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Chapter Thirty-Four. The Washington Image in American Culture

Scott E. Casper

Subject History » Cultural History

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics historians, image, legend

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331035.2012.00036.x


George Washington never appears on stage in 1776 , the 1970 musical by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards, but his presence looms over the men assembled in the Continental Congress. At four strategic moments in the action, a bedraggled courier interrupts the proceedings with correspondence from the commander-in-chief, lamenting the desperate state of his army. Charles Thomson, clerk of the Congress, reads each letter aloud. The ending is always the same: “Y'r ob'd't, G. Washington,” a drum roll separating the salutation from the signature. Although Washington has not walked the national stage since 1799, that drum roll underscores his iconic status in American culture and across the centuries. American writers, artists, and political leaders have reimagined or reinvented Washington to answer myriad needs and desires, even as the lineaments of his career have remained constant. Over time, the commanding general and first president has become famous as a husband, a son, and a Christian; as a southern planter and an owner of slaves; as a businessman, an aristocrat, and a common man. Two themes emerge amid this diversity. First, though Washington achieved international renown as the leader of a revolution, most American images since the late 1780s have cast him instead as a figure of stability, a bulwark against permanent revolution. In this, writers and artists have followed Washington's ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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