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2012 Master's Level Graduate Research Conference

Session I - Session II - Session III - Session IV

The Ambition of Cincinnatus

This paper contends with a prevalent historiographic consensus concerning the nature of George Washington's political character, breaking from the narrative and interpretational conclusions of multiple works. While various historians have described Washington as an American Cincinnatus, an ambitionless patriot and servant, this study utilizes his personal correspondence during his early military career in the Virginia Militia to offer a dissent. George Washington was a deliberate political actor, motivated by a desire for self-aggrandizement and social status. He operated within the strictures of a patronage system, advancing his personal interest through the employment of a deferential and disinterested persona. Washington gained preferment and position at a steady pace by offering loyal service to numerous patrons and concealing his ambitions in accordance with the etiquette of Virginian politics. The maintenance of this persona developed into the superintending care of Washington's early career, as it became a prevalent trope within his letters. A combination of youthful overconfidence and numerous frustrations and failures in the field occasioned the slow deterioration of that persona. Washington tactlessly quarreled with his primary patron over issues of his proper recognition and status, causing a breach in that relationship. He eventually resigned, declaring the primary motivations for his service were rank and salary. Contravening a narrative consensus in the modern historiography, The Ambition of Cincinnatus concludes that Washington was an inventive political actor who crafted a persona of deference and disinterested service to advance his selfish ambitions.

Presenter: Kenneth Lane (SUNY Brockport) -- k-lane@rochester.rr.com
Topic: History/Religious Studies
Location: 217 Hartwell
Time: 3:35 pm (Session IV)