Student Question

Was George Washington's image concern biblical?

Quick answer:

While Washington was a practicing Christian, the concern for his personal image come from classical examples of stoicism and his own notions of discipline and leadership.

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Though he was a Christian, George Washington’s famous stoic manner has its roots in classical Rome rather than the Bible, specifically the time in which the Republic was dying in the furnace of civil war.

As a youth, Washington’s bad temper and lack of discipline often got him into trouble. He soon found, however, a role model who could help him learn to restrain his passions and develop his character and potential.

Like most young men at the time, Roman and Greek history served as a significant share of George Washington’s childhood education. To be educated in the British Empire meant that one drank deep of classical history’s events and individuals. From them, the Founding Fathers learned everything from morality to politics to development of personal character.

Washington selected a notable example to follow early in life, Marcus Portius Cato. He studied the example of Cato for clues on how to live a productive and moral life, just as many Americans have looked to Washington for the same example.

Cato the Younger was a Roman Senator from distinguished lineage. He adopted Stoicism as a guiding philosophy, both preaching and practicing personal reserve and discipline. Cato emerged as an important leader during the death throes of the Roman Republic, as opposition to Rome’s vital constitution undermined both it and the Republic it framed.

As the Republic wilted, powerful men such as Julius Caesar rose to fill the vacuum. Cato and others in the Senate stood defiantly for resurrection of the Republic as it was and against the tyranny to come.

Cato’s fate was to die for his country as the tides of history and the ambition of Caesar drove the Republic’s last vestiges onto the rocks, preparing the way for the Empire to come.

Washington adopted Cato as a guiding star for his life. Setbacks and successes he greeted with the same reserve. Remembering Cato’s ultimate sacrifice, Washington exhibited lifelong courage on the battlefield that some might define as reckless.

Rome served as Washington’s mentor on how to lead as well. Washington grasped well the responsibilities of leadership, including how to acquire and maintain the confidence and respect of those following him. When the fighting ceased in the War of Independence, Washington refused to seize or even accept power in or over the newly freed United States. He instead urged his fellow officers to join him and follow the example of Cincinnatus, a Roman general who abandoned fame and calls to take power in favor of retiring to his humble and simple farm.

Rome shaped Washington more than any other example and he followed her lead faithfully from his teenage years until his death. Few got beyond his famed reserve and most honored his legacy and impact during his life and after.

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