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George Washington
1789-97

Nineteenth-century Americans apotheosized George Washington ( 1732-99); many people regarded him as little short of divine. Mason Locke ("Parson") Weems, Washington's first biographer, called him a demigod and insisted that he possessed all the virtues. "It is hardly an exaggeration," wrote Weems in 1800, "to say that Washington was pious as Numa; just as Aristides; temperate as Epictetus; patriotic as Regulus; in giving public trusts, impartial as Severus; in victory, modest as Scipio; prudent as Fabius; rapid as Marcellus; undaunted as Hannibal; as Cincinnatus disinterested; to liberty firm as Cato; as respectful of the laws as Socrates." 1 In February 1832, during the centennial celebration of Washington's birthday, John Quincy Adams heard a sermon which, he thought, "exalted the character of Washington perhaps too much. There were close approaches to the expression of the belief that there was something supernatural in his existence. There seemed little wanting to bring out a theory that he was a second Savior of mankind. That he had a charmed life, and was protected by a special Providence, was explicitly avowed as a belief." 2

When William Thackeray used Washington as a character in The Virginians ( 1857-59), many Americans were horrified. "Mr. Thackeray," said one critic, "should never have ventured upon bringing Washington into his story further than to permit him to cross the stage and be seen no more." 3 Another critic was appalled that Thack

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