"FOR KING AND COUNTRY: The Maturing of George Washington, 1748-1760" by Thomas A. Lewis

"FOR KING AND COUNTRY: The Maturing of George Washington, 1748-1760"

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Lewis (The Guns of Cedar Creek, 1988) attempts--with little success--to give a fresh view of the youthful George Washington. To Lewis, Washington was ""an ordinary young man--vain, burning with ambition, possessing few advantages,"" who embodied ""two of the most grievous flaws in our American society: our collective contempt for other races, and our exploitation of land as a commodity of trade."" He paints a portrait of the future President as a small-minded, well-connected parvenu of little innate ability whose aspirations to become an English-style aristocratic leader of Virginia led him into repeatedly unsuccessful military adventures against the French. Lewis argues, unremarkably, that the hard trials of the French and Indian Wars, in which Washington and the colonial as well as the British forces met numerous defeats--spectacularly, at Fort Necessity and in the disaster near Fort Duquesne, where an army under Britain's General Braddock was savagely decimated by Indians--cauterized Washington for the tribulations of the American Revolution. But while Lewis recounts the facts of his subject's early military career accurately enough, he seems to share the dim view that numerous British officials took of the warrior's abilities, and, in the end, the author credits Washington only for having ""completed a lonely and difficult initiation."" While Lewis succeeds in humanizing Washington, he emphasizes the young man's vices rather than the courage and steadfastness of purpose that have endeared him to posterity and that early on were evident in his character. A wearisome exercise in historical iconoclasm that adds little, except some moralizing, to classic biographies by Douglas S. Freeman, James T. Flexner, and others.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1993
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: HarperCollins