Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In Memoriam: George Washington

There are many myths regarding the life and character of George Washington, the majority of which seem to spring from his youth and early adulthood; the most famous of these - the old saw about chopping down the cherry tree, invented posthumously by Parson Weems - says as much about Weems' aspirations for the leadership of his country as it does about the necessity of myth in the shaping of any nation...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1732 at Pope's Creek Plantation, to Augustine Washington and his second wife Mary Ball, young George spent much of his childhood at Ferry Farm. His father dead by the time George was 11, he was taken under the wing of an elder brother named Lawrence, whose move to Mount Vernon (inherited from his father) meant that George received a similar windfall in his inheritance of Ferry Farm.

At seventeen Washington was made official surveyor for Virginia's Culpeper County, a lucrative post which allowed him to purchase even more land. Such successes as he'd already experienced - even from an early age, Washington was a skilled landowner - were offset, though, by the loss of his brother and mentor to tuberculosis in 1753; an even greater tragedy, however, was avoided when George survived a bout of smallpox contracted while attending his brother's convalescence in Barbados.

It was the military and political career of George Washington which established the central tenet of the American Dream - one later ruined by the likes of exceptionalists - that as good as things are they could always stand to be better. Washington's early career and indeed his handling of much of the American Revolution was fraught with the kind of failures that would have made a lesser man give up; Washington, on the other hand, took the time to learn from his mistakes and, given his innate humility, didn't take failures as bruises on his ego but as opportunities to learn. It was just such a trait which would have made him an excellent President at any time in history, but made him the ideal one by which all of his successors would be compelled to measure themselves.
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