Founding Brothers

One of the themes of Founding Brothers is that of “character.” In connection with this theme, what was so extraordinary about George Washington? Include not only his political accomplishments but also what the chapter says about his character.

Chapter 4 of the book Founding Brothers

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Ellis compares Washington the legend to Washington the man from the historical perspective of hindsight. History has revealed that Washington was not a handsome man; he was pockmarked with large feet and hands, and had decayed teeth and sunken eye sockets. He was always a head taller than the other Founding Fathers, which had prompted John Adams to remark that the reason Washington was always chosen as leader was because he was always the tallest man in the room. Taken on their own, his features were an oddity, but combined with an inherent honesty and earnest willingness to defend his ideals, his physical appearance became “sheer majesty.” A combination of bravado, intellect, and cultured aloofness, Washington was king-like even without a title. Considering all this, there was little chance that he would ever have avoided the attacks that plagued his Presidency.

Interestingly, Ellis does defend some of the claims against Washington's majestic nature. His figure was reflected on myriad iconography, which can only be linked to contemporary celebrity. His image was painted and sketched onto the surfaces of household items, as well as replicated in stone. He was a god among men, which naturally troubled those figures who already worried that the government was too powerful. Perhaps the most fascinating and moving aspect of this story is that Washington remained aware of the limits and potential of his power, and yet never allowed it to control him. He acknowledged what he could do, and then accomplished his greatest legacy by refusing to wield that power. He stepped down, and so ensured his country's survival.