Leader by Destiny Analysis
Eaton’s purpose for writing this exhaustive biography—replete with fascinating insights into the social and political processes of Colonial life, especially in Virginia, into military affairs, and into the monumental problems besetting the new nation if it was to survive its infancy—is implied in her title, Leader by Destiny. She determined to reveal the reasons Washington deserves to be considered the “father” of his country, and to have earned the eulogy of Harry Lee: “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen!” Natural ambition aside, no one could have foreseen the singular role that Washington would play in the dramatic years of America’s struggle to emerge from its colonial dependence.
Eaton extracted the concept of destiny from a passionate letter that Washington wrote at the age of twenty-six from the western territory while he was waiting to recapture Fort Duquesne from French troops. Renouncing Sally Fairfax, the wife of his friend and neighbor, his “one great love” until he met his wife-to-be, he stated that “there is a Destiny which has control of our actions, not to be resisted by the strongest efforts of Human Nature.” This emotional dismissal of all of his previous affection for Fairfax in favor of the new duties that he was to face became the clue to Eaton’s depiction of Washington’s life story, in its inevitable movement toward his destiny. She ends chapter 9 in 1772, just before Washington’s fate called him to national service, by foreshadowing the next three years as the period when “he rose with quiet sureness to the stature of his destiny.”
Thus, in chapter 2, she can describe him as “illiterate” and possessing a “temper,” later noting him to be a “high-spirited, inarticulate young man” at twenty-one; a few pages later, he is called “a hot-head.” The French labeled him “cruel and savage Washington” for his early military blunder of firing on a French party without warning. Yet by chapter 5 Eaton portrays her subject’s heroic behavior at the rout of General Braddock’s forces, a “ghastly” disaster, as one that would “fix his glory for all time.” In the following crisis, Virginians looked to him as “able and true as steel. He was the one hope.” By the time of his marriage in 1759, which is described in chapter 8, Eaton suggests that he had proven “his loyalty, courage and devotion to duty.”
The last half of the biography covers the years from 1775 to the end of Washington’s life, still demonstrating the destiny that overrode his personal interests. For example, when she describes his selection as commander in chief of the Continental army, Eaton portrays him rising shyly to his feet: “Nobody could less suggest the man of ambition or more the patriot.” When the full description of the frustrating war for...
(The entire section is 704 words.)