Considering Washington

Here’s an accessible re-introduction to George Washington. It asks “What made George Washington the most remarkable man of an extraordinary generation?” It does a pretty good job in its answer:

Eulogists and early biographers imputed many virtues to Washington. They praised his wisdom, judgment, astounding courage on the battlefield, and dignity. Congress elected him the first chief executive, principally because its members trusted his moral character. Assessments of Washington applauded his military zeal and political passion on the one hand and his self-restraint and civil moderation on the other. Blending Stoic and Christian traditions, eulogists extolled Washington’s perseverance in the midst of setbacks.

Many admirers considered Washington’s self-control the key facet of his character. He could master events because he had mastered himself. Despite being surrounded by fear, despair, indecisiveness, treason, and the threat of mutiny, he remained confident and steadfast. Eulogists also heralded his self-sacrifice, devotion to the common good, compassion, generosity, and benevolence. …

“I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man.”

In certain times we judge great figures of history by their greatest virtues, and at other times we judge them by their greatest failings. Our judgment of Washington deserves to be informed by both.

And yet, his firm place in the American story and the public impact of so many of his personal virtues are what have created the possibility for our present culture.


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