Scott Casper: Rebranding Mount Vernon





[Scott Casper, a professor of history at the University of Nevada, Reno, is the author of “Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine.”]

MOUNT VERNON, George Washington’s bucolic estate in Northern Virginia, has been an American shrine since his death in 1799. But after the Civil War, when its historic restoration began, the image of the first president began to be outshone by that of the 16th, Abraham Lincoln.

True, Washington’s portrait still adorned classrooms from Maine to Mississippi, and his birthday remained an unofficial national holiday. But Washington seemed “formal, statue-like, a figure for exhibition,” wrote Representative Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio, the future president, who visited Mount Vernon in 1866....

Today, of course, Washington is again at the center of the presidential pantheon. For that he can thank an unlikely group of allies: former slaves who worked at Mount Vernon in the late 19th century and who helped shape our modern beliefs about him — but only by hiding his complicated views on slavery behind the illusion of an Old South plantation....



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