George Washington is ubiquitous more than 220 years after his death. Hundreds of towns, counties and schools bear his name. His face is on the dollar bill and carved into Mount Rushmore. His monument — a marble and granite obelisk — is the tallest building in the capital city that also bears his name.
The reasons why Washington is everywhere are taught to every school kid in America: He was the father of our country, victorious over the British in the Revolutionary War and a steady hand as the nation’s first president.
Washington’s legacy has taken on mythic proportions, making this most famous of the Founding Fathers a distant, even unapproachable figure in some respects. But he was not a demigod; he was a man with a complicated legacy that continues to matter today.
In this special episode of History As It Happens, host Martin Di Caro takes the podcast on location to Mount Vernon inside the Washington Library with special guests Joseph Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar of the founding era, and historian Doug Bradburn, Mount Vernon’s president and chief executive. In the first of a two-part series, Mr. Ellis and Mr. Bradburn discuss what Washington wanted for his country with respect to slavery and relations; factionalism and polarization; and national expansion to the West.
Among the questions discussed in this episode, why do Americans continue to consult our founders — none more prominent than Washington — for wisdom and guidance to settle our modern-day problems? The answer lies in Washington’s farewell address. Written in 1796 as he prepared to retire to his farm, it’s as if Washington could foresee our current crises.
Part 2 of this special series, focusing on the “history wars” and Mount Vernon’s role in educating the public while preserving Washington’s historic plantation, will be published on Thursday.