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Washington's Moral Code and Personal Behavior

Autor:   •  March 8, 2011  •  Essay  •  831 Words (4 Pages)  •  3,216 Views

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In what ways were Washington's moral code and personal behavior a product of the lessons he had learned from the writings of the Enlightenment? Wood observes that Washington was "always on stage, acting a part." Do you think that Washington was too interested in appearances? Given his value system, why was Washington anguished over the gift of shares in the canal companies and attendance at the Constitutional Convention?

Washington was arguably the United States' most influential figure during the revolutionary era. His popularity and fame, however, stemmed not from any fantastic achievements, but rather from his heroic stature. His "genius, his greatness, lay in his character (Wood, 121)." The character that Washington was so famous for was meticulously designed after the Enlightenment teachings of the 18th-century, and his struggles to build and maintain his reputation were both awe-inspiring and obsessive.

A product of the 18th-century Enlightenment, Washington constantly strove to better himself through the Enlightenment teachings of virtue, patriotism and character. While his peers accepted the maxims as guidelines to consider, no one worked harder to implement them into their daily lives. He focused less on the spiritual and intellectual aspects than many, implementing "a much more down-to-earth affair, concerned with behavior and with living in the everyday-world of people (Wood, 121)." Washington devised and executed a moral code and behavior based on these teachings that would dictate his life and cause him to be forever remembered as the nation's only classical hero.

Aware of and embarrassed by his lack of formal education, he clung to the rules of Enlightenment with an "earnestness that awed his contemporaries (Wood, 122)." His self-consciousness and fear of offending caused him to avoid expressing his own opinions, which only added to his desired appearance of indifference. After obtaining his fame as the victorious Commander-in-Chief, he worked tirelessly to maintain his popularity. Afraid of being suspected of military ambitions after the revolution, he resigned as commander-in-chief and promised to retire from public life. This unprecedented act propelled him from commonly recognized, to globally admired. While most successful military leaders would expect power and compensation for their patriotism, Washington left the public eye a hero, forever remembered as a great man of untarnished character and exceptional virtue.

His peace of mind ended less than a year later when the Virginia General Assembly honored him with 150 shares in the canal companies for his assistance. Washington was both excited and terrified by


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