Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 37

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 37

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This is the grave of George Washington.

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There’s one much one can say about Washington, so just a couple of points.

1) His choosing to step down from power peacefully is one of the greatest things to ever happen to the United States. As we have seen around the world in revolution after revolution, without a respected tradition of peaceful succession, oppression and war result.

2) His record on slavery is highly mixed. He profited his entire life from enslaved black labor. However, to his credit, at least he freed his own slaves on his death. He could not free Martha Washington’s slaves. But he did a lot more than Jefferson. One wonders how quickly this would have changed had he the opportunity to make money in western cotton lands, something he would have been interested in given his lifelong engagement in land speculation.

3) It’s interesting that Washington remains basically inscrutable, even after ages of popular biographies. He was simply an unknowable man, even to his contemporaries.

I’m sure you all have thoughts on Washington. Go for it. The world needs an open thread on George Washington.

George Washington is buried at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

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  • MilitantlyAardvark

    So, basically the American Boris Johnson, innit?

  • His choosing to step down from power peacefully is one of the greatest things to ever happen to the United States. As we have seen around the world in revolution after revolution, without a respected tradition of peaceful succession, oppression and war result.

    Don’t neglect the Newburgh Address (still blows my mind that it happened on March 15th). Whether or not that would’ve actually resulted in a coup, or if a coup was even possible given the state of the army, Washington took it seriously and squelched it dead.

    • Bruce Vail

      Yes, Washington’s Farewell to his officers was as important as his stepping down as President, maybe more so. He could have easily used the Continental Army to establish himself as King or Dictator, but he chose to disband the Army instead.

      Next time you are in NYC, go to Fraunce’s Tavern (a repro, but still) and hoist an American craft brew to George Washington.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Craft brew? How about hoisting a bottle of America!

      • Crusty

        Enjoy the 19 dollar cheeseburger.

        • Bruce Vail

          Yeah, no shit. When I worked in that neighborhood many moons ago I always wanted to enjoy a big meal there, but could only afford a beer in the bar.

  • N__B

    It’s a good thing they’ve got those bars because Zombie George Washington would fuck your shit up.

  • Bootsie

    He saved the children, but not the British children.

    • BobBobNewhartNewhartSpecial

      Haha, I love that video, and I kind of figured there would be a reference in this thread. On the off chance anyone hasn’t seen it yet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex2hj5rLN48

      • keta

        American history remains fascinating.

    • wengler

      The grave looks six foot twenty weighs a fucking ton.

    • Halloween Jack

      Had, like, thirty dicks.

      • los

        And don’t forget that Washington’s hands were at least 20% the size of Donald Trump’s hands.
        Washington is truly a giant of a man of history.

  • Johnny sycophant

    Regarding point 1. You can easily overstate the great man theory of history but sometimes…. look at South Africa and Zimbabwe. In South Africa you had Mandela and in Zimbabwe you had Mugabe…

    Of course given the nature of his support/coalition it may have been hard for Mandela to become Mugabe, but someone like Buthelezi OTOH…

    • ThrottleJockey

      Explains why every person I’ve ever met with the last name “Washington” is black. You putting together a resume, you just better go ahead and change your last name if you want half a chance of getting an interview.

  • junker

    Not sure how hard this would be but it might be helpful to have an index page for these American grave posts like you do your labor history posts, in case anyone wants to go back now that you’re up to 37.

    • Origami Isopod

      LGM could use a more thorough tagging system. Or just some way for readers to view all tags and not just the abridged cloud in the sidebar.

    • Hmmm…not a bad idea.

  • Jake the antisoshul soshulist

    I remain in firm belief that America has had three great presidents,
    Washington, Lincoln and FDR. Some of the others were better or worse than the others, but those three are head and shoulders.
    Not saying that those were perfect by any means, but considering the
    nature of people that seek power, we have been unusually fortunate.

    • EliHawk

      It really is something that all three of them were, to varying degrees, inscrutable men, no matter how many biographies try and sort them out.

    • mikeSchilling

      1, 16, and 32, so we’re screwed until at least 64.

      • ForkyMcSpoon

        What is the mathematical formula you’re using?

      • Ahuitzotl

        or at least til 48

        • los

          Carter Clinton Obama Hitlery will never give up power11!!!

          If yu dont vot for Donnal Trump I wil be mad that america is not gret
          Ernest T. Blogger

    • William Berry

      Agreed, but I think that is pretty much a standard ranking among main-stream U.S. historians.

    • Jackov

      Where do you rank the following:
      Bartlett
      Beck
      Kovic (aka Mitchell)
      Taylor
      Whitmore

  • Crusty

    I gather that GW did not wear a wig, but styled his own hair to look like the wigs that were popular at the time. Of course, this is yet another thing that Trump has in common with our greatest presidents.

    • los

      40 years from now, conservatives will brag that they led fight for civil rights for LGBQT, “George Washington was our First Queen! GOPROUD! (waves confederate battle flag)”

  • Spiny

    On the theme of peaceful succession, one weird fact that always stuck with me from history class was that Washington had no biological children. Since there was real debate back then about how “royal” Presidents should be, and since Washington was so revered but himself averse to huge Presidential pomp, it seems kind of fitting that there was no opportunity to make his descendants de facto royalty.

    Washington also seems to get little dramatic treatment in film, given his historical stature. Maybe no more or less than any other pre-WW2 president. Though in the past few years we’ve had the John Adams miniseries, Turn, and Hamilton.

    • los

      one weird fact that always stuck with me from history class was that Washington had no biological children
      you ignore everything the liberel media tells you!!

      I wil hav saddy if yu dont vot for Danaled Tromp that america is not gret
      Ernest T. Blogger

  • Cheerful

    To the extent the American Revolution was a good idea, about which I am still a little conflicted, though closer proximity to the British has given me a better sense of why people might want to flee them, then Washington was a good leader of it – a respected member of the Southern slaveholding class, willing to work and fight alongside Northerners, with an near obsessive desire for dignity and self honor, where honor meant not attempting to single-handedly take power from others.

    Too bad he wasn’t that great an actual general, but he was good when he needed to be, and lucky, which counts for a fair amount.

    And he was pretty good at assessing others, like Hamilton, and taking counsel.

    The U.S. could have done a lot worse.

    • AMK

      If there was no revolution in the 1770s, there would have been later…except it would have been the South fighting London instead of Washington to preserve slavery. Maybe a better chance of them winning too, since when the going got rough the Brits could have just shrugged and switched to (technically) non-slave cotton labor in Egypt or India.

      • lsimmonds

        One assumes the early stage english generalship would have been competent enough to prevent the going from getting too rough.

        How many live would have been saved on both sides if we started out with Grant?

        • Cheerful

          And assuming that the North would have been supporting the English in such a fight (not a guarantee of course, as the South might have been able to pitch the fight as a second battle for independence as opposed to a war for slavery), than it would be a matter of the North plus an English army and navy against the South, which could have hurried things along.

        • btfjd

          It’s an interesting question. I yield to no one in my admiration for Grant as general, but he definitely learned on the job. His first foray at Belmont was ill conceived, and almost got him whipped, if not captured. At Shiloh, he got complacent about the possibility of the rebels consolidating and attacking. His failure to ensure that his troops entrenched almost got him beaten.
          And even though his frontal assault at Vicksburg was repulsed with heavy losses, he still employed that tactic on several subsequent occasions, most famously Cold Harbor.

          But his strategic vision was unmatched by any general on either side. Right off the bat he saw that opening river routes into the South was critical, and so moved on Forts Henry and Donelson. His Vicksburg campaign was a masterpiece, and is still studied in military academies. Similarly, his relief of Chattanooga was brilliant. When he became Commanding General his overall strategy was to attack everywhere, preventing the various Confederate forces from concentrating. Circumstances and bad subordinates prevented advances on Mobile, and Banks went up the Red River with disastrous results, but the basic strategy worked. Sherman prevented Johnston from joining Lee, and Grant fixed Lee’s army at Richmond. His tactics in the Overland campaign may have been faulty at times, though getting across the James undetected was brilliant, but his strategy was unimpeachable.

          So yes–unlike McClellan,Grant would have moved immediately upon getting the Lost Orders and may have destroyed Lee’s army piecemeal before Antietam. At Antietam, he would have attacked simultaneously, not seriatim, and would have committed his reserves to finish Lee off. He would not have attacked St. Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg, and probably wouldn’t have let Jackson sneak around him and hit his flank at Chancellorsville.

          I think–counterfactuals are neither true nor false.

      • los

        going got rough the Brits could have just shrugged and switched to (technically) non-slave cotton labor in Egypt or India.
        If the Brits allowed equivalent of slave state secession (and then how to avoid renewed war(s) over the western territories?), the CSA wouldn’t be a british colony, so trading with slave nations would be patriotic free trade.
        What I recall reading implied that the Brits were happy to buy slave cotton from future CSA states up until Civil War blockades began.
        (Though I couldn’t put my mind into the “heads” of those making decisions in the far past)

    • Ahuitzotl

      lucky, which counts for a fair amount. everything*

      *at least Napoleon thought so, and who would know better?

  • Witt

    His record on slavery is highly mixed. He profited his entire life from enslaved black labor. However, to his credit, at least he freed his own slaves on his death.

    He also spent time and money pursuing enslaved people who escaped from him.

    • celticdragonchick

      Unfortunately true. He also provided for the future of his slaves when he died however, including setting aside funds for the children to go to trade schools and a pension for elderly slaves. I think both actions are tied up into the sense of propriety at the time: You do not run away from your social obligation (even if that happens to be slavery) but that applies to the owner as well who is bound to provide for the well being of the slaves. Very much a British upper-class paternalism outlook.

  • JB2

    My favorite thing about (most of) the founding fathers was their determined secularism, and Washington was right up there with Paine and Jefferson in this regard; some of you have probably read this:

    http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/washington-s-letter-to-the-hebrew-congregation-of-newport-rhode-island

    Pretty cool, I think. And there’s other anecdotal evidence suggesting he didn’t care much for most religious ritual and dogma.

  • William Berry

    Just want to say I recently saw “Adams” for the first time on HBO Now. Mixed feelings about the whole thing, more-or-less.

    But I was really impressed by David Morse’s Washington. He took the bit of the Washington cliche between his teeth and ran with it. Tom Wilkinson’s Franklin was good too, I thought.

  • Nick Conway

    How possible is it to really look at Washington’s federal “policies” as president? The two points you listed were more about his creation of political norms or political beliefs: giving up the presidency, mixed record on personal slaveholding.

    But what about bills he supported, policies he proposed? Or is it impossible to really analyze the presidents role in policy in these early years of the US because he was more of a figurehead and congress was doing most of the action? It looks like Washington only vetoed two bills, although that is actually more than Adams or Jefferson. There’s also foreign policy, which I assume him and the secretary of state had at least a good amount of control over.

  • Blanche Davidian

    As I get older he becomes more and more interesting. Basically brought England into the Seven Year’s War with his ill-advised foray toward Ft. Duquesne.
    Hardly a Napoleon or Alexander, but like Fabius Cunctator kept an operational army in the field throughout the Revolution which ultimately made the British determine they’d had enough of the quagmire in the colonies.
    Consciously made himself into the figure we revere as George Washington, the great founding father and the American Cincinnatus.
    Became the template for the consummate American statesman who was used to shame Grant into not running for a third term as president because “Washington wouldn’t run for a third term.”
    He was the greatest Roman of his age.

  • ForkyMcSpoon

    While Washington frequently is listed near the top for best American presidents, to be honest, I have no idea what leads people to that conclusion.

    Is it because he didn’t run for a third term? This seems to get outsized importance, given that he died a mere two years later anyway. It’s not like he would’ve created a precedent of the same president ruling for decades, and given his health it’s not as if he likely wanted to continue anyway. Also, a number of presidents ran for third terms after him, so he clearly didn’t create a strong precedent against it. It seems more likely that in most of those cases, they simply couldn’t sustain the ability to win for >2 elections until FDR came along.

    Is it because of his achievements before he was president?

    I don’t know much about what policies he took AS president that supposedly make him great. Likewise, I don’t hear about any disastrous policies he had. I mostly only know about the Whiskey Rebellion.

    • Just a Rube

      Actually, I’d argue it’s the fact that he died in office a couple years later that makes it even more important; NOT setting the precedent of “rule until you die” is huge, and one of the things that sets the US apart from a lot of newly independent states. He saw himself as setting the model for future presidencies and administrations, and conducted himself accordingly; it’s definitely to his credit that those norms have helped the US survive to this day despite its awkward system of government.

      As for his actual administration, he was essentially a Federalist (although the parties wouldn’t be formalized until after his administration), and adopted corresponding domestic policies; in foreign affairs he focused on keeping the US out of the giant mess in Europe as the French Revolution threw the continent into chaos.

    • bender

      Getting a new country off on the right foot counts for a lot. Setting up a functional Executive Branch took work.

      The men who lead the revolution did not all like each other. A few years later, Adams and Jefferson ran vicious presidential campaigns against each other and Burr shot Hamilton dead. Washington kept them in check and doing constructive work by the force of his personality, his good judgement and the respect they had for him. Washington had an eye for wealth in his private life but did not use his public office to enrich himself further.

  • galanx

    In the matter of slaves the British had promised their freedom to for fighting against the Rebels:

    “All prisoners on both sides shall be set at liberty, and his Brittanic Majesty shall with all convenient speed, and without causing any destruction, or carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American inhabitants, withdraw all his armies, garrisons, and fleets from the said United States” [OTL Treaty of Paris 1783]

    Guy Carleton and other British officers were outraged at this insult to their honour (not that they were overly concerned with Negroes as such, just thay they were forced to break their word). They did their best to ship as many as possible to Nova Scotia, resulting in this warning from George Washington:

    “…I find it my duty to signify my readiness in conjunction with you to enter into agreements, or take any measures which may be deemed expedient to prevent the future carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American people.”

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