During the early days of the Revolutionary War, in August 1775, General George Washington sent a letter protesting the treatment of American officers to the British commander, General Thomas Gage. Washington objected to the British practice of throwing American officers into jails with common criminals.
Gage responded by saying he refused to recognize ranks among Americans “for I acknowledge no rank that is not derived from the king.” Angered by Gage’s barbarous policy, Washington controlled his temper and coolly replied, “You affect, Sir, to despise all rank not derived from the same source with your own. I cannot conceive any more honorable than that which flows from the uncorrupted choice of a brave and free people — the purest source and original fountain of all power…I shall now, Sir, close my correspondence with you, perhaps forever.”
This brief but remarkable exchange shows that George Washington, almost a year before the writing of the Declaration of Independence, believed that the people — and not a hereditary monarch — were the true source of authority. This was a radical idea at the time. And it was perhaps even more incredible that the idea was being defended by a conservative planter from Virginia. Another Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, described Washington as “our first and greatest revolutionary character, whose preeminent services had entitled him to the first place of his country’s love.”
Today, we remember many things about George Washington: His role as the “indispensable man” of the Revolutionary War; his wooden teeth; his indefensible ownership of slaves; and his part in dispossessing Native Americans of their land. As we reevaluate his historical legacy, we must not forget his courageous defense of American principles during a seemingly futile rebellion against the greatest empire of the age. Below are five outstanding books for learning more about George Washington.
1. Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Ron Chernow won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of George Washington. Gordon Wood, an esteemed historian of the American Revolution, called Chernow’s book, “The best, most comprehensive, and most balanced single-volume biography of Washington ever written.”