Part of the “Eminent Lives” series, George Washington: the Founding Father is a succinct (123 pg.) and compelling reflection on the life of perhaps the greatest American to have ever lived. British historian, Paul Johnson objectively recounts and reflects on Washington and takes the reader through the great periods in his life. From his youth to early experience in the French-Indian War, his development as an agrucultural pioneer in the colonies, centered around his Mt. Vernon estate and what are surely the most momentous of periods in his life and our nation’s history, the Commander and Chief during the American Revolution in victory over the British as well as the first presidency. No one is more responsible for guiding and setting the nation upon its course and his legacy endures to this day.
What struck me while reading the book was both how much more real Washington was made to me and yet how truly exceptional the man was in almost a supernatural way. His decisions seemed providential in their visionary execution. As a farmer he recognized the inefficiency and shortsightedness of tobacco farming which ruined the soil over time and perpetuated ties with England. Washington kept his eyes to the west, the Ohio River Valley and beyond as America’s natural direction of growth. As Commander in Chief, he assembled what may have been the greatest general staff in military history and outmaneuvered the formidable British army and navy, culminating in the establishment of the thirteen colonies as the United States of America. As president he set the precedent for the use of executive power and most importantly, he stepped down after two terms, rejecting an earlier proposal to basically make him a king.
Some things I didn’t know about Washington that surprised me was his involvement in freemasonry (he was buried according to masonic rite), his progressive views on slavery, his success as a farmer and possibly being the wealthiest landowner in America upon his death. Washington’s sense of providence led him to meticulously preserve virtually all his writings, papers and receipts, even hiring an archivist to organize it, making this the most complete documentation of any individual in the 18th century. I knew George Washington was tall, but I learned his exact height, 6’2, for the first time. His stature (colossal by the standards of the time) surely made a critical difference in his projection of confidence and power which propelled his life along its superb course.
I think now is as good a time as any for Americans and others to rediscover the man that was George Washington. The founding of America was guided by many truly extraordinary men, but Washington may have been the one truly indispensable player. It’s a great shame that the recently passed President’s Day was thus renamed from the original holiday, Washington’s Birthday. In my humble opinion, the rest of the presidents combined could scarcely hold a candle to the man.
I have a free book to give away. It’s my personal (unmarked) copy. Leave a comment about what periods or event’s in American history you want me to write a post about. I’ll pick the most interesting suggestion for a future post and send the commenter the book. The contest is open until notice is posted here.