My Photo
Location: Montgomery Area, Alabama, United States

Former BUFF driver; self-styled military historian; paid (a lot) to write about beating plowshares into swords; NOT Foamy the Squirrel, contrary to all appearances. Wesleyan Jihadi Name: Sibling Railgun of Reasoned Discourse

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

22 February 1732

Today is actually George Washington's birthday. Powerline has an excellent short tribute to him. You should read it:

Today is the anniversary of the birth of George Washington. Of all the great men of the revolutionary era to whom we owe our freedom, Washington's greatness as the rarest, the most necessary, and, at this remove in time, the hardest to understand.

He's a hard man for us to grasp. He was proud, almost arrogant, seeming cold and aloof to many. He thought very much like a conservative, wealthy, well-connected backcountry Englishman of his time, which is what he was until the world and God's will molded him into something different and greater. He was almost as great an innovator as Franklin and Jefferson, but he is seldom recognized for this. One trip to the new restorations at Mount Vernon will verify it, however. He was a slave owner, yes; but he was renown for his humane treatment of his slaves. His view was very much an Englishman's: he was bound to all his workers, white and black, by ties of (for want of a better term) noblesse oblige--they were in essence all part of a community together. And when he died, he freed all his slaves, unlike the liberal icon Jefferson.

He helped create the mold that made archetypal Americans like Jackson and Lincoln, but he was not made from it himself. Lincoln is more accessable to us--he seems more real, more American. Washington does not. He seems...something else. Something great, to be sure, but something remote from what we are. This accounts for his relative obscurity, I think. It's unfortunate. There is much we should relearn about the first half of our country's history--the time before it was the United States. There's even more we could learn from the process of making the mold that made the archetypal American.

The Powerline post recommends Brookhiser's Founding Father, which is a decent general introduction, doing a good job of explaining why Washington was important. The post also favorably mentions James Thomas Flexner's Washington, The Indispensable Man. I'm not so fond of this book. Having read most of the recent Washington literature at one time or another, I find Flexner sensationalizes and contains factual errors. The book is a good read, however. My own favorite among recent biographies is Harrison Clark's two-volume All Cloudless Glory. This is the truest to the ultimate source: Douglas Southall Freeman's definitive (but sadly unavailable) 7-volume work.

As Big Trunk has it, "let us send up our thanks to the Ancient of Days for this indispensable man."


<< Home