CASE 1—GETTING TO KNOW THE MAN BEHIND THE IMAGE

CASE 2—VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENT,PART I

CASE 3—VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENT, PART II

CASE 4—THE NORTHERN NECK

CASE 5—FAMILY BACKGROUND, PART I

CASE 6—FAMILY BACKGROUND, PART II

CASE 7—THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR, PART I

CASE 8—THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR, PART II

CASE 9—PLANTER, POLITICIAN, AND PATRIOT

CASE 10—THE MAN, PART I

CASE 11—THE MAN, PART II

CASE 12—THE MAN, PART III

CASE 13—THE MAN, PART IV

CASE 14—THE MAN, PART V

CASE 15—DEATH AND APOTHEOSIS

CASE 16—PRESERVING THE MEMORY

CLEMENTS LIBRARY

George Washington: getting to know the man behind the image

This website is a record of the exhibit, as it appeared in the display cases of the William L. Clements Library. Each page features an image of a single display case and its contents, with details of the artifacts and the accompanying text below. Please click on the images to view enlargements and use the "back" button on your browser to return.

Copyrights to the contents of this exhibit, both text and images, are held by the Clements Library. Permission for use and reproduction must be obtained in advance from the director of the Clements Library.

Case 14 The Man, Part V

In 1796, following the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the Treaty of Greenville, the Chiefs of the Indian tribes of the Great Lakes region were invited to Philadelphia. Washington met with them, gave them presents, 'and delivered this formal letter of friendship and advice. There was a special idiom used in correspondence and "talks" with the Indians in this era that appears condescending by today's standards, but was not intended or considered to be insulting at the time.

While the message was undoubtedly written by someone in the War Department, Washington clearly edited and signed it. There is a sincere friendliness to the communication that was typical of Washington, who had gotten to know and respect Native Americans in his early days on the frontier.
 

George Washington was very sensitive to the immense power he possessed to influence public opinion. He was careful to use it rarely, only when he felt that it absolutely was necessary to accomplish some exceptional common good. As a result of his war experiences, he was a nationalist rather than a states' rights advocate. He participated in the Constitutional Convention and supported its adoption.

 
With this letter to in-law David Stuart, Washington enclosed several numbers of "The Federalist Papers" then being published serially in the New York newspapers. He praised them and suggested that Stuart try to get them printed in Richmond. He cautions Stuart, however, to give no hint that he had sent them. Washington's thinking probably was that by remaining publicly silent on the issue and something of a mystery, he could more effectively play the trump card at the most timely moment later on.
 

Washington did have strong opinions on many issues, but he tended to express them only in the family and among close friends. He did not want to offend, or lose the friendship of those who held differing opinions.

Woe to anyone, even a close friend, who attempted to use Washington's good name! In 1799, Secretary of War James McHenry and Alexander Hamilton were attempting to select officers for the army. National political divisions were making some of the selections difficult. They obviously figured that George Washington's influence and reputation for integrity would force the opposition to evaporate.

They took Washington for granted, which was a serious miscalculation! One of the epistolatory techniques that Washington used frequently and brilliantly was to include a paragraph saying essentially "of course I do not mean to suggest--------," in the process saying exactly what he did mean!

Washington guarded his own personal integrity as the most precious of all his possessions. If it was ever going to be compromised, he was going to be the person who did it, not someone else.

 

This superb eight-page letter, handwritten to the estate manager, documents the extent to which Washington's heart was at Mount Vernon, even while he was President. It also shows what an exacting boss he must have been at home, a micro-manager with an eye for even the smallest detail. The letter, documenting sides of Washington's personality not well represented in the existing collection, is being donated to the Clements Library by a private collector. The magnificent gift was the inspiration for this exhibit.

Please click on the image to view all eight pages.

Throughout the war and the Presidency, dining with good company was centerpiece of the daily schedule. Formal invitations, printed and handwritten, such as those displayed here, document this side of his life.

On the surface, it would seem to be impossible that a person such as George Washington could ever relax. He was so intensely committed to his work. He was such a perfectionist, and so serious.

And yet few people more thoroughly enjoyed a good party, flirting with pretty girls, good meals and great conversation. HP loved the theater, the circus, fishing, horseback riding. Like many inherently reserved and sensitive people who keep their emotions in check publicly, he needed to relax in the safe and comfortable home environment.

He enjoyed nothing more than completely immersing himself in domestic and farming projects. He reveled in small talk, sitting by the fire with family members and house guests, and reading the newspaper to his wife. Daily rituals and mundane routines provided a sense of normalcy to his life. He particularly enjoyed maintaining personal financial records and correspondence on an almost daily basis.

How do you explain this seeming contradiction? Like many of the greatest and most productive people in history, he understood that the only way to conserve his mental and physical energies on the job was to completely walk away from work on a regular basis. While in the middle of the most difficult military and political challenges he would write long letters to Mount Vernon about the minutest details of managing the estate. It was the way he refreshed himself to meet extremely difficult challenges head on the next morning or even five minutes later. It was the way he kept things in perspective and stayed human.