Michael and Jana Novak have written a book that will probably displease nearly everyone. Some evangelicals will be outraged because the Novaks do not claim that George Washington was a committed and devout Christian. Other evangelicals will be uncomfortable that they are even discussing the question at all because it's just such a fundamentalist thing to do. And of course committed agnostics will be outraged that Washington is being turned into some kind of Christian by the Catholic Novaks, when he was obviously a Deist who was no Christian, or very great supporter of organized religion.

The real question, of course, is what Washington actually thought. But is this knowable? Stephen Vincent Benet wrote of Robert E. Lee "the heart he kept always to himself," yet Lee was loquacious compared to Washington; reading his letters to his daughters gives immense insight into Lee's emotional qualities. No such letters exist from Washington. As the Novaks observe, it is possible that Washington communicated his emotional life to Martha, his wife, but she burned these letters after his death. Still, the Novaks contend that there is sufficient evidence to be certain that Washington was "Not a Deist, but Judeo-Christian" as one of their chapter titles declares, albeit "a very private Christian."

The Novaks' central argument, following several chapters recapitulating Washington's life, is based upon Washington's incessant appeals to and observations of the ways of Providence. This is something ignored or dismissed by many biographers, which is foolish; Washington used "Providence" so often that it can be characterized as one of his three ruling ideas of how the world works or should work (the other two, I believe, are "West" and "Union"). ...

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