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An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America Paperback – August 12, 2004
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To begin, Wiencek briefly addresses and dismisses the claim that Washington fathered a child with Venus, (a slave owned by Washingtong's brother, John Augustine). According to Wiencek, the President was likely sterile and such an affair would have been out of character for a man who prided himself on "self-control."
Wiencek's real focus in An Imperfect God is Washington's personal and political position regarding emancipation. The primary ground for Wiencek's argument is Washington's will and a selection of private letters that elaborate a plan for providing land and means for his freed laborers. The will in particular offers powerful evidence of Washington's true intentions, including explicit declarations manumitting Washington's slaves after his death. As Wiencek shows, the document punctuated a long period of equivocation.
An Imperfect God is an imperfect book. Wiencek's occasional first-person accounts of his field research, including discussions with descendants of Washington, feel strangely out of place in what is elsewhere a straightforward biography punctuated with digressions into Washington's larger historical context. Further, Wiencek sometimes dabbles in hagiography and is willing to excuse much in a man who was a slaveholder his entire life. Yet, Wiencek is right to point out the distinctions of Washington among the slaveholding Founding Fathers. Readers can only imagine along with Wiencek the national tragedy that could have been averted had Washington provided the great example of emancipation while in office. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Washington was probably the only man who could have steered us between the rock of tyranny and the whirlpool of anarchy. And when his second term was up, "the man who refused to be king" got on his horse and returned to his beloved farm. Mount Vernon, however, was a house divided when it came to dealing with the corrupting institution of slavery. Martha Washington and the extended family had radically different views from the patriarch, who wanted to begin educating the slaves.
It is soul-wrenching to read of the missed opportunities to stymie slavery. The Founding Fathers had the power to bring our way of life into greater consonance with our sublime rhetoric of liberty. If George Washington had freed his slaves while in office, rather than after his death, it would have created an implacable precedent for his successors.
Thomas Jefferson was a genius (George Will called him the "Man of the Millenium"), but it's appropriate that his stock should go down a bit in recent years -- and Founding Fathers such as John Adams and George Washington should be re-discovered and re-treasured. Henry Wiencek has a fascinating section about Phillis Wheatley, poet and slave. The reader can only be stunned by Jefferson's hostility toward her, contrasted with Washington's openness.
The chapter on Williamsburg is superb. Jefferson called the colonial capital "the finest school of manners and morals that ever existed in America." Williamsburg had the first theater in the British colonies. The same royal governor who designed Williamsburg, earlier had laid out Annapolis.Read more ›
In `An Imperfect God', Henry Wiencek examines this question by focusing on the foremost founder - George Washington. In Washington, he detects a clear evolution of thought. He shows us Washington the young man who seemingly accepted the institution without question; the mature man who clearly began to question it on moral and ethical grounds, and the old man who found it morally repugnant, and against the wishes of his family, emancipated all of his slaves in his will, making him unique among the slave owning founders.
Wiencek recreates the world that Washington was born into, showing us the context of his thought and action. He explains the social system of the great landed plantation owners, whose wealth and prestige were built upon human slavery. He is unsparing in his depiction of an institution that often led to shared blood ties between masters and slaves, so that many masters held in bondage their own children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters, and reveals that some of the slaves held at Mt. Vernon were blood relatives of Martha Washington.Read more ›
There were places where the author seemed to rehash stories told by others without adding anything new, and other places where his scholarship was fresh and his conclusions provoke conversation. Wiencek shows us repeatedly the paradox of a man who benefited by owning slaves and their labor, who came to a point of understand the the corrupting influence of absolute power slavery geve owners over the lives of others. Washington allowed arrangements between slaves and their owner/relatives within his own household which we would find untenable at best, and the subject of offensive jokes at worst. The story of Martha Washington's slave sister and Martha's son from her first marriage, which produced a child, is one which would be considered unpalatable in these days but was commonplace in the 17th century until the end of legal slavery. Yet, at the end of his life, he provided for the manumission of his slaves.
Clearly, Wiencek is not a revisionist historian, in the way that most traditional historians use the term. He is a revisionist in the best sense of the word, adding to our knowledge as well as encouraging us to look at viewpoints we might not have considered.
In the end, however, Wiencek's book provides a fresh look at a difficult time and convoluted relationships which have had scant acknowledgement outside the African American community. As our nation finally comes to grips with recent revelations that 20th century segregationist Strom Thurmon fathered a daughter with a black house maid in the early 20th century, we see that Thurmon's behavior is merely an extention of the behavior exhibited in the 1700s by other leaders. Timely, indeed.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Love this book. It is the first biography of George Washington I've read that really made me appreciate him as a human being that, if I met him today, I could talk with him and... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Just Me
On more than one occasion whilst reading this book, I found myself infuriated by both those who exploited and abused other human-beings and those who still justify, or at least try... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Alison
An excellent combination of a biography of Washington and a clear explanation of the complicated economic and human aspects of slavery.Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
Well written and kept one's attention. I learned more about Washington, who exhibited more intellect about slavery than Jefferson, the man who wrote the declaration that "all men... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Francis Bonnamy
Love to read this. So much educational info about our first president that we were not aware about.Published 11 months ago by ChaOfSanDiego
I enjoyed the book. However, I bought it used and when I got to disc 4, I realized I didn't have one. I had two disc 3's instead. Read morePublished 16 months ago by David Maurer
The author is Henry Wiencek, and what is required of him is the fine line of racial sensitivity and historical perspective. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Cabin Dweller
Every American needs to read this finely researched book! The title says it all - a country founded on freedom and slavery, with a leader just as hypocritical and conflicted.Published 20 months ago by Lou Hinkhouse