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Customer Review

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Age of the Impetuous Man, November 19, 2010
This review is from: Washington: A Life (Hardcover)
This was a very in depth look at our first President. Chernow works hard to bring a realistic portrait of Washington and how he was viewed by others in his time. But I must say there were a lot of impetuous men in those days, as that seems to be the most frequent one word description Chernow applies of nearly everyone whom Washington can into contact. I came away from the book overall with a better understanding of what risks our forefathers undertook and how perilously close they came to failing. Had that been today's Congress, we would still all be POMEs (prisoners of mother england).
One grip I have with later 20th Century and early 21st Century historians is their need to explain away views and beliefs in the past that have since been disproved in a way to not bring down our belittlement on historical heros becasue they did not know or share the current views of society. Chernow attempts to make Washington's views on slavery as a life long internal struggle. I doubt that. Rather his views probably more closely echoed those of Martha who couldn't understand why her house slave ran away after she was taken care of so well.

Washington, Jefferson, Monroe et.al., were aristocratic southern planters through and through. And while there may be some slight differences in how they treated their slaves versus the stereotypical picture we have been taught tha tall slave owners were cruel and heartless, nevertheless they did view and treat them as slaves. We need to stand up and simply say so. That that was the main view of that day and it took another 200 plus years and lots of blood shed and inhumanity to change that. But that doesn't take away from what any of these men struggled to accomplish. Likewise to attempt to paint Abigail Adams or Marhta Washington or Dolly Madison as some type of proto-type feminist gets very hard to fathom. We need to accept the way history was at the time it was made and shy away from the revisionist attempts to paint it in a light more favorable to our current views.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 29, 2010 1:43:45 PM PST
The chief problem with this comment is that Washington DID free his slaves posthumously, while Jefferson and others didn't. History is interesting in part because different people behaved differently, some better and some worse; on the issue of slavery, Washington -- born into the master class -- came to dislike the institution and acted upon that dislike. He deserves our sympathetic attention on that score. To say that "well, they were all alike back then" is simply mistaken.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2011 12:16:29 PM PST
You are correct. However the slavery issue became reduntant after a while. More personal anecdoted about his relationship to family and friends could have been substitued. Also Martha was none too happy and feared for her life.

Posted on Feb 18, 2011 9:14:02 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 18, 2011 9:19:45 AM PST
Very well thought out and written. We should remember that the civil war was really not so much about the slave issue as the desire to maintain the Union. Also the Emancipation Proclomation was a political propangda ploy to enlist English support. The Union forces had not yet one the war.

Posted on May 22, 2011 4:28:21 PM PDT
CJan says:
You can read Washington's will on-line and see that he did put much thought and care into freeing his slaves. After making provisions for his wife, it was the first issue he addressed in his very long will. It's easy to look backwards and condemn people for what they were, but humans are complicated beings, none perfect.
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