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Scholars Day 2008, Wednesday, April 9

The Ambition of Cincinnatus

George Washington’s meteoric rise to power during and in the aftermath of the American Revolution relied heavily upon his characterization as a classical republican hero. Dismissive of aristocracy, devoid of ambition, Washington embodied the classical republican hero, an American Cincinnatus. At an early age Washington developed a social consciousness familiarized with the strictures of patronage society, particularly formality and recognition of status, eventually utilizing his brother’s personal and political ties to move into the auspices of Virginia’s political and economic elite. The highly influential William Fairfax and Governor Robert Dinwiddie became aware of young Washington through those connections and quickly adopted him as a promising dependent. Reliant upon his patrons for advancement, Washington developed an outwardly deferential, obsequious,and patriotic identity, evidenced in his letters to powerful men. He developed a political language that served to satiate his patrons with laudable motivations. This Cincinnatus-like identity faded when Washington’s status came under question, revealing in its stead a highly ambitious and aggressively attentive opportunist, deftly operating within the patronage system in pursuit of personal recognition. Washington’s identity as the guileless public servant seems more a political construct he developed in order to thrive within patronage hierarchies.

Presenter: Kenneth Lane (Undergraduate Student)
Topic: History
Location: 217 Hartwell
Time: 3:15 pm (Session IV)