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George Washington and the Whig Conception of Heroic Leadership

Barry Schwartz
American Sociological Review
Vol. 48, No. 1 (Feb., 1983), pp. 18-33
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095142
Page Count: 16
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
George Washington and the Whig Conception of Heroic Leadership
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Abstract

Before George Washington had a chance to display his skill in pitched battle, he became a focal point for the rage militaire that swept through America in 1775. The quality of the public's perception of Washington at this time is documented mainly through public addresses and accounts in the colonial press. By the end of the Revolutionary War, however, Washington had been transformed from a military hero into the new republic's great moral symbol. This transformation is studied by looking at Washington's wartime conduct in light of a political culture that fostered intense suspicion of all forms of power and a belief in "virtue" as an antidote for man's innate corruptibility. Refusing time and again to convert his military prestige into political power, Washington personified the heroic archetype of the Anglo-American Whig tradition. This conclusion is documented by an analysis of eulogies delivered on the occasion of Washington's death. In these eulogies we find the very antithesis of Max Weber's formulation of charismatic leadership. Since charisma theory is applicable to only one type of heroic leader, namely, the gifted authoritarian who seeks radical change, an alternative conception, applicable to hero worship in the conservative republican tradition, is presented.

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