Author Topic: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree  (Read 7787 times)

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Offline Phidippides

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Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« on: October 13, 2008, 03:23:22 AM »
Does anyone know the oldest source that the story of Washington and the cherry tree is from?  I'm wondering where this story came from, and if it remained in oral form for some time.
"Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses" ~Juvenal

Offline scout1067

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2008, 03:25:10 AM »
I don't think it entered print until early in the 20th century.
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Offline Stumpfoot

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2008, 03:30:03 AM »
I wouldnt be surprised if it's not nearly as old as the country.
History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time. It illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity - Cicero

Offline scout1067

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2008, 03:30:48 AM »
I am going to have to look this up.  Should be fairly straightforward.
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Offline scout1067

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2008, 03:33:16 AM »
Apparently the myth originated about 1800 in the first biography of Washington by one Mr. Weems.  See here:http://americanhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/washingtonscherrytree
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Offline Phidippides

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2008, 04:20:13 AM »
Thanks.  Appears that Mason Locke Weems did create this legend Americana. 

Quote
Honesty and humility also stood as strong 19th-century virtues. The American public may have known that Parson Weems' story of young Washington and his cherry tree rang false, but for the citizenry of the early United States of America, the idea behind the fable declared what they believed was true: Washington equaled honesty. I have no desire to hold onto my power, Washington told the people, and then he kept his word, proving no intention to deceive.

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/gw/gwmoral.html

In the spirit of post-structuralism, we might ask - is it more important that the story of the cherry tree was false, or that people liked the story and equated honesty with George Washington and the founding of America?
"Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses" ~Juvenal

Offline scout1067

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2008, 05:16:53 AM »
I refuse to discuss anything in the spirit of post-structuralism.  As a theory post-structuralism and its cousin post-modernism are destroying the academic foundations that knowledge has been traditionally based upon.  I fail to see how a theory that questions the very nature of reality itself and the means whereby things adhere meaning to themselves adds to the sum of human knowledge.
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Offline Phidippides

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #7 on: October 13, 2008, 11:29:47 AM »
I refuse to discuss anything in the spirit of post-structuralism.  As a theory post-structuralism and its cousin post-modernism are destroying the academic foundations that knowledge has been traditionally based upon.  I fail to see how a theory that questions the very nature of reality itself and the means whereby things adhere meaning to themselves adds to the sum of human knowledge.

Lol, I do have my own gripe with post-structuralism.  However, having recently studied a bit about this approach, I think some of the issues it raises are valid/helpful.  Perhaps we should discuss it in another thread since it's a good topic, but....for now pretend I didn't use the word "post-structuralism".  Is the veracity of the cherry tree story more important or is the subsequent interpretation/belief in the story more important?
"Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses" ~Juvenal

Offline DonaldBaker

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #8 on: October 13, 2008, 02:03:25 PM »
Now you see the trouble with "models" in historical analysis.  All models have a degree of usefulness, but trying to stringently follow one particular model is unwise.

Offline scout1067

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #9 on: October 14, 2008, 06:52:55 AM »
The Cherry Tree Story is simply an updated morality tale like the ones that were popular in the Medieval period.
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Offline Phidippides

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #10 on: October 14, 2008, 11:38:57 AM »
I think the story added to the aura of the "legendary" status of an icon in the founding of America, just as great cities in Europe had their own legendary foundings (e.g. Rome).  It adds to the notion that a nation is blessed by God with a higher purpose and gives the people greater cultural identification, which is dearly needed when culture is still being shaped due to its relative "newness".

So for historical purposes, I think the cherry tree story's significance was in its interpretation by hordes of schoolchildren who learned the story and came to identify America with Washingtonian virtue. 
"Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses" ~Juvenal

Offline DonaldBaker

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #11 on: October 14, 2008, 04:00:26 PM »
Well could it also have been a reaction to the rise of the Jeffersonians?  As a reaction to the demise of the Federalists led by Washington?  A bitter reaction at that?  Many feared a Jefferson Presidency, and therefore stories about famed Federalists like Washington would have been useful propaganda in persuading people to not embrace the political changes that seemed inevitable.  I'm not saying this is the case, but I know the story didn't just pop up out of the blue without some motive behind it, and if it wasn't true why was Washington content to let it be believed as truth?

Offline Stumpfoot

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #12 on: October 14, 2008, 09:13:22 PM »
The Bio was written in 1800 so Washington was dead by then, he may have never heard the story.
History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time. It illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity - Cicero

Offline scout1067

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #13 on: October 14, 2008, 11:16:22 PM »
It could be that Weems inserted the story into his biography simply to highlight what he saw as the virtues of Washington and in an effort to enhance his iconic status and not as some kind of backlash against the rise of the Jeffersonians.  It is tempting to over analyze causes but I find it useful to employ Occam's razor in historical interpretation as well.  The story may have just sounded good.
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Offline Stumpfoot

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Re: Story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree
« Reply #14 on: October 15, 2008, 03:28:46 AM »
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar?
History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time. It illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity - Cicero