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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

George Washington: Fact and Fiction

Even comic and Broadway and film performer Robert Klein believes the father of our country has been underrated. In a special Kennedy Center appearance with the National Symphony Orchestra last Saturday night, he lamented that the man’s name is now associated with mattress sales.

But Klein had done his homework. He referred to one of the first popular biographers of Washington, Parson Mason Locke Weems, an Episcopal minister who was a bit of a gypsy, and actually made his living for 31 years selling books from New York City to Savannah, Georgia.

Weems wrote fictionalized biographies popular with the masses. His most famous is The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington (1800), in which he invents the famous cherry tree tale that has survived through the centuries. Weems liked to imbue his books with virtues, such as temperance, honesty and frugality. He felt the Federalists were portraying Washington as too much of an aristocrat and wanted him to be seen as more of a republican.

As Joseph J. Ellis’ biography His Excellency: George Washington, shows, the real story is much more complex. Check out the details of our All Fairfax Reads selection.

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