George Washington, Leader of the People Essay - Critical Context

Clara Ingram Judson

Critical Context

Judson’s biography is clearly an attempt to show the individual behind the idealized figure so common in earlier, worshipful portraits of Washington. Her obvious respect for her subject is not concealed, but the depiction frankly shows his failures as well as his successes. She clearly portrays the character traits that could make him appear aloof and patrician along with those feelings of inferiority to the highly educated politicians whom he was called upon to lead through the difficult period of the formation of the national government. Several times, Judson notes that, as military commander, Washington was powerless to prevent British successes and on occasion would have been defeated had the British acted more resolutely. History reveals, however, that these advantages were not exploited, and the Colonial cause prevailed in what seems almost a destined manner.

This 1951 biography makes little mention of the slave system in which Washington participated as a Virginia planter, civil rights issues not being as visible when the book was written. References to servants are usually made without comment on skin color or condition of servitude. Rather, as the research note by Worth Bailey at the beginning of the book observes, “She has portrayed simply and straightforwardly the character of the hero.” Judson’s own final comment serves as a footnote to her effort to bring this mythic figure to the light of common day, when she reminds her readers that “Today, as in his time, a land that would be free needs faithful men of high ideals and integrity—men like George Washington.” This biography serves its purpose of providing such an example for others to emulate.