President George Washington: Psychohistory and Psychological Profile

About first president of the United States George Washington, a psychoanalysis or psychological profile of his life.


Mary Washington, hardly the perfect American mother depicted in schoolboy biographies, was a bad-tempered shrew who largely succeeded in her efforts to make George's young life miserable. All of her children got away from her as soon as they could, and George was no exception. As her son advanced in the world, she openly resented his success, claiming that he thoughtlessly neglected her. She refused to participate in any ceremony honoring him (including his inauguration as President) and deprecated his achievements. Emerging from this background, it is not surprising that Washington fell head-over-heels for a succession of young ladies, in hopes of winning the love and admiration he had been denied at home. Frustrated in love, and particularly in his hopeless passion for Sally Fairfax, Washington was similarly disappointed in the early stages of his military career. His father had died when George was a boy, and it was only natural that the shy, socially insecure youth should turn to warfare as a means of establishing his own manhood. But his 1st combat experience, when he was 22, was an ill-managed fiasco for which young Colonel Washington was held personally responsible. It may be assumed that all of these youthful disasters contributed to the celebrated patience and perseverance that were among Washington's most notable features in later life. He had learned that the only way to cope successfully with his environment was to gain rigid command of his own passionate nature. Even as a schoolboy, Washington had begun his lifelong drive for self-mastery, as he laboriously copied over more than 100 rules of "proper behaviour for a Gentleman"--including admonitions not to pick teeth at the table or to stand too close to other people during conversation "for fear of bedewing their faces with spittle." Few observers noting Washington's glacial calm later in life would have suspected that it was the product of a conscious effort; hence their surprise at his occasional outbursts of temper. Yet the painter Gilbert Stuart, who spent countless hours with Washington while executing his numerous portraits, detected the emotional nature that lay behind the dignified facade. "All his features were indicative of the most ungovernable passions," Stuart wrote, "and had he been born in the forests, it is my opinion that he would have been the fiercest man among the savage tribes." It was Washington's willful mastery of that savage temperament, and his ability to cope with hardship and defeat, that gave him his remarkable power as a leader of men.

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