Douglas Southall Freeman reportedly wrote the definitive biography of George Washington in seven volumes. Currently, I am reading the one volume abridgement of that work and found an interesting quote in the Introduction written by Michael Kammen.In 1948, Allan Nevins, a veteran biographer, wrote to Freeman about his work:
“You are admirably successful, I think, in making George Washington seem real; for the first time I realized, I think, just what sort of human being he was. Your analysis of him is masterly. I wonder if you realize that your portrait, so vivid and true, is a little bit disagreeable? He is not a likable young man. He was too much a careerist, even too much an egoist.”
Almost half way through it (where Washington is preparing New York City for invasion in 1776 after successfully expelling the British from Boston), I recommend the book. Living in Virginia, I have been to many of the sites described by Freeman through Washington’s experience and have enjoyed traveling hundreds of years into the past to see them again. Further, Freeman’s account of the Stamp Act controversy brought out vivid memories of Edward Cline’s account in his fictional Sparrowhawk series.
One aspect of the private life of Washington that catches my attention is the contrast between him and the policies of our modern and current politicians. Washington surveyed the Shenandoah Valley for human development while FDR restored large tracts of it to wilderness. Washington actively worked to drain portions of the Great Dismal Swamp for human development in contrast to current wetlands policy. Washington built a private canal around the Great Falls on the Potomac River that has been turned into a National Park and substantially is wilderness. Washington was what is lambasted by politicians today, a speculator in land development in Virginia and Ohio.