Washington probably married Martha to have an heir. Though they never produced a child, they got along very well and remained happily married their entire lives. Nevertheless, they married less out of love than out of practicality. If Washington ever had a passionate love it was not for Martha but for Sally Fairfax, a daughter of the Fairfax family who lived nearby. They corresponded for their entire lives. There is no evidence that Washington was ever unfaithful to Martha. We will never know much about his relationship to Martha, though. She burned all of their letters after his death.

In private life Washington was in some ways very traditional. As a planter he owned slaves; though he treated his slaves with relative kindness, he perpetuated human bondage in a way that contradicted his own ideas of life and liberty. Like his fellow Founders, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, he was a hypocrite in this regard. He was also an aristocrat of sorts. Although colonial Virginia had no aristocracy in the traditional sense, and no one held titles such as Lord or Baron, plantation owners like Washington completely controlled their society. They lived glamorous lives, lavishing banquets and balls on their families and guests. Their plantations often held dozens of family members and friends and hundreds of slaves; they were essentially feudal kingdoms. It was in this social context that Washington and his fellow planters expressed ideals of liberty and democracy; clearly their notion of democracy was very different from ours.

While traditional in some ways, Washington was ahead of his time in seeing the need to be less dependent economically on the London merchants who bought his crops and sold him household goods. British laws strictly regulated what the colonies could produce and where they could sell it; the laws were intended to keep Britain and the colonies bound together but put the planters at a disadvantage. Planters relied on the London merchants, known as factors, for nearly everything they bought. Washington's experiments with new crops and new techniques reflected this desire to be financially independent. His ideas of the proper social role of the planter were also ahead of his time: though he held slaves and profited from their labor, he personally hated the institution of slavery.

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