Was George Washington a Model Entrepreneur?

Author Edward Lengel on how Washington's business acumen shaped America.


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George Washington's exploits as both a politician and general are well known, but should he be equally recognized as a businessman? According to author Edward Lengel, the answer is an unqualified yes. In his new book, First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His–and the Nation's–Prosperity, Lengel makes the case that Washington's business acumen and economic principles are just as important to understanding the man and the country he helped form.  

"He was a big believer in individuals creating their own wealth by virtue of their own hard work," says Lengel. "He took those principles and applied them to the country as a whole as President. He believed that what he did at Mount Vernon was a microcosm of what other entrepreneurs could do for America." 

By embracing innovation, eschewing debt, and diversifying his revenue streams, Washington was able to grow the estate he inherited into a flourishing self-sustaining enterprise. Like many, he came to believe that an unfettered America could become just as prosperous. 

"Americans–and Washington in particular–believed in the early 1770s that we would soon be able to produce for ourselves agriculturally, we would be able to produce manufacturing and industry, and the only thing that prevented that were British restrictions to entrepreneurship." 

Legel recently sat down with Reason TV to discuss Washington's views on commerce, whether his use of slaves at Mount Vernon should disqualify him as an entrepreneurial role model, and what lessons we can learn from Washington's economic vision.

"The principles that Washington believed in, in terms of personal entrepreneurship, in terms of national economic policy, work and industry, are absolutely relevant today. By writing this book I am trying to set those before Americans to realize that these are basic principles that really we need to return to as much as we can."

Approximately 10 minutes.

Produced and Edited by Meredith Bragg. Camera by Joshua Swain and Amanda Winkler.

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