George Washington: The “Indispensable Man ”


George Washington has properly been called the “Father of our country.” To understand why, one needs to look closely at his three major achievements:

  • Although he has not been called a “great” general, to be compared with Napoleon, Lee or Grant, Washington nevertheless guided the American colonies to victory over the British through his persistence, personal sacrifices and tenacity. With the vital help of the French, Washington held the shaky revolutionary was together long enough for the British to tire of the exercise. Though he won only one major battle—Yorktown, again with help from the French—the revolution might well have failed had he not been in command.
  • As president of the Constitutional Convention, Washington contributed very little in the way of specific recommendations, but as with the war, the enterprise was not necessarily destined to succeed; indeed, at several junctures the delegates were on the edge of giving up in frustration. But Washington's mere presence held them to their task through that long, hot summer until they produced the document that has guided the nation for over 200 years. As President of the Convention and therefore the first man to sign the Constitution, Washington's support was a silent but important factor in the ratification process, which also came perilously close to failure.
  • As first President of the United States, Washington set the tone for the office, guiding the ship of state through some of the stormiest political waters in American history. Weary of public life, he wanted nothing more than to retire after one term to his beloved Mt. Vernon but was persuaded to remain for four more years, lest the country founder as it sought to create a new form of governance.
  • Washington thought of himself first and foremost as a farmer, as a visit to Mount Vernon will show. As he said in a letter in 1794, “I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares.”

Taken individually, Washington's accomplishments in the service of his country would have earned him a permanent place of honor in American history. Taken together, they indeed support the idea that Washington was indispensable.

Books About George Wasington

Ferling, John E. The First of Men: A Life of George Washington. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1988.

Flexner, James Thomas. George Washington: A Biography. 4 vols. Boston: Little, Brown, 1965-1972.

Flexner, James Thomas. Washington: The Indispensable Man. Boston: Little, Brown, 1974

Freeman, Douglas Southall. George Washington: A Biography. 7 vols. New York: Scribner's, 1948-1957.

Morgan, Edmund S. The Genius of George Washington. New York: Norton, 1980.

Randall, Willard Sterne. George Washington: A Life. New York: H. Holt, 1997.

Smith, Richard Norton. Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

Chernow, Ron. Washington: A Life. New York: Penguin Press, 2010.

Ellis, Joseph. His Excellency: George Washington. New York: Knopf, 2004

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