Photo: 1780 John Trumbull portrait of George Washington with William Lee, an enslaved valet
Each year Black people are asked to pretend that Washington is worthy of honor and each year it’s an outlandish request. George Washington is a phony, a fake patriot and fraud. Should Black people simply act as if the man did not subject people to the terror of slavery? Are they to ignore the fact that he not only pursued runaway slaves until his death but also used the power of government to fortify slavery? Generally, no one asks any people to celebrate their tormentors, thus it’s quite odd that Black people are asked to celebrate a holiday, originally created to mark the birth of George Washington.
Washington was no patriot. He was an opportunistic phony who withdrew his loyalty from England after the Crown began interfering with his money. Washington and other elites like Jefferson, Franklin and Patrick Henry were heavily invested in lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. They were all real estate investors, essentially. After France withdrew from North America in 1763 the “Founding Fathers” hoped to cash in by selling or leasing western lands. Instead, the Crown decided that year to issue a Proclamation, effectively halting westward expansion into “Indian” territories. All land deals would now have to go through London— cutting land speculators out of the process— and from that point forward, Washington and his friends decided that they didn’t love the Crown so much. Washington then opposed Britain’s Stamp Act in 1765, the Townshend Acts of 1767 and in 1769, and went as far as to help spearhead a boycott of British goods. He was mad. The fake patriot opposed the Crown at every turn, not for love of liberty but money.
Washington was an immoral man and despicable human being. He terrorized people and held them captive from the time he inherited his first slaves, at the age of 11. Washington used the brutal practices of owning people, separating families and subjecting them to all manner of terror, to maintain his wealth. Washington was committed to his moral bankruptcy. After moving to Philadelphia– free territory at the time– he made sure to rotate his slaves back to Virginia regularly. This was done specifically to circumvent a state law stipulating that any slave living in the state for more than six months would automatically be freed. Washington also made sure to sign the nation’s first fugitive slave law, guaranteeing that any enslaved person who dared escape would have the weight of the United States government against them. Further, when a 22-year-old slave by the name of Ona Judge escaped from Washington’s home in Philadelphia, the first President of the United States relentlessly pursued her until his death. The man was committed.
There is no honor in Washington, nor any deed done in his lifetime that conceals his true character (or lack thereof.) It is downright offensive that the nation asks Black to celebrate him. Black people in America are the descendants of enslaved people. In effect, America is asking Black people to overlook the terror Washington subjected their ancestors to and celebrate him. To be sure, there are no perfect historical figures. Even so, personal indiscretions are not the same as inflicting mass terror on a people, especially when one uses the power of national government to do so. Washington was a fraud and the notion of honoring him is a sham.