George Washington--the Man Behind the Myths

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University Press of Virginia, 1999 - History - 328 pages
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TWO HUNDRED YEARS after Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee's funeral oration for George Washington, the eloquence of his words "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen" has caused most Americans to forget the clause that followed in which Lee located Washington's character firmly in his private life. George Washington: The Man behind the Myths redresses this historical imbalance in our image of Washington by examining our conceptions and misconceptions about him through a fascinating collection of documents and images.

Washington's own accounts, observations by his contemporaries, narratives by the first generation of Washington biographers, decorative objects, and visual images, which were assembled for a major exhibition sponsored by the Virginia Historical Society, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, and Washington and Lee University, invite a fresh evaluation of Washington. William M. S. Rasmussen and Robert S. Tilton trace the ways in which Washington's origins in the peculiar colonial society of Virginia prepared him for success on the national stage. Chronologically arranged chapters examine Washington's early exposure to the wealthy Fairfax family, his command of the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War and later the Continental Army, his decision to attend the Constitutional Convention, and his two elections to the presidency. Rasmussen and Tilton argue that the major transitions we see in Washington's public image were made possible by the stability of his private life and his love of Mount Vernon.

The image of Washington created by antebellum writers and artists after his death was intended to capture what he signified to the fledgling republic. This myth has survived largely because of its usefulness to our national culture. George Washington: The Man behind the Myths takes a crucial step in restoring our understanding of Washington as he actually was.

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About the author (1999)

William M. S. Rasmussen is Curator of Art at the Virginia Historical Society. Robert S. Tilton is Assistant Professor of American Literature and Director of American Studies at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

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