If you read one book that says that George Washington
was opposed to slavery and another one that says he was a great supporter
of slavery, which one do you believe? You may be an American who
recites the Declaration of Independence before each meal and again before
bed, but unless you can think for yourself on this and all other issues
you will never truly be free. Never assume that simply because
a text you are reading has been published -- or even because the author
is famous -- that you must accept what you read as absolute "truth."
Just as each author presents his or her own position and point of view,
each serious reader must weight the evidence and reasoning in each text
in order to construct his or her own interpretation.
Race was a topic of debate in America for hundreds of
years before the Declaration of Independence was signed and continues
to be an important part of the American conversation today. It
is a topic enshrined in blood, the blood of countless individuals who
suffered and died as slaves, the blood of people who died in the struggles
of the antebellum and civil war eras, the blood of those who fought
for civil rights in the 20th century, and the blood of those who have
been tormented, lynched, or otherwise hurt or killed for reasons of
race since the abolition of slavery. The very intensity of this
issue makes it difficult to talk about with honesty and clarity.
But that is what is needed if we are to guarantee "that these dead
shall not have died in vain."
Below you will find guidelines for critical reading that
are for the most part illustrated with examples taken from writing about
George Washington. Because Washington was one of the first and greatest
American heroes the discussion of Washington can serve as a useful case-study
of the challenges involved in investigating the complex subject of race,
slavery, and the American Revolution.