George Washington, without a doubt, is one of the main symbols of the American nation and the national hero of the United States. George Washington was the first and most revered U.S. President, and he is considered to be the father of the nation. Washington name has always been associated with the U.S. capital, which was built in his honor, and the power of the American empire.
Nonetheless, in real life, beyond the symbol and idol stands quite an ordinary man, who had his own characteristics and preferences. Before stating the main reasons of his success (skills, abilities, strength or just luck), it is necessary to undertake a detailed analysis of his personality and critically approach to the issue. In this paper, I try to examine the personality of George Washington with an extremely skeptical and optimistic point of view.
George Washington was born in a rather ordinary farming family, which for several generations lived on the east coast of America. All the names of his relatives and descendants are depicted in the family cemetery next to the museum house where Washington was born. He lost his father when he was 11 years old. Afterwards, he would proudly say that even despite the fact that he grew up without a father and got a mediocre education, it was not a hindrance to achieve great success.
Washington had an entrepreneurial streak. From his early age, he was interested in the land and tried to buy it. He transformed his inherited tobacco plantation into wheat plantation. He believed in its higher value for people. However, despite the interest in the land, he did not work on it, leaving this activity for his slaves.
His character included excessive desire for public recognition that was related to chronic underlying insecurity. Only later did he learn a confident demeanor, hiding the inherent weakness that played a fundamental role when he led the American Army and during his reign as president.
George Washington did not marry because of great love, but rather for practical reasons. He found a widow with two children, who did not care about sentiments. This woman perfectly nourished the vanity of Washington, and morally helped him to become a symbol of the American nation. Since he did not have his own children, he raised the children of others, treating them as a family.
Reputation of a "great military leader", he gained after French-Indian War. This war had nothing to do with the American troops, and generally ended in failure, but as a result of participation in hostilities, Washington started to consider himself as a "great". The development of his abnormal self-esteem was also the result of being used in the British armed forces only on the borders. It all made him an archenemy of the Great Britain.
The main quality of the George Washington, which allowed him to become a symbol of the American nation, is his non-interference in politics and the legislative process. To satisfy his ego, it was enough for him to be the main character - not the engine, but the flag on the ship. It was advantageous for his entourage, which remained in the shadow and pursued the policy that was the most profitable for them. Among these people were Adams, Hamilton, and even Jefferson, who became Washington's successor.
However, there is a more positive assessment of his activities, according to which Washington had a precisely thought out and surprisingly coherent overall concept, which he purposefully put into practice. As a president, he was a "pragmatic prophet" who knew how to mix a conservative and pro-republican society with modern economic beliefs aimed at freedom of the individual. He felt obligated to force integration of American states in the new constitutional system.
Agrarian literature of English opposition from the beginning of the XVIII century significantly influenced on the worldview and political philosophy of Washington. He admired Cato the Younger, whom he regarded as a model of all the Roman virtues. He tried to match these examples in public and private life, adhering to the classic style of speech, dignified gestures and facial expressions. Self-control, strict control of emotions and disciplined behavior became his outstanding qualities. Instead, initial spontaneity manifested less and less.
George Washington was conservative and prudent, moderately religious, without a deep interest in theological issues, but always ready to accept new ideas and thoughts. He combined the virtues of Anglican past with a progressive consciousness of Enlightenment.
Washington did not accept British imperial policy after 1763 and regarded it as a threat for the rights of settlers. His pride did not allow him to tolerate the oppression of the British Empire, and uncommon zeal for the conquest of universal recognition compelled him to publicly condemn the situation and call for action. He believed that without resistance this policy will lead to a complete elimination of the colonial autonomy. Leadership in this fight should take the elite that allegedly are able to confront for the common good and above private and material interests. Therefore, people should treat them with the proper respect. Starting from such a fundamental point of view, Washington categorically rejected the British tax laws and offense against sovereignty. In the parliament of Virginia and during the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia, he was one of the first to show the courage to speak for armed resistance to England. Nevertheless, he was originally a supporter of peaceful resistance and some time before he condemned the event called Boston Tea Party.
Washington used a tactic that was very similar to Kutuzov's tactic during the war with Napoleon in 1812 - to wait and delay the war. The reason was predetermined by the personality of Washington. He was always afraid of responsibility for his decisions and tended to shift this responsibility to local organizations and Congress.
One of the strongest traits of George Washington was his understanding the psychology of human behavior. He saw the intentions of people and could determine their driving force. It was one of his main trumps, which allowed his mediocre personality to win the confidence of the people. He had a well-developed emotional intelligence; he could cleverly find a common language with the different people, in spite of reluctance in the rapprochement with anyone.
Thanks to these skills, George Washington managed to successfully lead the military campaign against British troops. He knew that Englishmen on the territory of another continent are demoralized and feel insecure. For the British Army, every bush in America was a potential enemy. Every civilian, obviously, would defend its land, but not the queen that lives somewhere overseas.
As a commander, Washington showed integrity, courage, fortitude, and talent of organizer. He created an army of militias, and passed with her along arduous journey of defeats and victories from the siege of Boston (1776), for which he was awarded a gold medal by Congress until the surrender of British forces at Yorktown (1781).
Throughout the war, the biggest problem of Washington was weaponry and supply of the army. He often felt abandoned by the Confederation Congress that was founded in 1777 on the basis of the Articles of Confederation, and the governments of the individual states. Notwithstanding these frustrations and scheming against him in Congress, Washington never challenged the supremacy of the civilian leadership. He left all political issues to Congress. His task was to make important military decisions, but only after detailed discussions with trusted people, to which primarily belonged Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette.
His obstinacy and deep conviction that not guerrilla tactics, but victory in the open battle would force England to surrender was finally confirmed at Yorktown in Virginia. Thanks to a well-coordinated action with the French army and navy, he made General Cornwallis capitulate with 7000 British soldiers in 1781. He thus opened the way for negotiations that led two years later to the formal conclusion of peace and international legal recognition of American independence.
Washington's idealism set for him the highest goal - to ensure the survival of the democratic government in the world of absolutism and despotism. He wanted to establish a new government system based on the "true principles" which would be guaranteed by the constitution. For this purpose, he wanted to make a full use of constitutional possibilities offered by the institution of the president. He knew that being the first to hold this post, his decisions would create precedents which would be helpful in future.
The foundation was laid by distribution of administrative posts while he considered the interests of individual regions and tried to link various political and ideological trends. Following the model of his military council, he surrounded himself with brilliant intelligent staff that was supposed to operate not only as executive authorities, but also as individual advisers.
Self-importance along with rational thinking has spurred Washington to make ministers and officials responsible only to him. It meant that he did not need the consent of the Senate for their dismissal.
George Washington was always able to soberly assess his strength and possibilities and appropriateness of independent or collective actions. That is why he wanted to carry out his idea of a single and united federal government, which was interpreted as a defender of the union's common good, in close cooperation with Congress. Unlike many republican theorists who distrust of government (particularly, centralized) considered valuable in itself, Washington saw a strong, vigorously acting federal government as the best guarantee of freedom and the security of citizens.
Owing to his insight, Washington understood the importance of the revolutionary principle of peoples' sovereignty which claims that it is possible to establish the power of the federal government only on the consent of his citizens. He understood the presidency as a symbol of national unity and as an instrument for shaping not existing at that moment American identity. Tedious trips that he made as a head of state in the early years of his tenure, in different parts of the Union, served to strengthen national concord and gain the loyalty of citizens towards the federal government. At that, he ably used his personal popularity and charisma to endow the institution of the president strong authority.
On the background of concerns about the authority of the centralized state and national cohesion, it should be considered Washington's participation in the creation of the capital declared by the constitution. He constantly traveled from Philadelphia to Georgetown to influence the planning of the city, which since September 1791 officially called the city of Washington. In his plans, he saw it as the metropolis of the American empire, the territory of which would extend far to the west of the Mississippi.
George Washington was a sensitive ruler, and it deserved a lot of respect. During his reign, one of the most significant and essential documents was adopted - the Bill of Rights. Washington had a significant concern about vague attitude toward Indians, who sought protection from the oncoming immigrants in the southwest from the Spanish, and in the north-east from the British. The President stood for fair treatment of the indigenous population, and believed in its ability to assimilate. He was personally negotiating with their leaders. However, he also spoke about the "eradication" when his ideas about the empire were under the threat of individual tribes. As commander in chief, he felt directly responsible for the defeats of those troops that were not armed enough or poorly led by American expeditionary forces. The most tragic examples were defeats from the Indians in the Ohio Valley in 1790 and 1791.
One of the greatest qualities of George Washington that made him a great leader was perseverance. George Washington has persevered throughout his entire life, beginning with being self-taught, after not being allowed to attend school. It is a hard job to become educated without external help, and it obviously requires a lot of patience which means perseverance in difficult times, but not frustration after not knowing something. As to being self-taught, you normally would not learn as much as it is necessary to become a great leader. To become a great leader, you need assistance. At least, you need to acquire the basics of life. Without an understanding of how this world functions and which laws are applicable in real life, it is not possible to become someone who can be regarded as a great person.
Nevertheless, as we know, Washington managed to acquire this knowledge with a minimum of external help. He did not have anyone, except his family, with from whom he could ask something. Imagine, how willful and naturally intelligent should be a person to learn, for example, the basics of math. He should have reread same rule again and again until he understood it.
Another way, in which George Washington showed his perseverance, is his struggle for independence, for the new country without dictatorship and patronage of England. At the will of destiny, George Washington had to lead this fight for freedom, and also create a stable government.
Even positive changes at glance usually can cause a lot of trouble. Establishment of a new form of government is always painful. As Niccolo Machiavelli said, “to liberate people wishing to live in slavery is as difficult and dangerous as trying to enslave the people who want to be free.” At least, there are always people who win and lose from no matter what changes in the country. Therefore, George Washington showed his perseverance and devotion to an idea once again, especially after he refused the proposition to become a king and establish monarchy. Despite the fact that he was a supporter of the centralization of power, he believed that democracy is the best way of further development and the autonomy of states should be preserved. During this time, he also showed his ability to persuade segments of the population - from elite to farmers.
I believe that another greatest quality of George Washington is his courageousness. George Washington was brave throughout all his life, and he enjoyed the respect of masses. It is crucial to be a brave person to fight in the civil war. Participation in a war is something that requires such virtues as bravery and honor if you fight for your beliefs and convictions.
- Despite the excellent education and experience he does not tend to any of the generally accepted by society regalia.
- He has a critical attitude toward the luck which does not mean anything else than mere fortuitousness. Importance is attached only to objective and real achievements.
- Anti-symbol. The person can twist a lot of different fundamental mechanisms, but he does not participate anyhow anywhere and remains incognito.
- He has a strong, consistent ideological position, which he defines without external advice.
- In no circumstance does he rely on any opinion except his own one. He does not trust anybody.
- He uses the tactics of active intervention in the events, moves the system whenever possible, sometimes even if he faces a resistance.
- He finds peace only "in the storm."
As we can see, his antipode objectively has better characteristics and theoretically could have achieved greater success. However, it is necessary to remember that the personality is a mixture of both strong and weak traits and there are no precise definitions of "good" or "bad" ones in itself. I believe that his personality coincided with the requirements of that time and situation. In my opinion, this is the key of his success.
The old Latin proverb says that every man makes his own fortune. I believe that it is totally applicable to George Washington. Everything he earned and gained in his life is the result of his hard work. Despite the ordinariness of his personality and obvious character flaws, he managed to create a new nation. Firstly, he gained independence for its citizens and later brought up among them a spirit of freedom and a sense of national pride.
There is no doubt that luck accompanied Washington during his whole life. It is not a coincidence because fortune favors the brave. Since Washington was courage and brave, there is no wonder why he was lucky.
In any case, Washington was an outstanding leader, and it is senseless to allocate luck as a crucial component of his personality. Success is never blamed, and his achievements speak about his leadership qualities for themselves.
Gaff, Jackie, and David West. George Washington: The Life of an American Patriot. New York City: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc, 2005.
Calkhoven, Laurie. George Washington: An American Life. New York City: Sterling Publishing Company, 2006.
Higginbothamhoven, Don. George Washington Reconsidered. Charlotesvile: University of Virginia Press, 2001.
Keller, Kristin. George Washington. Minnesota: Capstone Press, 1994.