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Jewish World Review
Feb. 15, 2008
/ 9 Adar I 5768
His Excellency George Washington
Talk about good timing, just in time for his birthday, I just finished reading a wonderful biography on George Washington. The book is entitled "His Excellency George Washington" by Joseph J. Ellis and I recommend it highly, especially if you've never read anything specific on the father of our country. Ellis is a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College and won the Pulitzer Prize for a previous work, "Founding Brothers," which examined the challenges of the men who worked together to bring about America's founding.
Ellis drew his research for the Washington book from the newly catalogued Washington papers at the University of Virginia and has created a biography which is not only detailed and insightful, but as readable as a cracking good suspense novel. The book charts a course through George Washington's private life and career which examines the humanness of the man as well as the events which shaped his leadership decisions. In reading this book you really get to know just what made George Washington the great man that he was.
Most importantly, Ellis puts Washington's life and deeds in the proper context of his own time, eighteenth-century America, as opposed to many revisionist history books which seek to judge our forefathers by today's politically correct standards. But this book is no whitewashing of facts, either - it paints an historically accurate portrait of the man, and does so with style and thoughtfulness.
I thought I knew most of the George Washington story, but I really didn't know him at all. The famous story of little George chopping down the cherry tree that kids of earlier generations wore told, wasn't mentioned in the book - this is a work of absolute fact, not tall stories. And the facts are far more intriguing.
For instance, I knew that Washington was from Virginia, but I didn't realize that he was a fourth-generation Virginian. John Washington, the patriarch of the family, came over from England in 1657. George Washington was a staunch, patriotic American, even before America was a sovereign nation.
Likewise, I never knew how much Washington respected and worked with (and for) the American Indians - and how they respected and worked with him. Washington devised a policy to create several sovereign Indian "homelands." He believed that "Indians being the prior occupants possess the right of the soil …to dispossess them…would be a gross violation of the fundamental Laws of Nature and of that distributive justice which is the glory of a nation." Working to ensure that the Indians got a fair deal in this new nation was Washington's major preoccupation of his first term.
I came away from the biography with added respect and admiration for "His Excellency George Washington." By the way, the designation "His Excellency" was bestowed upon Washington many years before he ever became president. The Massachusetts and New York legislatures wrote congratulatory letters to him using that title when he was Commander in Chief of the Continental army. "His Excellency" became Washington's official title for the remainder of the war.
The book was published in 2004 so it might not be easy to find in bookstores. You could probably get a hold of a copy on the internet or certainly at your local library. I must admit that I've had my copy for a year or so and have now just gotten around to reading it. But then I've always been a bit slow to get with some things, my wife can testify to that fact.
The enormity of Washington's accomplishments is stunning. His character and spirit was undaunting. His integrity set the standard for every other president to follow. And speaking of good timing, what unbelievably providential timing for America that George Washington came upon the scene when he did. How fortunate for all of us, because without him, the creation of our country as we know it might never have happened. Washington most definitely was the right man in the right place at the right time.
Make it your business this February 22nd to spend some time thinking about the father of our country. And do try to find "His Excellency George Washington." Get to know him a little better. After all he did for you; it's the least you can do in return. Happy birthday, George! And happy George Washington's Birthday to us all!
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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