News & Trends
Last year, when I published Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (Free Press, $25; paperback available in February, $12), I promoted it with lectures and radio appearance. Not surprisingly, I was asked a lot of historical questions about the father of our country: Was he a good general? Did he really chop down the cherry tree? But then there were the fantasy questions--projections onto Washington of issues bobbing in the popular psyche.
Potheads, for example, asked if he grew hemp at Mount Vernon. In fact he did--though almost certainly for rope or fabric, not to turn on. Evangelical Christians assumed that the devout Anglican was one of them; Roman Catholics asked if he had converted on his deathbed. Gun owners sent me copies of a speech he made praising gun ownership (he never said such a think). A gay man asked why I had concealed the fact that Washington was homosexual; I didn't have to--it isn't true.
As his 265th birthday approaches, Washington remains a plain white surface on which Americans cast their hopes and fears. his blankness is due partly to his own reticence. But the main reason he serves as a national slide show is that all the dreams our own dads inspire in us are also set off by the father of our country. I picked a better title than I realized.