Sunday, July 5, 2015

Day 1- Travel\Ellis on George Washington

Travel from South Jersey to Alexandria, VA in heavy holiday traffic. 4 hours! Tomorrow, I'll be touring Mount Vernon for the morning and then traveling south to Chancellorsville, VA to tour the battlefield where Stonewall Jackson lost an arm, and subsequently his life.

Washington and the "Patriarchal Problem"
In preparation for this tour, I pulled a number of books from the shelves at Schmidt Library, including His Excellency, by Joseph Ellis. In his introduction, Ellis describes the difficulty of capturing who Washington really was, noting that "Washington poses what we might call the Patriarchal Problem in its most virulent form: on Mount Rushmore, the Mall, the dollar bill and the quarter, but always an icon- distant, cold, intimidating. As Richard Brookhiser has so nicely put it, he is in our wallets but not our hearts."

I think Ellis is right that we have alternated between idolization and "evisceration" in the treatment of Washington. The facts of Washington's life give us plenty to work with on both counts.