Washingtonianism: The Father of His Country’s Vision for the American Founding
For we who believe that great men, not impersonal forces, make history, George Washington is Exhibit A. As the Revolution’s commander in chief, president of the Constitutional Convention, and first president of the United States, he was luminously the Founding’s indispensable man, in biographer James Flexner’s pitch-perfect phrase. A pragmatic visionary—that familiar American combination—he conceived from his hard-won experience in the French and Indian War the central Founding ideas of an American union under a strong executive three decades before the Constitutional Convention, and his hardships in the Revolution led him to forge that vision into a plan. An ambitious entrepreneur, he shared the “spirit of commerce” he knew was America’s ruling passion, and he eagerly foresaw a nation where industry and trade, not just farming, would provide opportunity for all and would generate the wealth he thought key to national power and security, a vision he fulfilled in his two terms as president. He had a born leader’s knack of attracting brilliant, like-minded young men to work with him to fill in the details and make his dream a reality, and he fired them up with ample measures of praise and credit. They were visionaries together, but he was the visionary in chief.
His youthful friendship with the Fairfax family, English aristocrats who, with 5 million colonial acres, were among the grandest of Virginia’s grandees, set him going on both his entrepreneurial and military careers. After learning surveying, the 16-year-old Washington began laying out plots in 1748 for Lord Fairfax to sell on his rich Shenandoah Valley lands. Within two years, he had earned enough to buy 1,500 acres himself, and with 2,315 acres by the time he was 20, he was on his way as a high-rolling land speculator.