Symposium Update

Continuing with our forth installment for the September 28, 2019 symposium Before They Were Americans build-up, today Dr. Peter R. Henriques will be highlighted. Dr. Henriques will be the keynote speaker for the symposium. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 1971 and is Professor of History, Emeritus, from George Mason University. He taught American and Virginia history with a special emphasis on the Virginia Founding Fathers, especially George Washington.

His books include Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington, The Death of George Washington: He Died as He Lived, and a brief biography of George Washington written for the National Park Service.  Realistic Visionary was recommended by Professor Joe Ellis as one of the five best books to understand our first President. He is a frequent contributor to American History Magazine and a regular presenter at Colonial Williamsburg, where he has given more than 25 talks. His current book project is entitled, “First and Always: A New Portrait of George Washington.”

He presented the Distinguished Lecture Series at Colonial Williamsburg, 2011-12, and was the 2012 winner of the George Washington Memorial Award given by the George Washington Masonic Memorial Association.

What do you believe was a significant event in the American Revolution era that not many Americans may know about or recognize?

The friction among the states and the difficulties it caused.


What first attracted you to the study of early American history? What keeps you involved in the study of this history? Do you find these things are the same or different?

The excitement of the story and the chance to get to know – however imperfectly – some very interesting people. While from a very different era I found that my study of Washington has helped me understand my country better and to live a more fulfilled life.


Do you believe the impact of the American Revolution is visible on our current society? In what ways? 

In one sense the American Revolution is the “big bang” of American history. The ramifications of words like “all men are created equal” are still being worked out.


How has your study of early Amercian history impacted how you perceive our current nation and its relations with other countries? Would you say this impact is beneficial or hindersome?

The circumstances are quite different. Washington worked to make it possible for America to be a great nation and didn’t focus much on what its role would be as a great nation. The Founding Fathers were supporters of what would be called “real politic” today. They were realists about the interests of different nations and recognized limitations as to what could be done.


With any violent conflict, there are opposing sides. How important do you believe the Loyalist side was to the American Revolution? Do you believe the existence of this group of colonists has been diminished through romanticization of the American Revolution?

The winners write history and the Loyalists have suffered accordingly. The novelist/historian Kenneth Roberts is good in telling their side of the story.


Do you think there are common misconceptions of the era of the American Revolution among the American people? If so, what are they and have they ever affected your work?

The general view is that back in the good old days everyone was patriotic and put the interest of the country first. When I was teaching at George Mason, I developed a list of quotes called “The Spirit of 1776 Revisited.” It is amazing how regularly the men we admire today bemoaned the narrow selfishness of the business interest and lack of patriotism among the people.


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