Richard Brookhiser: Draws Upon Washington To Illuminate Presidency

Historians in the News

Historian and National Review senior editor Richard Brookhiser appeared at the National Constitution Center last night to discuss a founding father currently outshined in the contemporary media spotlight.
Alvin Felzenberg, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that George Washington does not enjoy the kind of prominent cinematic representation that HBO recently gave to John Adams or that Steven Spielberg aspires to give to Abraham Lincoln. He inquired of Mr. Brookhiser as to why.

America's first president, the historian answered, had some albatrosses as a public man. He had little gift for oratory and - at least compared to such contemporaries as Thomas Jefferson, Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Paine - a modest gift for writing.
"We're a very verbal culture," Mr. Brookhiser explained. "Maybe Washington falls behind because of that."
But what the first commander-in-chief lacked in eloquence he compensated for with a sense of the visual and the theatrical. He was a talented surveyor whose Mount Vernon estate in Virginia surpasses in elite opinion the beauty of Jefferson's Monticello. And he had a commanding appearance; he stood tall and strong, rode his horse gracefully and looked impressive in uniform.

Although an undaunted and charismatic revolutionary, Mr. Brookhiser observed, Washington determination did not preclude compromise and humility. He admired the intelligence of his cabinet secretaries Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox although he found his occasional disagreements with them, particularly with Jefferson, to be pointed.
"He had the confidence to employ smart people," Mr. Brookhiser said, suggesting later presidents who emulated him on that score have been wise to do so....
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