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George Washington’s Education

(by Mrs. Dorothy Robbins)

It is often heard today that Washington was not a well educated man!  If he wasn’t, it is amazing that he had such a large correspondence with the most educated men of his day.  In fact, if one begins to read the many documents a man of his many responsibilities had to write, it is doubtful most folks could do as well as he did.  They are well written grammatically and his vocabulary puts to shame that of most of today’s college students.   (That includes me!)

Peter Lillback tells us that, 

"...Although (Washington) never received a college education, given his disciplined and methodical temperament, he never stopped learning.  Washington’s continual self-improvement by reading, experimenting, and correspondence he continued his education."  (As most of the men of our Founding period did inasmuch as they were, by and large, what we now call "home schooled." -Ed)

"The legacy of his commitment to learning was seen in his extensive library; the many scholarships he gave to young scholars,  his generous endowments of schools and universities,  as well as a persistent advocacy of the formation of schools of higher education."

"Washington, writing to clergyman Reverend John Lathrop on June 22, 1788, spoke of a common vision of both "reason and religion" recognizing that education is necessary for both.  He states:"

"How pitiful, in the eye of reason and religion, is that false ambition, which desolates the world with fire and sword for the purposes of conquest and fame; when compared to the milder virtues of making our neighbors and our fellow men as happy as their frail conditions and perishable natures will permit them to be!....  In truth it appears to me that (the proposed government) will be a new phenomenon in the political and moral world; and an astonishing victory gained by enlightened reason over brutal force!"

"In his First Annual Address to Congress, January 8,1790, the president explained the importance of knowledge to the new republic."  (Simply, the American experiment would not work if the people were ignorant. -Ed)

"Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.  To the security of a free Constitution it contributes in various ways:"

Teaching the people themselves the five following things is what Washington recommended:

"to know and to value their own rights; 

to discern and provide against invasions of them;

to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority;

to distinguish between burdens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of Society;

to discriminate the spirit of Liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the last,

and uniting a speedy, but temperate, vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the Laws."

In other words, a well-educated citizenry is essential to maintain both the law and liberty, and for having the ability to distinguish between liberty and license.  This discernment comes through education.  Washington insisted that religion and morality were integral to a sound education.

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