American Heroes, Myth and Reality

By Marshall W. Fishwick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
E Pluribus Unum: George Washington

"My pa ain't likeWashington'spa. When I cut down our cherry tree, And said I did, pa walloped me. And I went up to bed and cried And golly, how I wished I'd lied!" --"Life," February, 1904

Did anyone ever see Washington, the Father of our Country, nude? Nathaniel Hawthorne felt impelled to pose the question and answer it categorically: "It is inconceivable. He had no nakedness, but was born with his clothes on, and his hair powdered, and made a stately bow on his first appearance in the world." Horatio Weld felt rather strongly about a child's first reference to him. "The first word of infancy should be mother, the second father, the third Washington." Artemus Ward chose carefully from his misspellings and described Washington as "a human angil in a 3 kornered hat and knee britches." None of them suggested that under the britches was a human body.

Perhaps, as some contend, Mom is becoming harder and harder to handle; but America is still a man's land, and George Washington remains our symbolic Father. The millions of tourists who visit his grave at Mount Vernon sense this deeply. They go to revere not a man, but a demigod. In death, as in life, Washington has a niche no other American can occupy. If one man can be said to have knit together the American union, and earned its acclaim richly, his name is surely George Washington.

Though disillusioned by some events and perplexed by others, modern Americans have not discarded their Father. "He, per-

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