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Op-ed: Historical reckoning versus erasing history

Last month CNN analyst Angela Rye declared that George Washington was unworthy of his status as a Founding Father. “Some of these people are history-makers but they are no heroes of mine,” said Rye in a discussion on CNN about whether George Washington should be commemorated with a statue. Rye is far from alone on the issue. Statues of George Washington have been toppled in Portland and elsewhere since late May as the nation reckons with a generation of people who do not see Washington and other founding fathers as worthy of historical honor.

Author John Berlau disagrees.

“George Washington should still be admired and honored for a number of reasons. For being the first leader of a major nation to voluntarily give up power — both as general and as president. For paving the way for American innovation and dynamism through his business ventures and support of early American inventors. For fighting against bigotry toward Catholics and Jews, groups who had faced persecution in the colonies and in England,” Berlau tells The American Wire.

In his recently released book, Berlau argues that Washington changed the world for the better, and not only because he founded the United States.

Berlau, an award-winning journalist, writes that Washington was not just commanding general of the Continental Army and a president, but a chemist, agronomist, engineer and entrepreneur.

Berlau’s book, George Washington Entrepreneur, includes letters Washington wrote inquiring about how to build a greenhouse and discusses Washington’s early career as a land surveyor. The book provides a more complete picture of Washington’s life with details about inventions and the businesses he started.

Critics, such as CNN’s Rye, say Washington does not deserve admirable recognition because he held slaves, but Berlau points out that Washington also opposed slavery:

“He turned against slavery — a system that preceded him and existed well beyond America — by speaking out against it frequently in letters and freeing and providing a support system to all his enslaved workers in his will.”

Generally, defenders of U.S. history say that it is unfair to judge the Founding Fathers by standards created out of modern form, and some say that those weaponizing history to demand change may have bad motives. Others seem willing to allow for statues of Confederate figures to come down but draw the line there. A final reckoning is yet to come.  

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