ELIZABETH W. MARVICK
It is less difficult to discover the Northwest passage than to create a people, as you have done.
—F.-R. Chateaubriand 1
Early in the 1850s there seems to have been a general belief that ‘‘any one could be President, and some very shady characters were likely to be.’’ This is what Henry Adams, the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, discovered as a boy living in Washington, D.C. He learned that ‘‘no sort of glory hedged Presidents, and, in the whole country, one could hardly have met with an admission of respect for any office or name, unless it were George Washington.’’ That name, exceptionally, was ‘‘sincerely…respected.’’ George Washington, the young Adams was told by his father, ‘‘stood alone.’’ 2
A century and a half later, George Washington still stands alone. It is hard to think about him or to study him without getting the notion that the history of this continent would have been very different without him. Undoubtedly, he helped significantly to shape our political institutions and practices in their formative years.
What seems most extraordinary about Washington is that the very important differences he intended to make in our country’s history are the ones he actually did make. This leader of the American Revolution, this creator of a new nation, this Founder and first president of the American Republic under its federal Constitution, had dreamed of a newly independent nation whose people had in common a sense of themselves as Americans. He actively strove to transform that dream into reality. Intending to see