She was the first First Lady, and one of the most revered women of her time.
Martha Washington camped with her husband and his troops every winter of the Revolutionary War, helped him carry the burden of being the first President, and after George Washington died, Martha was the “endorsement” every public figure wanted. In her final years, the first years of America, everyone showed up at Mount Vernon to pay her tribute and curry her favor.
In Cokie Roberts’ “Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation”, we learn that many a famous man fell under the shrewd scrutiny of Mrs. Washington. We now look at the leaders of that time as if they were all brothers-in-arms, when there were lots of petty divisions and hate-filled rivalries.
Remember, Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Burr was Vice President and just missed winning the presidency.
Anyway, Roberts reveals what Washington’s widow regarded as the single “worst mistake” made by our young nation.
What distressed her more than anything?
The election of a new president in 1800.
His name: Thomas Jefferson.
This man, this Founding Father, Martha Washington described as “one of the most detestable of mankind”.
So, here’s the deal:
In any time, we judge the leaders we have by what we know…at the time.
It’s incomplete, on-the-fly, lacking the clarity of hindsight.
Years, decades, centuries pass, and then we can see what they couldn’t, at the time.
If Martha Washington could be that wrong about Jefferson, then who are we wrong about today?