Founding Father Essay - Critical Essays

Richard Brookhiser

Founding Father

The modern era has not taken a kind view of fathers. Intellectuals sneer at “the patriarchy” and the public thinks of ineffective television figures. This has had its effect on the Father of Our Country, who has been dismissed to a remote exile—partly a children’s myth no longer taught in schools, partly slaveholders’ hypocrisy, partly a formal and uncaring aristocrat, the rest only a remnant of the discredited history of “elites.”

Brookhiser’s revisionist biography attempts to refute all these misleading portrayals by showing readers the real George Washington: a physically impressive man with a strong temper and an ambition to attain a good reputation. Governing all this was a remarkable self-control that came from an upbringing in Virginia’s aristocratic society and a strong personal morality. Courtesy and good manners were as much a part of his governing style as of his personal behavior, but they never implied weakness or lack of resolution.

Washington disapproved of slavery; he did what he could to rid the nation and himself of it, but he was also aware that perfectionism can lead to disaster. One must not sacrifice realizable gains for unattainable ones. Only if the nation survived did its fundamental ideals have the possibility of being more fully realized.

As father of his country, Washington did what every good father does as his children reach maturity: He lets them go. When Washington retired from the army, from the presidency, he knew that the nation would have difficult times ahead, but realized that such struggles were an inevitable part of growing up. Washington had done what he could to set the nation on the right course. The rest was, and is, up to us.

Sources for Further Study

American Heritage. XLVII, May, 1996, p. 110.

Commentary. CI, May, 1996, p. 69.

Forbes. CLVIII, December 2, 1996, p. 26.

Kirkus Reviews. LXIII, December 1, 1995, p. 1678.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 24, 1996, p. 10.

National Review. XLVIII, March 11, 1996, p. 61.

The New York Review of Books. XLIII, February 29, 1996, p. 11.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, February 18, 1996, p. 8.

The New Yorker. LXXI, February 5, 1996, p. 68.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, January 8, 1996, p. 55.

The Wall Street Journal. February 8, 1996, p. A12.