How will George Washington be perceived in the future?

The way George Washington will be perceived in the future will depend on the new findings and perspectives that historians present about him. Washington’s place in American history will continue to be redefined in the context of contemporary society.

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For many, George Washington remains one of the most revered political, military, and virtuous figures in American history. That is not to say that Washington did not have his faults. Some modern historians and activists in the historical community are quick to point out that the number of slaves at Washington's Mount Vernon home was more than 300. Washington himself owned 123 slaves, with the remaining belonging to the estate of Daniel Parke Custis estate, Washington's wife's first husband, who died in 1757. These facts are important to note, as the United States is going through a period of racial reckoning and reevaluation of history in the light of how slavery impacts the racial subconscious of American democracy. Washington's will stipulated that at the time of his death, his slaves were to be freed; however, that does not negate Washington's moral responsibility for believing a person has the right to own another human being.

While slavery taints Washington's reputation in the minds of some modern historians, Washington's enormous wealth is problematic for others. In modern-day economic terms, Washington was a shrewd businessman and is one of the wealthiest presidents in American history, if not the wealthiest. A substantial portion of his wealth is attributable to the free labor of slaves, and some historians also portray Washington as an example of privilege, having been born into wealth and later inheriting a substantial fortune. His political and business ties gave Washington an advantage over less fortunate colonists, allowing him to live in relative comfort while those less fortunate struggled. Historians document George Washington's philanthropy over his lifetime, but many critics say Washington should have done more to help the poor.

So, how will Washington be perceived in the future? All significant historical figures are subject to the same fate by historians: their lives come under a more critical review and assessment as new information is uncovered and society progresses. While Washington will continue to receive criticism from historians, the popular idea of Washington as an honorable, generous, thoughtful, and respected person in his and modern times will likely persist as well.

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