, accepted many of the inequalities of his day. An unlikely revolutionary, to the modern eye!

But, as a man of that same class, he also cherished virtue, moral courage, self-discipline, and a love of freedom – in the sense of autonomy from external dominion – and it was this fear of British ‘enslavement’ that made him join the Revolution. The Declaration of Independence – the founding text of the Revolution that Washington led on the battlefield – asserted ideas of freedom and liberty that were radical for their time. American Revolutionaries proclaimed a ‘self-evident truth’: ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights’, including ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’.

As commander in chief Washington has won the admiration of history not simply as a fearless and natural military leader, but as one who established and fought to maintain the principles of civilian control of military affairs. He was, in common with others of his class, no subscriber to mass democracy – political rights were mostly restricted to free, propertied males – but, even so, the Revolution he led was committed to a radically new form of government erected on the representative principle. Having been in his early years an active buyer and seller of slaves, during the struggle for independence he began to describe slavery as a great evil and subsequently emancipated all his slaves in his will – the only Virginia founder to do so. As the new republic’s first (and reluctant) president he was determined the country would not tumble into despotism, tyranny or anarchy – nor monarchy. For all these reasons, Henry Lee was right to say of Washington – as many still do today, with similar force – that he was ‘first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen’.

Details about George Washington’s life can be easily found on the internet – Google returns nearly 4,000,000 pages! Here are a few places to begin:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/gw1.html
http://www.whitehouse.gov/kids/presidents/georgewashington.html
http://www.georgewashington.si.edu/life/chronology.html
http://www.pbs.org/georgewashington/
http://www.apples4theteacher.com/holidays/presidents-day/george-washington/