George Washington In Henry Wiencek's An Imperfect God

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In An Imperfect God, Henry Wiencek presents George Washington as a specific case through which to study what he calls the great “paradox” of American history: how a nation founded on the philosophies of liberty and equality also kept human beings in chains. Washington was a slave-owner his entire life and he took the role of managing the slaves who lived and worked at Mount Vernon including their purchase and sale. Prior to the Revolution, Washington “was just another striving young planter, blithely ordering breeding wenches for his slave trade, blithely exiling a man to a likely death at hard labor” (Wiencek 133) The fortune produced by Washington’s slaves kept him in the ranks of Virginia’s planter elite, securing the social and political prestige that helped lead the Second Continental Congress to appoint him commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775. Washington was joined by slaves while leading the Continental Army in the field of battle, as well as during his time as president. Yet Wiencek also argues that the Revolution and the establishment of the new democracy changed Washington’s beliefs on slavery. By the end of his life, Washington had changed completely and “sickened by slavery, willing to sacrifice his own substance to end it.” (Wiencek 274) Many of the founding fathers recognized the problems created by slavery. Unlike his contemporaries, Washington did not leave an extensive written record detailing his public positions and reserved judgments on

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