Who is the “real” George Washington? We read books and watch documentaries that give us different views. I just watched “The Real George Washington” produced by the national Geographic Channel that seems to take a much different view of George Washington. According to this program George Washington was not an extremely moral person as historically portrayed rather a very shrewd person both in war, though not all that competent, and in romance going after the widow Martha Dandridge Custis for power and money.
I decided I should revisit Washington. It seems today programs make a lot of changes in the character of historic people and I often wonder if it is true due to “new” information or for viewership.
One thing that can be agreed upon is that George Washington was born in 1732. He is called the “Father of Our Country” and was the first President serving from 1789-1797.
In studying history many of us forget the fact that the United States was an expansionist country. We were constantly looking west and while this was happening we began to chaff at the constraints of King George and the British Government who continued to tax us even though we had run from them for other reasons. However we must remember overall we too were a country that was self-confident.
Some of the questions we can ask are “Was George Washington a social climber?” “Did he get involved in wars for power?” “Did he marry his wife for power, not love?” “Was George Washington a racist?”
George Washington was not in the top tier when it came to society but there really is no evidence that he was a “social climber.” Was he the perfect lad that chopped down the cherry tree, probably not? That type of thing is making someone an icon. However George Washington’s actions throughout his life present a pretty straight-up fellow.
George Washington was driven by three interests. He knew planting, military arts and the expansion of the country to the west. It was due to the military interests that he was involved in the French and Indian War where he made a name for himself because while having bullets rip through his clothes and hats he didn’t die getting a reputation as somewhat “favored.” He also surveyed land for some richer people however he didn’t survey the land because they were rich rather because that was a love of his.
Because of Washington’s exploits in the French and Indian War, George Washington was chosen to lead in the Revolutionary War.
However prior to that Washington courted and married widowed Martha Dandridge Custis. The tiny woman was rich. Did he marry her for that reason? There is no way of knowing that and it is presumptuous of the National Geographic Channel to say he did. One thing is certain and that is later it is shown they were very much in love based on actions and letters. Whether it came after the fact or before no one can know however it came.
Another modern-day claim is that Washington was a poor commander and that he lost many battles. That of course is absurd. He routinely outsmarted much larger armies by dropping false intelligence and was in fact one of the first people to effectively use counter-intelligence. This is used to say he was a “cheater.” Since when is falsifying a document in war to fool the enemy a indication of a man’s character?
Finally was Washington a racist? He let his slaves go. He said they should be released upon the death of his wife but she, fearing she would have a bounty on her head, released them.
This was not the bravest road to go but this was nearly a century before the Civil War and there was no social pressure. Yet George Washington opted to do it. I think that is the act of a man who sees right from wrong and acts on it. It was head and shoulders above what others did at that time.
I’m sorry, it seems to me the “real” George Washington is close to the one we have always learned about.
Today there is a trend to take away the validation of our American heroes.
It is a sad and dangerous trend.
“The Real George Washington,” DVD, National Geographic Channel, ISBN 978-1-4262-9475-4
The White House Website, “1. George Washington, 1789-1797”
The White House Website, “Martha Dandridge Custis Washington”