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George Washington : Writings (Library of America)

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A book by George Washington

The Library of America was red hot this year. In addition to this collection of Washington's most important papers, the publisher also produced volumes of Nathaniel West, Wallace Stevens, John Muir, and a gangbusters, two-volume collection of American … see full wiki

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Author: George Washington
Publisher: Library of America
1 review about George Washington : Writings (Library of...

'Marble Man' of Revolutionary War speaks his mind

  • Sep 13, 2000
Like Robert E. Lee, George Washington might be considered the marble man of his time, a revolutionary whose passion doesn't burn as bright on the pages of history as, say, Thomas Paine, or as clear as Thomas Jefferson. He may be admired and revered, but not necessarily loved, certainly not in the way as old Marse Lee.

Whether Washington the man can be reclaimed from Washington the statue is a task left up to biographers and fiction writers, because after thumbing through this collection of his writings, it is with some certainty that the man from Mount Vernon can't do it himself.

Once gets the impression that Washington was a man who believed in duty, to himself as an eighteenth-century man of means, and to his country, whether it be England (for whom he participated on several expeditions against the French in Pennsylvania), or his newly created United States. The man who, in 1755, volunteered to join the British commander in chief, General Edward Braddock, on what became a disasterous expedition into western Pennsylvania, became by 1775 the man who would write to his wife announcing his appointment to head the rebel army, that, "I have used every endeavour in my power to avoid it [command]."

Even his ascention to the presidency was performed in very reluctant steps. In a letter to Henry Knox, he wrote, "I can assure you . . . that my movements to the chair of Government will be accompanied with feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution."

So why serve? "It was utterly out of my power to refuse this appointment without exposing my Character to such censures as would have reflected dishonour upon myself, and given pain to my friends," he wrote Martha Washington.

Perhaps an early clue to his character can be found in the first entry, a collection of 100 maxims he composed when he was 15, rules for living which range from the practical ("Put not your meat to your Mouth with your Knife in your hand neither Spit forth the Stones of any fruit Pye upon a Dish nor Cast anything under the table"), to the inspirational ("Let your Recreations be Manfull not Sinfull"), and even a bit of the poetic ("Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience").

Sober, practical, firm-minded, George Washington was not a man to inspire devotion through force of personality, only through a far-sighted competence which does not make for glorious history, but to those who cherish the ideals and promise of America, one can be thankful that he was in the right place at the right time.

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