Washington Impolitic

It's nice to see that the perfect lacks perfection.  Even in that Washington may have been the perfect man for his time  (and for ours).

from Washington: A Life
Ron Chernow

All summer and fall Washington was exasperated by military arrangements on the western frontier. He objected in strenuous terms to Lord Loudoun's decision to station Virginia troops at Fort Cumberland in Maryland, when it made more sense to keep them at Winchester, Virginia. Washington's tenacity on this issue led to a clash with Dinwiddie, who sided with Loudoun. Until this point Washington had prudently tended his relationship with the royal governor and was exemplary in bowing to civilian control. Now, in a terribly impolitic move, he bypassed Dinwiddie to lobby House of Burgesses speaker John Robinson, violating a cardinal rule of Virginia politics that the governor had final authority in such matters. The decision also smacked of disloyalty to someone who has consistently boosted Washington's career. The young man poured out his frustrations to Robinson, saying his advice to Dinwiddie had been "disregarded as idle and frivolous . . . My orders [from Dinwiddie] are dark, doubtful and uncertain: today approved, tomorrow condemned." The same day Washington aggravated matters by telling Dinwiddie that Loudoun had "imbibed prejudices so unfavourable to my character" because he had not been "thoroughly informed." Since Dinwiddie had been Loudoun's primary source of information, he would have interpreted this as direct attack on his own conduct.

On Jauary 10, 1757, throwing caution to the wind, Washington sent Lord Loudoun a letter so lengthy tht it runs to a dozen printed pages in his collected papers. It provides a graphic picture of the twenty-four-year-old Washington's ambivalence about the British class system. On the one hand, he flattered Loudoun unctuously even as he denied doing so. "Although I have not the honour to be known to Your Lordship, yet Your Lordship's name was familiar to my ear on account of the important services performed to His Majesty in other parts of the world. Don't think My Lord I am going to flatter. I have exalted sentiments of Your Lordship's character and revere your rank. . .my nature is honest and free from guile.

In the rhetoric of the revolution, we often forget this ingrained sense of class and place in the world.  It is interesting to read Washington kowtowing to his British superiors, and yet, it is entirely reasonable and logical within the world.  It just comes as something of a shock to read.


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