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George Washington Analysis

One of the best and renowned founding fathers of this country is George Washington. He participated in the American Revolution and climbed the ladder from a junior ranked soldier and later became a senior military officer in the continental army and all ended up by becoming the first president of the United States of America. In the book ‘An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves and the Creation of America’ Henry Wiencek highlights the life history of George Washington in conjunction with the slavery debacle.

Henry also gives light to the renowned founding father on many other issues such as his life as a soldier, politician, President and respected statesman. George Washington Analysis George Washington was born in the month of February the year 1732, long after slavery had taken root in the Americas, “Washington couldn’t have helped but absorb a distinction between the treatment of black and white children”, said (Wiencek…6) His father Augustine Washington was a slave owner. He started his education as young a man in his home in the Stafford County Virginia.

After school he worked as a surveyor and was the best among surveyors. He enjoyed and got interested in farming at a tender age. “At the age of eleven he was a slave owner of ten slaves after the death of his father in 1743” (Wiencek…11). George Washington also inherited more than five hundred acres of land from his father. At the age of 17 he was employed as a public officer in the survey department of Culpeper County. At the age of twenty (20) he was made a major and he was training militias to fight in the revolution war. In the year 1754, he was promoted to a higher rank of lieutenant colonel in the military.

At the same time his interest in farming increased and at the age of 22 he had more than thirty six slaves. But he could not concentrate in his farming activities as in 1758 he was commissioned to yet another higher military rank which was brigadier general. At this time he fought a gallant war against the French and the British. In 1759 he got married to Martha Custis at the age of 27 and acquired more slaves who came from Martha first marriage. The family continued to purchase more slaves because it had acquired thousands more of acres and due to Washington’s interest in farming.

The plantation of George Washington and his wife Martha Curtis was run by skilled labor which was mainly of slaves. The home at Mount Vernon seemed to be favorable for many slaves as they increased in number through marriage and raising large families among themselves. “Washington appeared in the second continental congress clad in the military uniform signaling is preparedness for war. He had the prestige, charisma, military bearing and the reputation of being a strong patriot. ” (Wiencek…41). Virginia had a large number of slaves and as early as 1619 Dutch merchants has brought the first African slaves there.

When it was realized that African slaves provided cheap or rather free labor, the Portuguese and the Dutch engaged in a serious trade of slaves to counter the shortage of labor which was being experienced in the Southern States. More than 10 million Africans were captured and taken into slavery. The importation of the slaves from Africa was solely to be the source of labor in the huge tobacco, cotton and indigo plantations. George Washington as (Wiencek…87) notes “was a typical Virginia slave owner for most of his life but after the American Revolution he sought ways to free his many slaves”.

George Washington owned slaves and as usual they worked for long hours in his plantations. They were occasionally maltreated as they were whipped if they attempted to abscond without genuine reasons like sickness. In other plantations or farms slaves were not properly fed, clothed and housed whereby many suffered during the biting cold of winter but astoundingly, with Washington it was different as his slaves were properly fed, clothed and housed and even many of them were housed in extensions of his house, “House for Families. ” said (Wiencek…103).

He further notes, “This new structure was meant to take slavery into the next century, woven into an architecture of great beauty and permanence” (Wiencek…. 104). However, there were contradictions on how George Washington’s slaves were treated but (Wiencek…112) notes that, “Washington treated his slaves in a humanely way than many of his fellow citizens in Virginia”. As Washington grew older he believed the institution of slavery was not right and it is notes that he purchased his last slave in the year 1772, the many later slaves he acquired were as a result of people who were unable to pay debts and they were paying them in form of slaves.

Many of the slaves enjoyed working in his plantations due to fairer conditions. In the north many of them were taught skills on trade and abandoned the agricultural labor. In the southern states during the 17th century, they were overworked. The supply of indentured labor declined towards the end of the 17th century because living and other conditions in the European countries had improved and therefore they people no longer wanted to go out of their homeland. This is the time when these large land owners turned to African slaves.

Indentured servants or slaves reduced in number as African slaves increased in number, this was in the southern states. In the 1680s the percentage increased from around eight percent to more than forty percent. However, the main difference between the indentured servants and the other slaves was that the indentured servants were not forced to labor but they worked to earn a living and probably start their own activities but the other slaves were forced to labor who included the native Americans, but their labor was not reliable as they escaped and there even attacks from their fellow native tribesmen to release those who had been captured.

Many Native American men slaves were not good laborers because they believed agricultural labor was meant for women not men. This forced the rich settlers or the masters to sell them to the Caribbean where they will not escape. The year 1775 the American Revolution started and ended in the year 1783. The war had been accelerated by indifferences of commerce or trade and traditions between the British and America. The revolution which also came to be known as The American War of Independence was based on the mission that all men were created equal to enjoy liberty, life and happiness.

George Washington played a major role as a soldier during the revolution and led the continental army to many victories against the Great Britain. He became the commander-in-chief of all the revolutionary armies in 1775 through the appointment of the Congress. He is well remembered after the two major wins, after his forces captured enemy forces in Saratoga and Yorktown. As he fought in the war, he was also concerned with the institution of slavery which was increasingly disturbing him.

Moreover, during the revolution war, the black people played an important role as fighters as they were victorious in their frontiers. “Their achievements during the war rang in the mind of George Washington” (Wiencek…153). Immediately after the end of the revolution war in 1783, George Washington went back to his farming activities in Mount Vernon Virginia. However, he was among the individuals who drafted the first American constitution in Philadelphia in the year 1787.

The constitution which he was part of during its drafting clearly stated that rights were for all Americans, it did not segregate between black and white. The American Revolution was an independence movement that was too radical. The American Revolution or the war for independence freed people and ensured that their rights were respected and the first step was to amend the constitution to protect all these freedoms. The main freedoms were; a right to assembly, right to worship and a right for pursuit of happiness.

He became the first president of the United States of America in the year 1789. On the other hand, before the revolution (Wiencek…159) writes that, “Washington wrote to his manager at Mount Vernon that he wished to get quit of Negroes and early before, he (Washington) had wished to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery”. One other reason was concerned with slave families who could be separated or broken up because many of them had intermarried; this even forced him further not to sell slaves without their consent.

(Wiencek…171) the historian speculates that, “Washington’s slave buying more especially his participation in a raffle of fifty five slaves in 1769 initiated his gradual reassessment of the institution of slavery”. (Wiencek…173) further says, “Washington’s thoughts on slavery may have also been influenced by the rhetoric of the American revolution, by the thousands of blacks who sought to be enlisted in the continental army, by the anti-slavery sentiments of his idealistic aide John Laurens and by the enslaved poet Phyllis Wheatley who was black and who wrote a poem in his honor in 1775” (Wiencek…239).

Slavery had been abolished some year later after independence and as it was declared that all human being are equal the Civil War set in and the northern states united to fight the southern states which were very reluctant to free their slaves. There were hidden talents in slaves that came into fore after the bondage of slavery As Washington grew older his stance on slavery changed drastically. He believed that the institution of slavery was dehumanizing and it was not a necessity but during his time as president he never fought slavery publicly, “Washington’s pronouncements on the subject of slavery could be contradictory.

… It’s one of the mysteries of his life” said (Wiencek…255). Already there was a major division whether to abolish slavery and slave trade in general. “His will, drafted a year later, said otherwise. He wrote that he wished he could free all the slaves at Mt. Vernon, but couldn’t because some belonged to his wife’s heirs, and he didn’t want to divide families. Unless Martha or her heirs freed the Custis slaves as well, families would be broken up. Wiencek believes George was trying to persuade Martha to use her influence on her heirs to free the Custis slaves–but she did not.

Washington also stipulated that the freed children be taught reading, writing and a trade” (Wiencek…273) However, his dream of uniting America would have been in jeopardy if he publicly declared his stance against slavery, the Southern States were reluctant to join the union which already comprised of the first thirteen states that got independence from Britain after the Revolution. “The constitution and the principles of the newly born nation were against slavery” (Wiencek…301).

George Washington had the nation in his heart and never wanted to divide it by publicly declaring war against slavery and himself was a slave owner. Secretly, Washington was freeing some slaves and he realized it was an expensive affair. He never wanted these freed slaves to suffer because they were to start their livelihoods without anything after long live of bondage. (Wiencek…345) writes,” Not only did George Washington commit himself to caring for his slaves and to seeking a legal remedy by which they might be freed in his State, but he also took the leadership in doing so on the national level.

The first federal racial civil rights law in America was passed on August 7, 1789 with the endorsing signature of President George Washington. That law, entitled “An Ordinance of the Territory of the United States Northwest of the River Ohio,” prohibited slavery in any new State interested in seeking to enter the Union. Consequently, slavery was thus prohibited in all the American territories held at the time; and it was because of this law, signed by President George Washington, that Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin all prohibited slavery”.

Due to their hard working demeanor, slaves were the first people to work in the White House. Wiencek notes that, “As president, George Washington brought seven slaves to New York in 1789 to work in the first presidential household and after the national capital was transferred to Philadelphia in the year 1790, Washington again brought nine slaves to work in the president’s house”. In Pennsylvania slavery has been abolished and the law prohibited non residents to hold slaves for more than six months and if the slaves were held more than that stipulated time, then they a right of freeing themselves.

The law affected the president, and even though he argued against the law he never succeeded but was advised to be rotating his slaves, which was still against the Pennsylvania’s law but he remained unchallenged. “You could say slavery was something he inherited, a part of the system. But he also had to learn how to be a master. ” (Wiencek…361) After serving his second term as president of the United States, George Washington retired to his home in Mount Vernon Virginia.

During his lifetime the southern states including where Virginia was among them, no slave owner was allowed to emancipate his slaves and incase it happened heavy financial penalties were imposed in them. “The only way to dispose the slaves was by selling them but which was a practice opposed by Washington” (Wiencek…383). At the time of death in 1799 he was in possession of 316 slaves which in his will he had said to be freed and be supported to settle wherever they go, “His will was a rebuke to his family, to his class, and to the country. He was well ahead of people of his time and place,” (Wiencek…395) said.

“This is George Washington’s true legacy. He’d said the slaves weren’t ready for freedom, but at last he said they must have it because of their humanity” (Wiencek…401). He believed it was unjust to own other human beings and mistreat them. For all this long it was believed that Washington fathered children with black women slaves. “These relationships were everywhere. It’s astonishing, the level of denial that has obscured all of this,” (Wiencek…398) says. Work cited: Wiencek, Henry. 2003. An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves and the Creation of America, 1st Edition. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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