April 3, 2013
Given his importance to American history and his prominent place within American popular culture, the true nature of George Washington’s personality has become somewhat difficult to measure. Through the numerous personal writings and other papers written by Washington, it becomes possible to glimpse aspects of both his public and private personalities.
Today’s featured entry from the Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington attempts to identify Washington’s most prominent personality traits. Meredith Eliassen, Reference Specialist in Special Collections at San Francisco State University’s J. Paul Leonard Library, explains that Washington’s public persona was largely created through the belief that “external appearance should reflect inner merit.” As a result, though Washington “could be excitable and demonstrated impatience during early [military] campaigns,” he “learned to channel strong passions through carefully cultivated deportment.”
In addition, Eliassen points out that at an early age Washington identified qualities that would define his personality; qualities that often ran opposite to those associated with the British upper class. As a result, Washington was able to “create a unique public persona for himself within a new, burgeoning America,” that was, in many ways, reflected in the formation of a new, American political elite.
Adam D. Shprintzen, Ph.D.
Editor, Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington