Saturday, September 01, 2007

After reading Zane Grey’s, “George Washington Frontiersman,” I wanted to read a more scholarly account of the father of our country. I just finished,” His Excellency George Washington” by Joseph Ellis. This excellent biography was published three years ago and I was long overdue reading this most interesting work. Ellis is an excellent writer and a well know historian. He won a Pulitzer Prize for “Founding Brothers” and the National Book Award for his biography of Thomas Jefferson,”American Sphinx.”
When I lived in the Washington DC area we frequented all the historical sites. The Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials are filled with quotations from these great men. The Washington Monument was just a very tall brick structure towering over everything else with no quotes. Washington wasn’t known for any famous speeches or documents, he was not an intellectual and certainly not a military genius like Alexander or Caesar. He was not a star in any of the areas that make an individual great, yet he stood out over all the rest. He had his critics, especially when the war drug on for eight long years. He lost more battles than he won. Today’s media would probably have killed him. What was his secret and why was he such a success? George Washington had character and always did what was right for our fledgling nation. He stuck with it through thick or thin. It was like he took his orders from on high and was not swayed by public opinion. Fortunately, we didn’t have TV and movie stars in those days to belittle his actions. He was the American Revolution and it is doubtful we would have succeeded without someone of his character and inner strength. It was as if Washington had been sent to earth from on high to carry out an important mission. Ellis does not glorify him but beautifully describes this great man in his book.
Each phase of Washington’s life is well covered. He didn’t chop down a cheery tree and confess to the crime as every school kid thinks and he didn’t throw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. As a young man, he surveyed much of the land in the Shenandoah and Ohio River Valley and was somewhat of a frontiersman but not of the caliber portrayed in Zane Grey’s novel. He did love Sally Fairfax but came out just fine with the widow, Martha Custis. He was a good businessman and developed the inherited Mount Vernon into a meg-plantation. He did not die poor, as many believe. He became famous during the French and Indian War without winning a battle.
Washington didn’t say much in public debates and was always ashamed of his lack of formal education. Everyone recognized that what he said and did was the right thing, and he emerged as the undisputed leader of our young nation. He could probably have been King rather than President, but a Monarchy was what he had struggled against and he wasn’t about to fall into the same trap again.
He failed to resolve the issue of the Indians, as he would have desired, in a way that would have been fair to them. He was also unable to settle the problem of slavery, but did free his slave when he died.
George Washington wanted to build a Union and was at odds with people like Jefferson and Madison. Jefferson was brilliant but a jerk and in my opinion would deserve the label of the “Father of Partisan Politics.”
Washington had bad teeth and didn’t have a flashy smile. He probably wouldn’t even get a TV interview today and I’m sure the media would make fun of him. Even though he was known as the “Father of our Country”, he was probably sterile. He and Martha had no children of their own; only hers from the previous marriage.
Anyway, this is a must read about the great man and the founding of our country. In the presidential rank list, Washington should be number one; he set the standard for everyone else to follow. The current presidential candidates make me nervous. They all have a toothy smile but they are sure no George Washington. The book made life on the porch interesting last week and was a welcome break from Senator Craig and his restroom behavior.


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