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Blackall tells his readers: "What I would desire of you is; that you would frequently think of those things which you profess to believe, that you would meditate much and often thereupon, that you would seriously consider the meaning thereof. The meditative practice defined and delineated by Blackall and other religious authors strongly influenced Washington's thought process.

That influence did not happen instantly. When Washington began his military career, a dangerous impetuosity guided his battlefield decisions. But slowly he came to understand how religious meditation could apply to realms outside religion. As military commander, legislator, and president, Washington would establish a reputation for long, slow, judicious reasoning. The decision-making process he demonstrated as an adult hearkens back to the books he read in boyhood.

Washington took good care of Blackall's book. His copy, bound in handsome yet unassuming tooled sheepskin, marks the earliest known beginning of what would become his eighteenth-century gentleman's library. The survival of this volume demonstrates its importance to Washington. While giving away some other books from his personal collection, he kept his copy of Blackall all his life. Like many other Virginians who came of age in the middle third of the eighteenth century, Washington had great respect for the books in his possession—with good reason.

In colonial America a personal library was a hallmark of the proper gentleman. It allowed him to display his wealth, his cultural prestige, and his intellectual prowess, to show guests in a subtle and sophisticated way who he was and what he thought. Washington found out early the importance of books for military officers. Fairfax reported that the young officer could hardly stop talking about the exploits of both Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. As a young man, Washington read books by and about military leaders such as Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.

His collection of prints included a engraving of Alexander center in the thick of battle at Granicus River. Detail Courtesy of Mount Vernon. It demonstrates the personal qualities a great leader requires: decisiveness, flexibility, camaraderie, clemency, a mind that enjoys wrestling with problems, practicality, resolution in the face of danger, self-control, a sense of efficiency, and a strong will. Caesar's Commentaries — written as a narrative, not a practical manual — could nonetheless be read as a military guide.

It provides more useful detail about strategy than Curtius's History of Alexander. Caesar's story of his military exploits in Gaul emphasizes the importance of engineering: building bridges, constructing fortifications, erecting siege towers, making roads. Yet Caesar was a pragmatist. Good roads are important, but an army should only build them when they have the time. In the heat of combat, speed, stealth, and surprise are vital elements of success.

Efficient communication is also essential. Furthermore, a commander needs to understand the mindset of his men. Sufficient provisions are necessary not only for assuring the welfare of the troops but also for securing their loyalty. Courage is important; discipline is more important. Soldiers should not let courage outstrip discipline. A commander must take several steps to understand the enemy: analyze its tactics, scrutinize its fortifications, and survey its territory.

Flexibility is key. He must be willing to adjust his strategy to adapt to the enemy, the terrain, and the weather. A French engraving of General George Washington during the Revolution shows him with books on the table by his campaign tent.

But by the start of the Seven Years' War, Washington recognized serious gaps in his military knowledge and sought to deepen his knowledge of the art of war. In late , some months after taking part in General Braddock's disastrous campaign against the French, Washington ordered a copy of Humphrey Bland's Treatise of Military Discipline , the standard manual of drill and discipline in the British army.

During the middle third of the eighteenth century, it was the duty of every young British officer to read "Bland," or, as it was sometimes called, "Old Humphrey. During the American Revolution, Washington urged his officers to read books. Captain Johann Ewald, a Hessian officer who served on the British side with the Field Jager Corps, recalled: "I was sometimes astonished when American baggage fell into our hands during that war to see how every wretched knapsack, in which were only a few shirts and a pair of torn breeches, would be filled up with military books.

Seeing so many American knapsacks filled with so many military manuals, Captain Ewald made some general conclusions about the officers of the Continental Army, especially compared with their British counterparts. Ewald named the titles of a number of European military books he had found among the Americans, some of which turned up, by his estimate, a hundred times.

Impressed with their desire for knowledge on the battlefield, Ewald concluded that the American soldiers "studied the art of war while in camp, which was not the case with the opponents of the Americans, whose portmanteaus were rather filled with bags of hair-powder, boxes of sweet-smelling pomatum, cards instead of maps , and then often, on top of all, some novels or stage plays. During his lifetime, Washington amassed a library of more than books, plus many pamphlets and other publications.


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The library included books on agriculture, the military, history, politics, philosophy, and travel, as well as literature, plays, reference works, and books in foreign languages. Photo courtesy of Mount Vernon. The famous Lansdowne portrait that Gilbert Stuart painted of Washington during his presidency reinforces the importance of books in his intellectual and political life. There are several in the painting, some with clearly legible titles, and like other objects shown they possess rich symbolic power.

Two volumes appear atop the table. The Journal of Congress stands upright, with The Federalist propped against it. The image suggests the ideas that The Federalist embodies provide the philosophical and ideological support necessary for Congress to operate.


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  • Together the two give President Washington the power and authority to rule the nation with fairness and justice. Other books are stacked unostentatiously under the table. National Portrait Gallery. A corner of the tablecloth is turned up to reveal additional books beneath the table. Their appearance and position reinforce the importance of books in Washington's life.

    Before taking the presidential oath of office, Washington had read widely and learned much from his reading, but he had no need to display his knowledge ostentatiously. He wears his erudition lightly, keeping it hidden like a set of books beneath a cloth-covered table. He does not need to show off his learning. He knows it is there. The ancestral home at Sulgrave, Northamptonshire , is maintained as a Washington memorial.

    The Life of George Washington - Archiving Early America

    Little definite information exists on any of the line until Augustine. He was an energetic, ambitious man who acquired much land, built mills, took an interest in opening iron mines, and sent his two eldest sons to England for schooling. By his first wife, Jane Butler, he had four children. By his second wife, Mary Ball, he had six. Augustine died April 12, Mason L. He attended school irregularly from his 7th to his 15th year, first with the local church sexton and later with a schoolmaster named Williams.

    Some of his schoolboy papers survive. He was fairly well trained in practical mathematics—gauging, several types of mensuration, and such trigonometry as was useful in surveying. He studied geography, possibly had a little Latin, and certainly read some of The Spectator and other English classics. The copybook in which he transcribed at 14 a set of moral precepts, or Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation , was carefully preserved.

    His best training, however, was given him by practical men and outdoor occupations, not by books. He mastered tobacco growing and stock raising, and early in his teens he was sufficiently familiar with surveying to plot the fields about him. Lawrence inherited the beautiful estate of Little Hunting Creek, which had been granted to the original settler, John Washington, and which Augustine had done much since to develop. Lawrence married Anne Nancy Fairfax, daughter of Col.

    William Fairfax, a cousin and agent of Lord Fairfax and one of the chief proprietors of the region. Lawrence also built a house and named the 2,acre 1,hectare holding Mount Vernon in honour of the admiral under whom he had served in the siege of Cartagena. Living there chiefly with Lawrence though he spent some time near Fredericksburg with his other half brother, Augustine, called Austin , George entered a more spacious and polite world.

    by Ron Chernow

    Anne Fairfax Washington was a woman of charm, grace, and culture; Lawrence had brought from his English school and naval service much knowledge and experience. The youth turned first to surveying as a profession. Lord Fairfax, a middle-aged bachelor who owned more than 5,, acres 2,, hectares in northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley , came to America in to live with his cousin George William at Belvoir and to look after his properties.

    Two years later he sent to the Shenandoah Valley a party to survey and plot his lands to make regular tenants of the squatters moving in from Pennsylvania. With the official surveyor of Prince William county in charge, Washington went along as assistant. The year-old lad kept a disjointed diary of the trip, which shows skill in observation. The following year , aided by Lord Fairfax, Washington received an appointment as official surveyor of Culpeper county, and for more than two years he was kept almost constantly busy.

    Surveying not only in Culpeper but also in Frederick and Augusta counties, he made journeys far beyond the Tidewater region into the western wilderness. The experience taught him resourcefulness and endurance and toughened him in both body and mind. He was always disposed to speculate in western holdings and to view favourably projects for colonizing the West, and he greatly resented the limitations that the crown in time laid on the westward movement. There Washington was sometimes entertained and had access to a small library that Fairfax had begun accumulating at Oxford.

    In , Washington was elected president of the Constitutional Convention and used his immense influence to persuade the states to ratify the resulting constitution. In , he was unanimously elected the first president of the United States. He faced huge challenges in welding together the individual states to establish a new nation, and creating a government for that nation.

    Washington was also dismayed by the emergence of political parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, led by his two closest advisers, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson respectively. Washington wanted to retire after his first term, but was re-elected to a second term in He succeeded in maintaining American neutrality when war broke out between Britain and France in and also normalised diplomatic relations with Britain.

    Washington finally retired from public life in and died at Mount Vernon on 14 December Search term:.

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