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Chronology: George Washington, 1732-1799 ix 

I The Washington Monument 3 

The Copybook Hero 8 

The Father of His People 1 2 

The Disinterested Patriot 16 

The Revolutionary Leader 18 

II George Washington, Esquire 25 

Virginia Origins 25 

Virginia Influences 35 

The Young Soldier 42 

The Retired Planter 60 

The Modest Patriot 66 

III General Washington 76 

Command and Crisis: 1775-1776 76 

Problems and Possibilities 91 

Crisis and Cabal: 1777-1778 100 


Monmouth to Yorktown: 1778-1781 no 
The Commander in Chiefs Achievement 122 

IV President Washington 129 

"Retiring within Myself' 129 

Toward a New Constitution 137 

First Administration: 1789-1793 149 

Second Administration: 1793-1797 169 

The Last Retirement " 180 

V The Whole Man 184 

Reticence 184 

The Classical Code 190 

Criticisms 197 

Pathos 202 

Triumph 211 

Acknowledgments 215 

Further Reading 217 

Index . 225 



1732 February 22 

(February 11, 
Old Style) 

1743 April 12 

1749 July 20 

March 1752 

1752 November 6 

1753 October si- 
January 16, 1754 

1754 March-October 

1755 April-July 

Born at Bridges' Creek (Wake- 
field), Westmoreland County, 

Death of father, Augustine 

Appointed surveyor of Cul- 
peper County, Virginia 

Visited Barbados with half 
brother, Lawrence Washington 

Appointed major in Virginia 

Sent by Governor Dinwiddie 
to deliver ultimatum to the 
French (Fort Le Boeuf) 

Lieutenant colonel of militia 
in frontier campaign 

Aide-de-camp to General Brad- 





August 1755- 
December 1758 

July 24 
January 6 


May 18 


October 25 


October 3 


July 16 

May June 



Colonel of Virginia Regiment, 
responsible for frontier de- 

Took part in Forbes expedition 
against Fort Duquesne 

Elected burgess for Frederick 
County, Virginia 

Having resigned commission, 
married Mrs. Martha Dand- 
ridge Custis 

Re-elected burgess 

Vestryman of Truro Parish, 
Fairfax County 

Warden of Pohick Church, 
Truro Parish 

Elected burgess for Fairfax 
County (re-elected 1768, 1769, 
1, 1774) 

Justice of the peace, Fairfax 

Journey to New York City 

Member and chairman of 
meeting that adopted Fairfax 
County Resolves 

Attended first Virginia Provin- 
cial Convention at Williams- 




1775 May-June 

June 16 

1776 March 17 
August 27 
October 28 
December 25-26 

1777 January 3 

September 11 
October 4 
October 17 

Attended First Continental 
Congress at Philadelphia as a 
Virginia delegate 

Delegate at Second Continental 

Elected General and Com- 
mander in Chief of the Army 
of the United States 

Took command of Continental 
troops around Boston 

Occupied Boston 
Battle of Long Island 
Battle of White Plains 

Victory over Hessians at Tren- 
ton, New Jersey 

Success at Princeton; establish- 
ment of winter quarters at 
Morristown, New Jersey 

Battle of Brandywine 
Battle of Germantown 

Surrender of Burgoyne at Sara- 


Winter at Valley Forge 











March 15 

June 8 
June 19 

December 4 
December 23 

May 17 
March 28 


British evacuation of Philadel- 
phia; battle of Monmouth 

Winter headquarters at Mid- 
dlebrook. New Jersey 

Arrival of French fleet and 
army (under Rochambeau) at 
Newport, Rhode Island 

Campaign at Yorktown, Vir- 
ginia, culminating in Com- 
wallis's surrender (October /p) 

Reply to the "Newburgh Ad- 
dress" by discontented officers 

Circular letter to the states 

Elected president-general of the 
Society of the Cincinnati 

Farewell to officers at Fraunces' 
Tavern, New York City 

Resigned commission to Con- 
gress at Annapolis 

Attended Annapolis confer- 
ence on Potomac River navi- 

President of the Potomac Com- 

Elected Virginia delegate to 
federal convention in Philadel- 


May 25 
September 17 

1788 January 18 

1789 February 4 
April 30 
August 25 



179 1 



1792 December 5 

1793 March 4 

Elected president of convention 

Draft of Constitution signed; 
convention adjourned 

Elected chancellor of William 
and Mary College 

Unanimously elected President 
of the United States 

Inaugurated President at Fed- 
eral Hall, New York City 

Mother, Mary Washington, 
died at Fredericksburg, Vir- 

Tour of New England (exclud- 
ing Rhode Island) 

Visit to Rhode Island 

Arrived in Philadelphia, new 
temporary capital of the United 

Tour by coach of the Southern 
states (1887 miles in 66 days) 

Unanimously re-elected Presi- 

Inaugurated President for sec- 
ond term at Independence 
Hall, Philadelphia 


April 22 Proclamation of Neutrality 

September 18 Laid cornerstone of federal 
Capitol (Washington, D.C.) 

December 31 Resignation of Thomas Jeffer- 

son as Secretary of State 

1794 September- Tours of inspection in connec- 
October tion with Pennsylvania "whis- 
key rebellion" 

1 795 January 31 Resignation of Alexander Ham- 

ilton as Secretary of the Treas- 

1796 September 19 Farewell Address (dated Sep- 

tember i 1 ]) published in Phila- 
delphia Daily American Ad- 

1797 March Retirement, and return to 

Mount Vernon, following in- 
auguration of John Adams as 

1798 J u ly 4 Appointed Lieutenant General 

and Commander in Chief of 
the Armies of the United States 

1799 December 14 Died at Mount Vernon (buried 

in the family vault there, De- 
cember 18) 

1802 May 22 Death of widow, Martha Wash- 



Man and Monument 



The shades of Vernon to remotest time, will be trod 

with awe; the banks of Potomac will be hallowed ground. 


Illustrious George Washington, February 


D.C., is, we are told, 555 feet high higher than the 
spires of Cologne Cathedral, higher than St. Peter's in 
Rome, much higher than the Pyramids. When George 
Washington died, in December 1799, the new federal cap- 
ital had already been named in his honor. As a further 
gesture, the House of Representatives resolved that a mar- 
ble monument should be built, "so designed as to com- 
memorate the great events of his military and political life." 
Washington's body was to be entombed beneath the shrine* 
But for various reasons, some unedifying, it was 'never 
erected. The soaring obelisk that we call the Washington 
Monument was a later project, not completed until a hun- 
dred years after George Washington had achieved victory 
and independence for his nation. Many thousand tons of 
concrete are buried under its base. Yet the bones of the 
man it celebrates are not there either; they repose a few 


miles away, in the vault o his Mount Vernon home. 

Innumerable tourists visit Mount Vernon. It is a hand- 
some place, as they can testify, refurbished with taste and 
maintained in immaculate order. But the ghosts have been 
all too successfully exorcised in the process; Mount Vernon 
is less a house than a kind of museum-temple. We know 
that George Washington lived and died there; we do not 
feel the fact, any more than we can recapture the presence 
of William Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon. Both men 
are baffling figures to us, prodigious and indistinct. One 
American writer has said of them that "England's greatest 
contribution to the world is the works of Shakespeare; 
America's is the character of Washington." On this sort of 
scale are they measured; and it is not a human scale. 

There is a difference, of course. Whereas we can find out 
almost nothing about Shakespeare, we have a vast amount 
of information about Washington. Only one blank por- 
trait of Shakespeare exists; the portraits of Washington 
some of them apparently excellent likenesses require 
three volumes to list in full. There are no autobiographical 
fragments from Shakespeare's hand; Washington's letters 
and diaries fill over forty volumes, in printed form. Hardly 
any of his contemporaries mentioned Shakespeare; scores 
of friends, acquaintances and casual callers set down for us 
their impressions of George Washington. A strange obscu- 
rity envelops the figure of Shakespeare; Washington stood 
in the glaring limelight of world fame. But the result 
optically, so to speak is similar: the darkness and the 
dazzle both have an effect of concealment. 

Trying in vain to discern the actual man behind the 
huge, impersonal, ever-growing legend, biographers have 


reacted in various ways. In the case of Shakespeare, some 
have denied his authorship of the plays and have attempted 
to substitute a more plausible bard: a Bacon or even a 
Marlowe. The reaction in the case of Washington has 
naturally been somewhat otherwise. No one, in face of 
such a quantity of evidence, can pretend he never existed, 
or that some other man deserves the credit. But he has 
become entombed in his own myth a metaphorical 
Washington Monument that hides from us the lineaments 
of the real man. Year by year this monument has grown, 
like a cairn to which each passer-by adds a stone. Pamphlet, 
speech, article and book; pebble, rubble, stone and boulder 
have piled up. Anecdote, monograph, panegyric: whatever 
the level and value of each contribution it has somehow 
ironically, in the instance of more important contributions 
smothered what it seeks to disclose. 

Indeed, Washington has become not merely a mythical 
figure, but a myth of suffocating dullness, the victim of 
civic elephantiasis. Confronted by the shelves and shelves 
of "Washingtoniana" all those sonorous, repetitious, rev- 
erential items, the set pieces in adulation that are im- 
possible to read without yawning we seek some sour 
antidote to so much saccharine, and tend to agree with 
Emerson: "Every hero becomes a bore at last. . . . They 
cry up the virtues of George Washington 'Damn George 
Washington!' is the 'poor Jacobin's whole speech and con- 
futation." When we have allowed ourselves the relief of 
this irreverence, though, the monument still looms before 
us, and must be reckoned with before we can get to grips 
with Washington the man. We may suspect, however, that 
myth and man can never be entirely separated, and that 


valuable clues to Washington's temperament, as well as his 
public stature, lie in this fact. 

The first thing to note, in exploring the monument, is 
that the myth-making process was at work during Wash- 
ington's own lifetime. "Vae, puto deus fio" the dying 
Roman emperor Vespasian is supposed to have murmured: 
"Alas, I think I am about to become a god." Such a mix- 
ture of levity and magnificence would have been foreign 
to George Washington. Yet he might with justice have 
thought the same thing as he lay on his deathbed at Mount 
Vernon in 1799. Babies were being christened after him 
as early as 1775, and while he was still President, his coun- 
trymen paid to see him in waxwork effigy. To his admirers 
he was "godlike Washington," and his detractors com- 
plained to one another that he was looked upon as a "demi- 
god" whom it was treasonable to criticize. "O Washing- 
ton!" declared Ezra Stiles of Yale (in a sermon of 1783). 
"How I do love thy name! How have I often adored and 
blessed thy God, for creating and forming thee the great 
ornament of human kind! . . . our very enemies stop the 
madness of their fire in full volley, stop the illiberality of 
their slander at thy name, as if rebuked from Heaven with 
a 'Touch not mine Anointed, and do my Hero no harm!' 
Thy fame is of sweeter perfume than Arabian spices. 
Listening angels shall catch the odor, waft it to heaven, and 
perfume the universe!" 

Here indeed is a legend in the making. His contempo- 
raries vied in their tributes all intended to express the 
idea that there was something superhuman about George 
Washington. We need not labor the point that, after death, 
"godlike Washington" passed still further into legend, his 


surname appropriate for one American state, seven moun- 
tains, eight streams, ten lakes, thirty-three counties; for 
nine American colleges; for one hundred and twenty-one 
American towns and villages. His birthday has long been 
a national holiday. His visage is on coins and banknotes 
and postage stamps; his portrait (usually the snaffle- 
mouthed, immensely grave "Athenaeum" version by Gil- 
bert Stuart) is hung in countless corridors and offices. His 
head sixty feet from chin to scalp has been carved out 
of a mountainside in South Dakota. There are statues of 
him all over the United States and all over the world: 
you can see them in London and in Paris, in Buenos Aires 
and Rio de Janeiro, in Caracas and Budapest and 
Tokyo . . . 

All these are outward signs of Washington's heroic 
standing in the world. But we should look a little* more 
closely at the monument. If the metaphor may be extended, 
we can observe that the monument has four sides: four 
roles that Washington has been made to play for posterity's 
sake. The four are not sharply distinct nothing is, in this 
misty Valhalla but it is worth our while to take a glance 
at each of them before turning to the actual events from 
which the legends emanated. This is, of course, not to argue 
that Washington is undeserving of praise; his merits were 
genuine and manifold. The crucial point is that the real 
merits were enlarged and distorted into unreal attitudes, 
and that this overblown Washington is the one who occurs 
immediately to us when his name is mentioned. He might 
occur in any or all of the following four guises: a) the 
Copybook Hero; b) the Father of His People; c) the Dis- 
interested Patriot; d) the Revolutionary Leader. These are 


all guises o the hero figure. In each, Washington is a mem- 
ber of a pantheon; and for each pantheon there is a kind 
of antipantheon of heroes who fell from grace. 

The Copybook Hero 

WASHINGTON'S LIFE lay completely within the eighteenth 
century, though only just. But Washington as he has 
descended to us is largely a creation of the nineteenth- 
century English-speaking world, with its bustling, didactic, 
evangelical emphasis. This is the world of tracts and 
primers, of Chambers's Miscellanies and McGuffey's 
Readers, of Samuel Smiles and Horatio Alger, of me- 
chanics' institutes and lyceum lectures, of autograph al- 
bums and gift annuals. Bazaars and bridges are opened, 
foundation stones laid, prizes and certificates distributed, 
drunkards admonished and rescued, slaves emancipated. 
It is, in the convenient term of David Riesman, the age 
of the "inner-directed" personality whose essential at- 
tributes are summed up in the titles of Smiles's various 
works Self-Help^ Thrifty Duty, Character or in a 
short poem of Emerson's that is also called "Character." 

The stars set, but set not his hope: 
Stars rose; his faith was earlier up: 
Fixed on the enormous galaxy 
Deeper and older seemed his eye; 
And matched his sufferance sublime 
The taciturnity of time . . . 

Character is the key word in the copybook view of 
George Washington, as we have already seen in the state- 


merit linking him with Shakespeare.* Lord Brougham is 
of the same opinion: "The test of the progress of mankind 
will be their appreciation of the character of Washington." 
The enterprising Parson Weems, a Victorian before the 
Victorian era, was the first to fit Washington into what 
was to become the pattern of the century. His aim in writ- 
ing a pamphlet biography of Washington was, Weems 
explained to a publisher in 1800, to bring out "his Great 
Virtues, i His Veneration for the Diety [sic], or Religious 
Principles. 2 His Patriotism. g d His Magninimity [sic]. 
4 his Industry. 5 his Temperance and Sobriety. 6 his Justice, 
&* &?." Here is the copybook canon. Weems was not quite 
as high-minded as this statement might suggest, though 
there is no reason to doubt that he shared the general 
American veneration for Washington. As he told the same 
publisher, his proposal could win them "pence and popu- 
larity." At any rate, he did not hesitate to fabricate in- 
cidents, or to style himself "Rector" of the nonexistent 
parish of Mount Vernon. His pamphlet grew into a book, 
embodying stage by stage the famous false Weemsian anec- 
dotes: Washington chopping down the cherry tree ('7 can't 
tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with 
my hatchet!' Run to my arms, you dearest boy> cried 
his father in transports)', Washington upbraiding his 
schoolmates for fighting an episode that gradually dis- 
appeared from the record, since later generations found it 
priggish ("You shall never, boys, have my consent to a prac- 

* It is emphasized in 1843 by Daniel Webster, in an oration at Bunker 
Hill. America, he says, owes a considerable debt to the Old World. She 
has repaid it in large part by furnishing "to the world the character of 
Washington! And if our American institutions had done nothing else, that 
alone would have entitled them to the respect of mankind." 


ticeso shocking! shocking even in slaves and dogs; then how 
utterly scandalous in little boys at school, who ought to look 
on one another as brothers"); young Washington throw- 
ing a stone across the Rappahannock (It would be no easy 
matter to find a man, now-a-days, who could do it); Wash- 
ington's providential escape at Braddock's defeat (A famous 
Indian warrior, who acted a leading part in that bloody 
tragedy, was often heard to swear, that "Washington was 
not born to be killed by a bullet! For . . . / had seventeen 
fair fires at him with my rifle, and after all could not bring 
him to the ground!"); Washington discovered by a 
Quaker "of the respectable family and name of Potts, if 
I mistake npt" praying at Valley Forge (As he ap- 
proached the spot . . . whom should he behold . . . but 
the commander in chief of the American armies on his 
knees at prayer!); and so on. 

All through the book, as unremittingly as Horatio Alger 
was to thump home the message, Weems showed how "duty 
and advantage" went together. Thus, kindness to his elder 
brother brought George the Mount Vernon estate when 
this brother died childless save for one ailing infant; and 
exemplary conduct subsequently won him the hand of the 
widow Custis, whose "wealth was equal, at least, to one 
hundred thousand dollars!" The homily was irresistible; 
by 1825 Weems's biography had gone through forty edi- 
tions, and forty more were to appear in due course. The 
cherry-tree story eventually incorporated in McGuffey's 
highly popular Readers became a special favorite in 
copybook lore. Invention was even added to invention in 
Morrison Heady's little life of Washington, The Farmer 
Boy, and How He Became Commander-in-Chief (1863). 


Heady describes how a Negro boy was blamed for cutting 
down the tree, and how young George saved him from a 
flogging by confessing to the crime. Indeed, in the secular 
hagiology of the period the equivalent of Saint Law- 
rence with his gridiron, or Saint Catherine with her wheel 
Washington and the tree joined the company of New- 
ton and William Tell with their respective apples, Watt 
with his kettle, Bruce with his spider, Columbus with his 
egg, King Alfred with his cakes, Philip Sidney with his 
water bottle. 

But Washington's whole career was pressed into service, 
not merely one episode. The expense accounts that he kept 
during the Revolutionary War were printed in facsimile, 
as proof of his patriotic frugality and business efficiency. 
His religious opinions were recast, by Weems and others, 
into the nineteenth-century mold. One tale has it that he 
left the Anglican Church for Presbyterianism. According 
to another fable, he secretly joined the Baptists. It is un- 
necessary to emphasize that all such notions, whether they 
originated in the fertile mind of Weems or elsewhere, were 
untrue in detail and unhistorical in a larger way. Weems 
and his successors were not concerned with what they 
would have thought of as scholastic pedantry. Their object, 
quite deliberately, was to point a moral and adorn a tale. 
They agreed with the words of Henry Lee, in praise of 
Weems (and quoted on Weems's title page) : "No biographer 
deserves more applause than he whose chief purpose is to 
entice the young mind to the affectionate love of virtue, 
by personifying it in the character most dear to these 
states." Or, as Horatio Hastings Weld said in his Pictorial 
Life of George Washington (1845): "The first word of in- 


fancy should be mother, the second father, the third 
WASHINGTON/' We may feel that Weems and the rest of 
the copybook moralizers must share some of the blame for 
blurring our image of Washington. In their defense, how- 
ever, we should add that they did not mean to turn Wash- 
ington into a plaster saint. They were well aware of this 
tendency. "In most of the elegant orations pronounced to 
his praise/* wrote Weems, "y u see nothing of Washington 
below the clouds . . . 'tis only Washington the HERO, 
and the Demigod . . . Washington the sun beam in coun- 
cil, or the storm in war." Weems wanted to humanize him, 
as well as present him as a copybook character. Certainly 
there is not much of the marmoreal in Weems's racy narra- 
tive; with its aid, he managed to impose his apocryphal 
Washington on a whole nation for a whole century. Weems 
would no doubt claim that he could not have done so if 
people had not wished to believe that this was the truth. 
Washington's family motto was Exitus acta probat; to suit 
himself and vindicate his fictions, Weems might mistrans- 
late this as "The end justifies the means." At any rate, what 
he depicted was Washington as the man without faults, and 
with all the nineteenth-century virtues, from courage to 
punctuality, from modesty to thrift and all within hu- 
man compass, and all crowned by success. 

The Father of His People 

NEVERTHELESS, WASHINGTON did inhabit the clouds in 
the estimation of a great many people. In the well-worn 
phrase of Henry Lee, he was first in war, first in peace, 
and first in the hearts of his countrymen first chrono- 


logically and emotionally: America's first commander in 
chief and first President. He was the prime native hero, a 
necessary creation for a new country. It was only natural to 
replace "George Guelf ' (Jefferson's description) by George 
Washington; indeed, the substitution was made actual in 
New York, where the base of a destroyed statue of George 
III was used to display one of Washington.* Hence, too, the 
comment made by the European traveler Paul Svinin, as 
early as 1815: "Every American considers it his sacred duty 
to have a likeness of Washington in his home, just as we 
have the images of God's saints.*' For America, he was orig- 
inator and vindicator, both patron saint and defender of 
the faith, in a curiously timeless fashion, as if he were Char- 
lemagne, Saint Joan and Napoleon Bonaparte telescoped 
into one person. 

After him, only Abraham Lincoln has rivaled his na- 
tional glory. In some respects Lincoln is now a more rele- 
vant hero than Washington; his Second Inaugural is the 
New Testament among national documents to the Old 
Testament of Washington's Farewell Address. Yet Lincoln 
is still human, time-bound and even time-stained. One can- 
not quite imagine him in a painting like Brumidi's Apoth- 
eosis of Washington, which is on the dome of the National 
Capitol and shows Washington flanked by Freedom and 
Victory. Nor can one imagine American critics objecting to 
a fictional account of Lincoln (or for that matter any other 
American hero, with the possible exception of Robert E. 

*And at Nassau Hall, Princeton College, where in 1783 the trustees 
commissioned from Charles Willson Peale a portrait of Washington as a 
substitute for "the picture of the late king [George II] of Great Britain, 
which was torn away hy a ball from the American artillery in the battle 
of Princeton." 


Lee) as they objected, for example, to Thackeray's treat- 
ment o Washington in The Virginians. "Why," one angry 
reviewer wrote, "this is the very essence of falsehood. Wash- 
ington was not like other men; and to bring his lofty char- 
acter down to the level of the vulgar passions of common 
life, is to give the lie to the grandest chapter in the unin- 
spired annals of the human race." As another critic admon- 
ished Thackeray: "Washington's character has come to us 
spotless, and if you impute to him the little follies that have 
belonged to other great men, the majestic apparition you 
have called up may visit you, pure and white as you see him 
in Houdon's statue, and freeze you into silence with his 
calm, reproachful gaze." 

This is a remarkable threat, and it conveys very well the 
intensity of American feeling for Washington a century 
ago. A similar protective reverence was revealed by Jared 
Sparks when he edited Washington's correspondence in the 
18305. He was afterwards accused of having tampered with 
the text in order to present Washington in a more dignified 
light. His editorial methods were, by modern standards, so 
careless that it is difficult to detect any clear line of policy. 
But Sparks does seem to have omitted or altered passages 
that might be regarded as vulgar; to cite two notorious in- 
stances, Washington's reference to "Old Put" was changed 
to "General Putnam," while "but a flea-bite at present" was 
rendered as "totally inadequate to our demands at this 
time." Consciously or unconsciously, Sparks (an able his- 
torian in many ways) reflected the American belief that 
"Washington was not like other men/' To admit failings in 
him was therefore to attack the very fabric of America. In 
this respect J. P. Morgan too acted as a defender of the. faith 


when (in the 1920$) he burned some letters by Washington 
that had come into his possession, on the ground that they 
were "smutty." Hence, likexvise, the universal American 
horror at men like Benedict Arnold, the betrayers of Wash- 
ington and of their fatherland. In committing treason they 
were also guilty of sacrilege. 

Some of his countrymen notably John Adams were 
a little irked by the Washington cult. They felt that adula- 
tion had gone too far as in the suggestion that God had 
denied Washington children of his own so that he might 
assume paternity for the whole nation. But even Adams was 
prepared to defend Washington as a native product against 
all challengers from other lands, with the proviso that 
Washington's virtues were America's virtues, rather than 
vice versa. Washington was great because his country bred 
such qualities, and shaped their fulfillment. Here, then, 
are two conceptions of Washington the Father of His 
People, as transcendent American and as representative 
American. But in either case he was (as Rufus Griswold 
said) "identified with the country" to an unparalleled de- 
gree. "He was its mind; it was his image and illustration." 
Certainly this is true in terms of nomenclature. The name 
of Washington, as we have seen, spread all over the land; 
and it was adopted for people as well as places. There was 
Washington Irving; one of Walt Whitman's brothers was 
called George Washington Whitman; and for the ex-slave 
boy Booker Taliaferro, to adopt the surname of Washing- 
ton was in a way to take on American citizenship. 


The Disinterested Patriot 

As FATHER of His People, Washington of course stands 
apart though perhaps conceding a lesser share to Ben- 
jamin Franklin. ("The history of our Revolution," wrote 
the exasperated John Adams, "will be one continued lie 
from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be 
that Dr. Franklin's electric rod smote the earth and out 
sprang General Washington. That Franklin electrified him 
with his rod, and thenceforward these two conducted all the 
policy negotiations, legislatures, and war.") As Disinterested 
Patriot, he is one of a select pantheon. Against nearly all his- 
torical precedent he retired to private life twice, after hold- 
ing the two most powerful offices in America. Marveling at 
such humility, men could only compare him with Timo- 
leon of Corinth, who brought peace to Sicily and lived out 
his days there; with Cincinnatus 

Thus, when of old, from his paternal farm 
Rome bad her rigid Cincinnatus arm, 
Th* illustrious peasant rushed to the field; 
Soon are the haughty Volsii taught to yield: 
His country sat/d, the solemn triumph o'er, 
He tills his native acres as before. 

(these lines, by the Maryland poet Charles Henry Whar- 
ton, are from "A Poetical Epistle" addressed to Washington 
in 1779); or with the younger Cato of Addison's play (two 
of whose lines " 'Tis not in mortals to command success" 
and "The post of honour is a private station" Washing- 
ton was fond of quoting). They could contrast him with the 


more numerous antipantheon of interested patriots, which 
included Sulla and Caesar, Wallenstein, Cromwell and 
(above all) his own contemporary, Napoleon. The contrast 
between Washington and Napoleon was startlingly evident; 
and Byron, who spoke of Washington in this connection as 
"the Cincinnatus of the West," was only one of many who 
dwelt on it. Moreover, not all the doings of the few dis- 
interested patriots could bear close scrutiny: 

But in all the actions of those other great captains, 
their glory was always mingled with violence, pain, and 
labor: so as some of them have been touched with re- 
proach, and other with repentance. 

The words are Plutarch's, in praise of Timoleon; but he 
goes on to admit that even Timoleon once behaved vi- 
ciously. It would seem that we are left, among the pure 
patriots, with almost no one except the half-legendary 
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus to rival George Washington. 
The group as a whole is a classical assembly (we could add 
Epaminondas, Agesilaus, Brutus and a few others), and 
Washington's place in it contributes still further to the 
timeless, dreamlike unreality of our vision of him. His role 
here fits well into the Classical Revival mood of early nine- 
teenth-century America. (It does, though, conflict a little 
with the cozier, more domesticated Weemsian view. We 
should remember that Horatio Greenough's colossal mar- 
ble statue of Washington in a toga was ridiculed in the 
18405. A tourist who went to look at Greenough's work 
found that "some irreverent heathen had taken the pains to 
climb up and insert a large 'plantation* cigar between the 
lips of the pater patriae. ... I could not help thinking 


. . . that if Washington had looked less like the Olympic 
Jove, and more like himself, not even the vagabond who 
perpetrated the trick of the cigar would have dared or 
dreamed of such a desecration.") 

The Revolutionary Leader 

THIS is AN IDEA of Washington held mainly outside the 
United States, and especially during the last decade of his 
life, though it went on reverberating through the next hun- 
dred years. The conception has a strong tincture of ide- 
ology. It is of Washington as the chieftain, the liberator, the 
champion of nationalism, and the victor in the first great 
revolution of modern times. In this role he appears as the 
unwitting chairman of a vehement, valiant, swashbuckling 
committee whose other members are men like Lafayette, 
Thaddeus Kosciusko, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Bolivar and 
Garibaldi,* with vacant places left by Iturbide and others 
who disgraced themselves. To the French, trying to achieve 
a revolution of their own on the American model, Wash- 
ington naturally had a particular significance. "Vasington," 
"Vashington," or "Wassington," as he was variously known 
in France, was a symbol, to be evoked in plays like Billar- 
don de Sauvigny's Vasington ou la Liberte du Nouveau 
Monde a four-act tragedy performed in Paris in 1791. 
When the Latin-American countries rebelled against 
Spanish rule, he became for them also a symbol. And for 
all countries involved in revolutionary war he provided a 
practical inspiration, of a citizen soldier commanding a 

. * The flagship of tie flotilla that supported Garibaldi in his Sicilian 
campaign of 1860 was named the Washington. 


citizen army. At the head of his "banditti" (as the English 
often called them) he is hunted, thwarted, lonely, out* 
numbered, maintains midwinter vigils. "Without shoes and 
without bread," confronting well-clad and well-fed profes- 
sionals, Washington's men are the original ragged-trousered 
philanthropists after whom, according to one story, the 
French sans-culottes were named. 

The way is hard for Washington. But the Cause, and the 
reading of Tom Paine, sustains him; he crosses the Dela- 
ware, arms folded and head held high, amid the chunks of 
ice ... and triumph is eventually his. It is all an intoxi- 
cating brew of republicanism, conspiracy, Freemasonry 
("Vasington," like Lafayette, Mozart and a number of other 
liberal-minded Europeans of the period, was a Mason). It 
is a period of new fashions in dress, new anthems, new ban- 
ners (in one of the familiar Washington myths, he collab- 
orates with Betsy Ross in devising the American flag). La- 
fayette sends Washington "the main key of the fortress of 
despotism" (i.e., of the Bastille, which the Paris mob had 
stormed in July 1789; the key still reposes at Mount 
Vernon, without inconveniencing anyone, since the Bastille 
was demolished). "It is/' Lafayette writes, "a tribute which 
I owe as a son to my adopted father, as an aide-de-camp to 
my general, as a missionary of liberty to its patriarch" (my 
italics). Another missionary of liberty salutes the patriarch 
in 1782. This is the poet Coleridge, then a Cambridge 
undergraduate, whose rooms in college have been described 
as "a veritable left-wing cell of those days"; as a gesture of 
defiance to the established order, a blow for freedom against 
reaction, he publicly drinks Washington's health in a tap- 
room. So much had Washington become an ideological 


symbol. He is a somber, prophetic figure, not a real person, 
in William Blake's "America": 

Washington spoke: "Friends of America! look over the Atlantic 


A bended bow is lifted in heaven, and a heavy iron chain 
Descends, link by link, from Albion's cliffs across the sea, to 


Brothers and sons of America till our faces pale and yellow, 
Heads deprest, voices weak, eyes downcast, hands work-bruised, 
Feet bleeding on the sultry sands, and the furrows of the whip 
Descend to generations that in future times forget." 

In Latin America, a few years later, Washington the Rev- 
olutionary Leader continues to serve. Bolivar carries a por- 
trait medallion of him. Where he and the United States 
have led, in breaking loose from European bondage, other 
American nations can follow. His doctrine no less than his 
example is a guide; Washington's Farewell Address is read 
and cited throughout Spanish America, until its injunc- 
tions are almost as influential there as in his own country. 
Statesmen quote him; plazas are named after him. Possibly 
we may discern the dim outlines of yet another, fifth role 
for Washington, one that he might have played as pre- 
siding genius for the never-found Atlantis known as Pan- 

Washington is, of course, only one among many great 
men who have been made to serve as object lessons to suc- 
ceeding generations: Each age seeks its own inspiration or 
comfort in the past. The dead are merely the dead unless 
we choose to resurrect them: they live in us and through 


us. Our interest in them is egocentric: we wish to learn 
from them what we are like. 

There is nothing iniquitous in interpreting Washington 
according to the standards of the moment. That is more or 
less what historians have always done, whatever their sub- 
ject, though some have been more scrupulous than others 
in their handling of evidence, and though it is fatal for 
them to be too aware of what they are doing. Our age sets 
greater store than Weems's or Jared Sparks's by historical 
accuracy. But when will there ever be an "impartial" 
biography of Adolf Hitler or even of Franklin Roosevelt 
or Winston Churchill? 

Nor is Washington the only great man to have been en- 
larged to giant scale. Louis XIV dedicated himself to the 
construction of his own monument the elaboration of a 
hugely inflated myth of a Roi SoleiL Marlborough was 
given a dukedom, and a palace so prodigious that it makes 
Mount Vernon look like a gardener's cottage.* Miss Con- 
suelo Vanderbilt, the American heiress who married one of 
Marlborough's descendants, tells us that the kitchens of 
Blenheim Palace are five hundred yards from the dining 
room (with disastrous results for the food). Nelson's grate- 
ful countrymen gave him a viscountcy and, after Trafalgar, 
a whole square in London, dominated by the Nelson 
Column. Wellington won a dukedom and a dizzying quan- 
tity of other honors (including enough trophies to stock a 
sizable museum). They lent their names to regiments, 
schools, public houses, battleships and to distinguished 

*In recent times the balance has been redressed by the Texas oil mil- 
lionaire Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, whose home near Dallas is a replica 
of Mount Vernon, five times the size of the original. 


strangers like Mr. Nelson Rockefeller and Mr. Wellington 
Koo. Napoleon Bonaparte is a still more formidable figure 
to posterity. The subject of literally thousands of books 
(three or four times as many as Washington, one would 
guess), he is perpetuated also in a network of highways, a 
coinage, a legal system in short, in the entire fabric of his 
nation, not to mention other European countries. 

Nevertheless, there is probably nothing quite like the 
Washington Monument in history. There have been vari- 
ous conceptions of him, and they have altered somewhat 
from generation to generation. But none of the principal 
conceptions the sides of the monument has been 
wildly at variance with the others, and none has been dis- 
credited. Could anyone who weighed his words soberly say 
this, as Gladstone did of Washington, about any other 
celebrity of Washington's time or since? 

If, among all the pedestals supplied by history for pub- 
lic characters of extraordinary nobility and purity, I saw 
one higher than all the rest, and if I were required, at a 
moment's notice, to name the fittest occupant for it, I 
think my choice, at any time during the last forty-five 
years, would have lighted, and it would now light upon 

Surely no one else has been so thoroughly venerated, and 
so completely frozen into legend. The name Napoleon may 
evoke a picture of a brilliant general, a ruthless tyrant, a 
restless exile, or perhaps a faithless husband. But the pic- 
ture, however grand or highly colored, is credible; it is of a 
recognizable man. The same is emphatically true of the 
name Nelson, which at once conjures up images of a dash- 
ing public career and a gaudy private one. It is even true of 


Wellington, the Iron Duke, who at many points bears a 
close resemblance to George Washington. Wellington sug- 
gests a hero, a personage, a stern and rather unapproachable 
being, but still a human being. But what does the name 
Washington convey? It may well mean a place; and if you 
establish that you mean George Washington, it could be 
the name of an institution; and if you insist that you mean 
the original owner and helpless bequeather of the name, 
then you are left with what? Anecdotes that are nearly 
all untrue, and not very lifelike at that. Instances of meri- 
torious conduct. Statesmanlike utterances. In other words, 
the Washington Monument. 

Is the explanation that Washington really was a paragon? 
Was he stainless, as so many writers would have us believe? 
Or did he merely represent conscientious mediocrity, 
placed in power and automatically hallowed because he was 
the instrument of victory? Did Americans revere him be- 
cause by circumstance he came to stand for everything they 
held dear? Did they turn him into a monument because in 
the early days of the Republic he was all that they had in 
the way of a national symbol or entity? If so, how much was 
he aware of the process and how much did he lend himself 
to it? 

These are a few of the conundrums that tease us. It may 
be possible to hint at some answers in the final chapter of 
this book. In the next three chapters, however, we must 
struggle to forget all about the Washington Monument. 
Ideally we should pretend that we have never even heard of 
Washington, or that the American colonies revolted against 
Britain and formed an independent nation. If this is too 
much to expect, we should at least keep on reminding our- 


selves that these things were hidden from Washington. 
Looking back on the events of Washington's life, some of 
his panegyrists have discovered Providence busily at work. 
Here and here, they say, are proofs that it was all fore- 
ordained; so shapely and illustrious an outcome must have 
been. Washington himself frequently spoke of destiny, 
and committed himself to it. But he did so in no Napole- 
onic mood. He never felt that he was the Man of Destiny, 
only that what would be would be. When he ventured to 
predict, he usually did so by way of warning: such or such 
would be the melancholy consequences, if Americans failed 
to guard against them. If he seemed to walk confidently, he 
walked into the dark, without benefit of second sight a 
mortal man in an ennobling but bewildering time, for 
whom tomorrow was a problem and next year an enigma. 
This is what we must at all costs remember about him. In 
his own eyes, history happened to him, not the other way 
round. He did what he could. 




Where's his bright ploughshare that he loved or his 
wheat-crowned fields, waving in yellow ridges before the 
wanton breeze or his hills whitened over with flocks 
or his clover-coloured pastures spread with innumer- 
ous herds or his neat-dad servants, with songs rolling 
the heavy harvest before them? Such were the scenes of 
p eace, plenty^ and happiness, in which Washington de- 

MASON WEEMS, The Life of George Wash- 
ington; with curious anecdotes, equally 
honourable to himself and exemplary to 
his young countrymen 

Virginia Origins 

A IN A FILM projected in reverse, we demolish the 
monument. The plinths and statues disappear; the 
wings of the mansion at Mount Vernon are whirled away, 
and the portico, the dove-shaped weathervane, the furnish- 
ings, and then the very core of the house and its founda- 
tions, leaving no trace. The roads are peeled from the sur- 
face of the land; the farms and inns and churches and 
courthouses are scraped off. Old tree stumps shoot up again 
into branches, trunk and leaves, then dwindle backward to 


sapling, to seed. The Indians and the buffalo they hunted 
are once more found along the seaboard. Like iron filings 
answering a magnet, the ships are drawn in, stern first, east- 
ward across the Atlantic; their cargoes are magicked from 
the holds, their living freight of settlers, servants, convicts 
and slaves disgorged. The sun climbs in the west from dark- 
ness to sunset, rises to high noon, and falls toward the 
eastern dawn. . . . 

We may arrest this process of undoing in the 16505, when 
the first Washingtons came to Virginia. The earliest British 
settlers had arrived there half a century before, at James- 
town. Despite sickness, famine, Indian wars and changes of 
government, settlements gradually spread along the coastal 
promontories and up the rivers Potomac, Rappahan- 
nock, York and James, as they lay from north to south. At 
home in Britain the Stuart king Charles I was overthrown 
in the Civil War, and beheaded. A royal colony, Virginia 
first espoused the Stuart cause, only to be compelled to rec- 
ognize the rule of Parliament. To outward appearance the 
change did not make much difference in Virginia. In that 
"infant, woody country" (as George Washington could 
still describe it a century later) food, shelter, protection and 
land were more immediately important. 

But what happened at home was also important sooner 
or later to Virginia. One event that had large consequences 
was the granting by Charles II to a faithful follower (in 1649 
only a few months after his father's death) of an enor- 
mous tract of territory in the Northern Neck between the 
Potomac and the Rappahannock. It seemed a pathetic 
gesture, in that young Charles was then in exile, with dubi- 
ous prospects o ever enforcing his decrees. He had given 


away a fortune he did not possess and that neither he nor 
the new "Proprietor" had ever seen or was ever to see. 

Another small incident of the Civil War in England 
typical of what befell thousands of unlucky men was the 
expulsion from his living of an Anglican minister by the 
Puritans in 1643. His name was Lawrence Washington. He 
had lived in modest comfort (his family had owned the 
manor of Sulgrave, in Northamptonshire, and he himself 
was a former Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford). Now he 
found survival difficult; and after he died in 1653, two * 
his sons decided to make a fresh start in Virginia. One of 
them, John, came as a ship's officer, married the daughter 
of a Virginia landowner and perhaps half by accident 
settled there. In general he prospered. He acquired land; 
he became a justice of the peace and a burgess (i.e., a 
member of the lower house of the Virginia General As- 
sembly). His brother was also reasonably successful. The 
Washington line was established. It could hardly be called 
a dynasty, as yet. Neither brother made a fortune. Life was 
precarious and rough, death ever-present. John, for ex- 
ample, had three wives, the last of whom had already been 
widowed three times, and he was still only in his middle 
forties when he died in 1677. 

Nevertheless, the Washington name quietly joined those 
others Byrd, Carter, Corbin, Fitzhugh, Harrison, Lee, 
Page, Randolph that we associate with Virginia. John's 
eldest son, Lawrence, carried on the line, benefiting as elder 
sons did from the rules of inheritance that were to char- 
acterize the colony. Lawrence too was a burgess; but he 
died in 1698, at the age of thirty-nine, before he was able to 
fasten much grip upon his surroundings. And now the story 


wanders into a maze of inheritances, land claims, inter- 
marriage and litigation the complex of so much of colo- 
nial Virginia's history. Lawrence's children were taken to 
England by their mother, who, according to the custom of 
the time, promptly remarried. The two boys in the family 
were sent to school at Appleby in Westmoreland. Their 
stepfather might have kept them in England, and their 
Virginia properties might have been lost to them. However, 
their mother soon died and they came back to Virginia. 
The legal tangle involving their lands was gradually simpli- 
fied. One of the sons, Augustine, was about twenty-one (the ' 
average age for matrimony among Virginia males) when 
he took Jane Butler as his wife, in about 1715. The first 
surviving son of this marriage was christened Lawrence, 
after his grandfather and great-great-grandfather. 

Augustine worked hard and showed some enterprise. 
Like his father and grandfather, he was a county justice. 
With his own and his wife's property he had title to 1750 
acres in various parts of the Northern Neck. In 1726 he also 
acquired rights to 2500 acres of the Little Hunting Creek 
tract on the Potomac, which had been patented by his 
settler grandfather, John. And he secured an interest in an 
iron furnace. 

In 1729 Augustine's wife died. Two years later a rela- 
tively long interval for those days he married again. His 
second wife was Mary Ball, an orphan of twenty-three with 
a middling property -and the usual circle of relatives. She 
was descended from a William Ball, the son of a London 
attorney who came to Virginia in 1650. Mary was much 
attached to her guardian, a genial lawyer named George 
Eskridge; and it was apparently after him that she named 


her first-born child: George Washington. Otherwise he 
might perhaps have been given the family name of John; 
Lawrence and Augustine had already been used for his 
half brothers. At any rate, George it was. 

The baby George was born in Westmoreland County, at 
a plantation later known as Wakefield. It was also described 
as Pope's Creek or Bridges' Creek, since it lay between those 
two streams, which emptied into the Potomac some way 
downriver from the Hunting Creek property. George's 
birth date was February 11, 1732. (When the calendar was 
revised in 1752, eleven days were added, so that this date 
subsequently became February 22, New Style.) Five other 
children came in rapid succession: Elizabeth, Samuel, John 
Augustine, Charles and Mildred, who died in infancy in 

By then young George was living in his third home. In 
1735 his father had moved to Prince William County. 
Three years later he moved again, to Ferry Farm near the 
little settlement of Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock. 
The father had worries and disappointments, especially 
with his iron foundry, but he was fairly well entrenched as 
a Virginian of the upper, though not the top, level. He 
owned about fifty slaves. He acquired title to all the lands 
he could encompass: something over ten thousand acres, 
as enumerated in his will. He sent Lawrence and Augus- 
tine, the two sons of his first marriage, to the school he had 
himself attended, at Appleby in northern England. Thus 
might they acquire the breadth and polish befitting a Vir- 
ginia gentleman; through luck, shrewd investment and a 
careful marriage they might amass the wealth to accompany 
such manners. 


Then, however, the picture changed. When George was 
just eleven years old, father Augustine died. Most of his 
property was left to the half brothers, Lawrence and Augus- 
tine. George was to inherit Ferry Farm when he came of 
age. In the meantime he lived there with his mother, leaving 
childhood behind and entering the short period of youth 
that in colonial times so swiftly merged with adult life. The 
events of his childhood can only be guessed at unless we 
care to accept the picturesque anecdotes of Parson Weems 
and others. One common story is that he was taught to read 
and write by "a convict servant whom his father brought 
over as a schoolteacher." That is possible: convicts as well 
as indentured servants were dispatched to Virginia in con- 
siderable numbers; and some convicts were no doubt edu- 
cated men whose offenses had not been particularly hei- 
nous. But there is no proof of this story. Nor is there any 
certainty, though it sounds more likely, that George at- 
tended a school in Fredericksburg the one conducted by 
the Rev. James Marye. All we can assume is that George 
got some schooling between the ages of seven and eleven. 
There is no mention of any idea of sending him to 
Appleby, perhaps because this would have been too ex- 
pensive and perhaps because his mother did not want to be 
separated from him for several years, which this would 
have entailed. Whatever the cause, his schooling was pro- 
vincial in several ways. 

After his father's death George evidently continued to 
absorb instruction of a sort. The adolescent notebooks 
which have survived show that he learned some elementary 
Latin and mathematics, picked up the rudiments of good 
conduct, and read a little in English literature. By Euro- 


pean standards it was a sketchy education for a gentleman, 
and it was all the formal education he was to have, since, 
unlike some of his contemporaries, he did not go on to the 
College of William and Mary, in the Virginia capital at 
Williamsburg. We do not know why, unless again his moth- 
er's frugality and desire to keep him close at hand are the 
explanation. In short, George Washington was not highly 
educated, and never became what might be called an in- 
tellectual. Here he is in sharp contrast with Americans 
like John Adams, who was later to maintain, sourly, "That 
Washington was not a scholar is certain. That he was too 
illiterate, unlearned, unread for his station and reputation 
is equally past dispute." 

Nor, of course, does he compare in intellectual prepara- 
tion and power with such Virginia contemporaries as 
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Years afterward 
Washington probably felt the lack. He was ill at ease in set 
debate or abstract discussion. He managed to express him- 
self on paper with a degree of clarity and force, through long 
practice, and his spelling likewise improved, but he was 
never a brilliant writer.* We may attribute a little of the 
constraint of the mature Washington to his awareness of 
his own intellectual limitations. While still a young man, 
he was to suffer through his ignorance of the French lan- 
guage, and afterwards he was to refuse an invitation to visit 

* The Rules of Civility, from an early notebook, are sometimes listed 
among Washington's own writings but were merely copied down by him 
(". . . In speaking to men of Quality do not lean nor Look them full in 
the Face, Nor approach too near them at least Reap a full pace from 
them . . ."). As for the compositions of his mature years, their ideas came 
from Washington, but their phraseology since he was an extremely busy 
man had often to be left to his secretaries. Some of the latter wrote with 
considerable polish. 


France, on the grounds that he would be embarrassed by 
having to converse through an interpreter. Unlike Jeffer- 
son and Adams, he never did reach Europe. 

But we must not overstress this point. In Virginia, the 
intellectual attainment of a Jefferson or a Madison was ex- 
ceptional. Even the wealthiest planters tended not to be 
bookish, or particularly concerned with cultural refine- 
ments. William Byrd of Westover, with his library of 
perhaps three thousand volumes, was unique among the 
gentry of tidewater Virginia. They lived comfortably, some- 
what on the lines of the English squirearchy, fond of food 
and drink, good imported clothes and well-made imported 
furniture. But their lives had less of civilized elegance than 
some chroniclers have suggested. Their homes were surpris- 
ingly small, in most instances; their broad acres seemed 
(to European eyes) shaggy and unkempt very near to 
the wilderness in both time and space. By trade and senti- 
ment they were close to the mother country; even their 
speech sounded much nearer to the mother tongue than 
did the nasal utterance of Massachusetts (though it was said 
that their children were too readily allowed to pick up the 
slurred speech of the Negro slaves). But in other respects 
the Virginia of the mid-eighteenth century was a world on 
its own, far removed from Europe or from the patterns of 
urban civilization. Young Washington once referred jok- 
ingly to Williamsburg as "the great Matrapolis." In com- 
parison with Boston or Philadelphia (let alone London, 
which Washington also described in the same phrase), 
Williamsburg was a small town. And Williamsburg, York- 
town, Hampton and Norfolk formed the onlv sizable town- 


ing up. Virginia was a rural colony, with rural tastes. It 
was also a large and proud colony, but its units of existence 

plantation, parish, county were local. Burgesses who 
attended the Assembly at Williamsburg enjoyed a brief and 
hectic round of town life, of dances, dinners, card games 
and theater parties. Otherwise the Virginia planter not 
to mention the humbler farmers who made up the bulk of 
the population was a countryman, a busy squire and 
local potentate. 

His absorbing interest was land. The average planter 
owned several tracts. One estate he might farm himself, 
with tobacco as the staple crop; others might be let to ten- 
ants; and others again, in the western areas, might be un- 
cleared and untenanted (unless invaded by squatters). His 
fortune was based on land; his future and that of his family 
depended upon the acquisition of still more land. The 
great men of Virginia men like Robert Carter of Nomini 

reckoned their wealth in tens of thousands of acres. The 
gold fever that lured the hopeful to California a hundred 
years hence was a swift and consuming passion. The land 
fever of colonial Virginia was less ephemeral but hardly 
less intense in its effects. And no wonder, when so much 
land lay to the west, with only the Indians and the French 
to dispute possession except for one's rivals in Virginia 
(or in Maryland and Pennsylvania). 

The Virginian's love of land was sometimes lavish and 
careless. He farmed as well as he knew how, yet without the 
minute economy of the European peasant. If tobacco ex- 
hausted the fertility of his soil, as it did, he was sorry; but 
there was always another estate to be made elsewhere from 
fresh ground. This, then, was the Virginian's dream a 


litigious, competitive, restless dream, beset with warnings, 
disasters and vulgarities, yet nevertheless a kind of ideal. 
"Speculation'* in its original sense meant deep thought 
upon some abstract problem. In a newer sense (of which 
the first use, according to the Oxford Dictionary., was in 
1774) it meant "engagement in any business enterprise or 
transaction of a venturesome or risky nature, but offering 
the chance of great . . . gain." This is a fairly apt descrip- 
tion of the outlook of the alert Virginia planter. It did not 
exclude the consideration of more fundamental problems, 
as and when the need should arise. Every speculator knew 
how to argue and protest. 

The planter's diversions followed naturally from his 
workaday life. He made a pleasure of the necessity of long 
hours on horseback. "My dear countrymen," said Colonel 
William Byrd, "have so great a passion for riding that they 
will often walk, two miles to catch a horse to ride one." 
The planter liked to watch (and bet on) horse races, to 
hunt foxes and shoot game. Occasionally, in more brutal 
fashion, he wagered money on cockfighting. It was a robust 
and rather violent existence, and bred a certain callous- 
ness in those who led it, as well as a good deal of courage. 
Here, as in other colonies, bounties were offered for In- 
dian scalps. The penal code, though no harsher than that 
of England in most instances, could be summary espe- 
cially for Negroes, who might for graver crimes be hung 
and quartered, or even burned alive. . . . 


Virginia Influences 

THIS WAS the young Washington's Virginia, and his edu- 
cation was well enough devised to meet its demands. 
He became a fair marksman and a fine horseman by 
common consent, one of the best of his age. He grew tall, 
strong and active. George did not, however, run wild. True, 
there is nothing to show a refining influence on his mother's 
part. Despite the glowing tributes that have been paid to 
her, she seems to have been a narrow, grudging, unimagi- 
native woman; and in later years it is clear that George 
showed her respect but could not add to it much warmth 
of affection. Her only positive action with the adolescent 
boy appears to have been to forbid perhaps quite sen- 
sibly a scheme to send him to sea as a midshipman. 

But fortunately there were other influences in the 
family, and in particular that of his half brother Lawrence. 
Lawrence was fourteen years older than George, and a 
genuine friend. Schooled in England, he no doubt seemed 
an attractive and worldly figure, a welcome substitute for 
the father George had lost. When George was a boy of 
eight, Lawrence went off to the West Indies as a captain 
(one of four Virginians thus honored) in the newly raised 
American Regiment, to take part in Admiral Vernon's 
expedition against the Spanish at Cartagena. Through no 
fault of the Admiral's the exploit was a costly failure. Many 
of the American Regiment died of yellow fever. Lawrence 
came home in advance of the other survivors, to retire 
from service on half pay. He applied for, and later occu- 
pied, the post of adjutant general for Virginia. Here, if 


we are looking for formative influences upon the young 
Washington, is an obvious, military one. His half brother, 
while denied military glory, had at any rate acquitted him- 
self properly in what could have been a tremendous ad- 
venture. As for Lawrence, he so admired the Admiral that 
he named his estate at Hunting Creek Mount Vernon, and 
hung a portrait of the Admiral in the house he built there. 
A second influence supplied by Lawrence could be 
^called social. In 1743, the year of their father's death, 
Lawrence made a most desirable match. His bride was 
Anne Fairfax, the daughter of the prosperous Colonel Wil- 
liam Fairfax of Belvoir, an estate almost adjacent to Mount 
Vernon. Colonel Fairfax was a grandee in Virginia; and 
soon after the wedding he proved the fact by joining the 
exclusive Council (or upper house of the Virginia General 
Assembly), a body composed of the twelve leading dig- 
nitaries of the colony. Through Lawrence the Fairfaxes 
were to play an important part in shaping the development 
of George. When he was sixteen or thereabouts he came 
to live mainly at Mount Vernon. He learned to play bil- 
liards, whist and loo; he was taught to dance; and he began, 
half in jest and half in agonizing earnest, to pay attention 
to girls. His letters and journals allude wistfully-facetiously 
to a "Low Land Beauty" and other distracting creatures. 
Biographers have lingered over these references, and over 
the circumstances of an Unsuccessful infatuation with one 
Betsy Fauntleroy when he was twenty. Such allusions do 
have a curious fascination, partly because they show young 
Washington as a vulnerable human being and partly be- 
cause the figures involved are so shadowy. Yet they provide 
too little evidence to rlinrh the ront^ntinn that f^ 


was exceptionally awkward in drawing-room encounters. 
Perhaps he was a little heavy and humorless, as well as 
immature; was he much different from his local rivals? We 
can only guess at the truth. 

A related and more tantalizing conundrum is offered by 
Sarah (Sally) Gary, the daughter of Colonel Wilson Gary, 
who had an estate on the James River near Hampton. In 
December 1748, at eighteen, she married George William, 
the eldest son of Colonel Fairfax, and made Belvoir her 
home. Her husband was an agreeable young man whom 
George Washington could count as a friend, though a few 
months earlier he had referred to him politely in a diary 
as Mr. Fairfax. For years to come George was to see much 
of Sally, to write to her now and then and perhaps to 
fall in love with her. It seems certain, from his letters to 
her, that he liked her very much, valued her friendship, 
and yet was not entirely at ease with her. From her few 
letters to him it would appear that Sally enjoyed admira- 
tion and recognized no sharp dividing line between badi- 
nage and flirtation. Was he, then, in love with her? Again, 
the evidence is too fragmentary for us to tell. If he was, 
we can be virtually certain that the relationship remained 
a matter of sentiment and private hurt. 

At any rate, she and young Fairfax, Lawrence and Anne 
Fairfax gave George a glimpse of a delightful and privi- 
leged existence. If his behavior was a shade awkward, he 
was, after all, a younger son, and a stepson at that. He had 
useful connections, and he was not penniless; he was not 
cast in the role of Cinderella with Lawrence and Augustine 
as the ugly sisters. But he must have realized that he had 
to shift for himself, or at least take advantage of all oppor- 


tunities that came his way. Ultimately and accidentally his 
situation was well contrived to bring him on. By com- 
parison, the Fairfax children were a little spoiled, as 
George's own stepson and stepson's children were to be.* 
He, on the other hand, could understand the pinch of 
deprivation if he had never actually felt it. His ambition 
was sharpened, therefore, instead of smothered. Hence this 
sort of advice, which he pressed upon one of his own 
younger brothers in 1755: 

I shou'd be glad to hear you live [in] Harmony and 
good fellowship with the family at Belvoir, as it is in 
their power to be very serviceable upon many occassion's 
to us, as young beginner's. I would advise your visiting 
often as one step towards it. 

The third influence upon the young beginner George 
that came from Lawrence and the Fairfaxes could be 
labeled territorial. In 1750 one Virginia leader reminded 
the Board of Trade at home that his colony's western 
claims stretched as far as "the South Sea" (the Pacific 
Ocean), "including California/' It was a vast claim and 
a vague one, when we recall that a few years earlier young 
George had in a school copybook listed "Colofornia" as one 
of the "Chief Islands" of North America, together with 
"Icelands," "Greenland," "Barbadoes and the rest of the 
Caribee Isclands," and so on. Less vaguely, every aspiring 
Virginian knew that to the west lay the Blue Ridge Moun- 
tains. Beyond them was the rich valley of the Shenandoah, 

* "I never did in my life/' a tutor commented on Washington's stepson 
Jack, "know a youth so exceedingly indolent or so surprisingly voluptuous: 
one would suppose Nature had intended him for some Asiatic Prince." 


and parallel was the barrier of the Alleghenies. To the 
northwest of the lower Shenandoah was debatable ground: 
the Ohio Valley, which in turn led to the great basin of 
the Mississippi. It was all a rich prize, for himself or for 
his children and their children; and the colonist had no 
intention of relinquishing it. He pressed his case by every 
means. In 1744, by a treaty between Virginia, Maryland 
and the Indians of the Iroquois confederation, the west- 
ern boundary of white settlement was agreed to be the 
Alleghenies, and not as previously maintained by the 
Indians the Blue Ridge. The Shenandoah Valley was 
thus opened to settlement. And a few months later the 
Privy Council in London reached a decision on a matter 
that harked back to the frail, ninety-five-year-old promise 
of Charles II. Charles had succeeded to the throne, and his 
lucky follower had become Proprietor of the Northern 
Neck. In 1744, through inheritance, the Proprietor was 
Thomas Lord Fairfax; and the Privy Council decided a 
long dispute over rights and boundaries in his favor. The 
extent of his domain was redefined so as to take in a large 
area between the upper Potomac and Rappahannock. 

Lord Fairfax was the cousin of Colonel Fairfax, who had 
been acting as his agent and had gained much power 
thereby. The Proprietor was a dull, suspicious-minded 
man who did less to help George than is sometimes alleged. 
But he was an almost legendary figure, and we may pic- 
ture the excitement he aroused when in 1748 he came out 
to Virginia to see to his possessions. He took up residence 
to begin with at Belvoir. By then Lawrence and other 
speculators had formed the Ohio Company, in order to 
develop an enormous land grant in the region of the upper 


Potomac. The frontier was on the move; indeed, an even 
more ambitious development scheme the Loyal Com- 
pany was initiated by another group of venturers at the 
same time. 

The connection between these grandiose territorial 
projects and the first career of young Washington is ob- 
vious. Land was important; Washington became a sur- 
veyor. Perhaps Lawrence was partly responsible; if he was 
kind to George, he did not train him to be a dandy. Law- 
rence may have suggested sending George to sea, which 
was not an elegant career or (as George's uncle pointed 
out) one with much chance of "preferment." Still, there 
is no need to find elaborate explanations. Probably every 
Virginia planter learned something about surveying, and 
was taught as a boy as George was how to draft a 
bill of sale, a power of attorney, a promissory note. 

When George was sixteen he knew enough about sur- 
veying to assist in running lines. He did this in 1748, when 
he accompanied a Fairfax party to the Shenandoah coun- 
try his first trip across the Blue Ridge. Next year he 
was employed as assistant surveyor in laying out the new 
town of Belhaven (rechristened Alexandria) on the Po- 
tomac a few miles north of Mount Vernon. Lawrence 
Washington was one of the trustees of Alexandria; so 
George was launching himself under family auspices. Soon 
after, he was appointed surveyor of Culpeper County. And 
now, on a modest scale, his career advanced briskly as he 
carried out surveys throughout the newer areas of northern 
Virginia. By the end of 1750 the eighteen-year-old surveyor 
had even managed to lay claim on his own behalf to three 
tracts of 1450 acres altogether in the lower Shenan- 


doah. Since Ferry Farm would soon come into his hands, 
he could view his prospects with some satisfaction. If he 
was not an intellectual genius, or the heir to a great for- 
tune, he was evidently energetic, reliable and canny. 

At the end of 1751 there came a break in his steady 
routine. Lawrence Washington's first three children had 
died, and he himself was troubled by a cough that grew 
steadily worse. Medical treatment was haphazard and un- 
availing. In desperation he decided to make a voyage to 
Barbados, in the hope that the mild climate would cure 
him. Lawrence's wife had to stay behind with their fourth 
infant, so George went with Lawrence (his only journey 
outside what was to be the continental United States). The 
experiment failed. Lawrence's health remained poor, and 
George succumbed to smallpox. When George recovered, 
he returned alone to Virginia with the cheerless news that 
Lawrence was worse, if anything, and would probably 
move on to Bermuda in further search of a remedy. Mean- 
while George resumed his existence as a surveyor. He 
bought another Shenandoah tract, which brought his hold- 
ing there to two thousand acres. 

Otherwise 1752 was a gloomy year. George fell ill with 
pleurisy; he had no luck with Miss Fauntleroy; and Law- 
rence came back that summer from Bermuda, to die of 
tuberculosis. Death seemed to mock at human pretensions. 
Yet there were unlooked-for consolations in the shape of 
Lawrence's bequests, and opportunities to follow in the 
directions Lawrence had indicated. By the terms of his 
brother's will the widow was to enjoy the use of Mount 
Vernon during her lifetime, in trust for the sole remaining 
child; but if this child died without issue, Mount Vernon 


was to pass to George. He was to have Lawrence's other 
property in Fairfax County when the widow died. It was 
a generous will as far as George was concerned, the more 
so in that the Fairfax baby soon joined the others in the 
grave. Moreover, Lawrence's death left open the militia 
adjutancy of Virginia. George applied for and got one of 
the four adjutancies into which the colony was subse- 
quently divided. 

As he came of age in 1753 young Washington was 
soundly placed. He had just been enrolled as a Freemason 
in the new lodge at Fredericksburg; he was a county sur- 
veyor, with an annual stipend of fifty pounds and a re- 
munerative practice; apart from his two thousand Shenan- 
doah acres, he had inherited altogether another four thou- 
sand; and as a district adjutant he drew a salary of one 
hundred pounds a year, with the militia rank of major. Be- 
fore long, instead of making Ferry Farm his seat, he leased 
Mount Vernon from his sister-in-law. Henceforward it was 
his home; before long he owned it outright, and for more 
than forty years it was to lie at the center of his own private 
vision. To complete his domestic security, all that he 
needed was a wife. 

The Young Soldier 

BUT FOR A WHILE this quest was deferred. The youth- 
ful planter became immersed in another vision of mili- 
tary prowess. This episode of Washington's life lasted five 
years. It is worth dwelling upon in some detail. Let us, to 
begin with, summarize the main features of his early mili- 
tary career as a kind of success story. We may then, a little 


less superficially, notice their significance as a commentary 
upon his character and aspirations. 

In 1753 Britain's colonial empire in North America lay 
along the eastern seaboard, up to the line of the Alleghenies. 
The American empire of France, with whom Britain had 
been intermittently at war for half a century, ran to the 
north and west in a huge encircling arc, up the St. Law- 
rence River, through the Great Lakes and down the Mis- 
sissippi to New Orleans. It was a thin arc, but if France 
strengthened her hold, Virginia and the other colonies 
would be confined to their coastal belt. If, on the other 
hand, Britain seized the Ohio valley, the arc could be 
broken and even the Mississippi could be wrested from the 
French. Virginia, and more especially the Ohio Company, 
was intimately involved in the clash. In theory the two 
nations had been at peace since 1748. In reality, trouble 
was imminent, for there was no peace but only an armed 
truce. The Ohio Company determined to build a fort at 
the forks of the Ohio, where the Monongahela and Alle- 
gheny rivers came together. Their scouts, however, re- 
ported that the French were constructing a chain of rival 
forts Presque Isle, Le Boeuf and perhaps Venango and 
Logstown southward from Lake Erie to the Ohio. 
Robert Dinwiddie, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, 
delivered an ultimatum, and Major Washington carried it. 

Bearing a polite but adamant letter from Dinwiddie to 
the French commander in the area, Washington set off 
along the Potomac in October '1753. On the way he picked 
up an able frontiersman named Christopher Gist, a Dutch- 
man called Van Braam (to act as interpreter Van Braam 
understood French) and four other men. Two and a half 


months later Washington arrived back in Williamsburg 
with an equally polite but no less adamant reply from 
Fort Le Boeuf . 

It had been a hard journey, in wretched weather. The 
party traveled by canoe and on horseback, at first on the 
new Ohio Company trail that Gist had been clearing, and 
then through wilderness. They crossed the Potomac water- 
shed to the Youghiogheny valley/ thence to the point where 
the Youghiogheny flowed into the Monongahela, on to 
Shannopin's Town (an Indian settlement close by the Ohio 
forks), on to Logstown, Venango and so to Le Boeuf, al- 
most to the shore of Lake Erie. Everything was new to 
Washington : the wild and broken terrain, the devious 
ways of the Indians, the bland but stubborn French who 
"told me, That it was their absolute Design to take pos- 
session of the Ohio, and by G they would do it." When 

he was at last able to leave, in a desperate hurry to convey 
the disquieting news, Washington pushed ahead with Gist. 
They endured extreme hardship and danger. An Indian 
shot at them from almost point-blank range (fortunately 
he missed); to throw him off the trail, they traveled all 
night, after pretending to pitch camp, then all the next 
day. They had to build a raft in order to cross the half- 
frozen Allegheny. George was knocked overboard and 
nearly drowned, and spent a miserably cold night in sod- 
den clothing. Oddly enough, though, it was Gist and not 
George that got frostbite. 

Back at length in Williamsburg, he rapidly wrote out an 
account of the journey at Dinwiddie's request. Dinwiddie 
had the narrative printed, no doubt to impress the As- 
sembly with the seriousness of the situation, and it was 


reprinted in London in three different publications with 
due credit given to Washington. The Assembly was in fact 
impressed enough to vote him fifty pounds. He had a new 
patron in Dinwiddie, who, according to legend, com- 
mended him as a "braw laddie/* Major Washington's star 
was in the ascendant. 

What followed seemed to prove that destiny had marked 
him out. Dinwiddie planned an expedition to hold the 
Ohio country, and Washington was chosen as its second- 
in-command with a lieutenant colonel's commission in the 
Virginia militia. While Washington was recruiting his 
force, Gist and another agent of the Ohio Company 
William Trent were busy on the frontier, building a 
company warehouse on the Monongahela and a company 
fort at the forks of the Ohio. Trent was given a captain's 
commission and told to recruit a company of frontiersmen. 
Lieutenant Colonel Washington was instructed to reinforce 
Trent with two more companies. 

He set out on this mission in April 1754, from Alex- 
andria. With him were eight subordinate officers (includ- 
ing Van Braam, for whom Washington had procured a 
captaincy), a surgeon, "a Swedish gentleman volunteer" 
and one hundred fifty men. A three weeks' march brought 
his command to Wills' Creek on the upper Potomac (later 
the site of Fort Cumberland). Here an alarming rumor 
was confirmed: Trent had been ousted from the Ohio 
forks by a far superior French force and was withdrawing 
toward Wills Creek. However, the neighboring Indians 
affirmed their loyalty. Encouraged by their fidelity, and 
eager to prove himself, Washington agreed with his officers 
that they should continue on as far as the Monongahela 


warehouse. They would then be less than f orty miles from 
the Ohio forks, the strategic place at which the French in 
turn were at work on a fort that they called Duquesne. 

The advance to the Monongahela went slowly, through 
wild and broken country which his wagon train could 
hardly penetrate. In a period of fifteen days he was able 
to cover only twenty miles. But he pushed forward, through 
the Great Meadows, to Laurel Mountain, where Gist re- 
turned from a reconnaissance with the information that 
a French party was hiding nearby. Early next morning 
Washington came to grips with them. Who fired first can- 
not be stated. No one should have fired, since the two 
countries were not formally at war. But they were so close 
to war that the point has little relevance. The facts are 
that Washington's men took the French by surprise and 
routed them in a brief skirmish, killing ten and taking 
twenty more as prisoners. The French leader, M. de 
Jumonville, was among the slain, several of whom were 
scalped by Washington's Indians. His own losses were 
slight: one man killed and two or three wounded. 

This was at the end of May. Washington forwarded the 
prisoners to Virginia. His actions met with approval; and 
as his commander had died, Washington was made a full 
colonel in charge of the whole Virginia contingent, though 
not of the companies promised from other colonies. Only 
one of these actually arrived in time to make any difference. 
But by the close of June 1754 Colonel Washington was 
responsible for a miscellaneous band of Virginia militia, 
North Carolina regulars and Indian tribesmen. 

He now got word that a much stronger French force was 
at Fort Duquesne, about to attack him. Short of provisions, 


gradually deserted by his Indians and harassed by other 
problems, Washington drew his troops into a hastily im- 
provised stockade at Great Meadows which he named Fort 
Necessity. On July 3, by which time all his Indians had 
melted away, the French surrounded the fort. Unlike the 
Jumonville skirmish, this fight lasted most of the day, in 
drenching rain. The French kept up a heavy fire, work- 
ing nearer and nearer. Fort Necessity provided poor pro- 
tection; Washington's men suffered serious losses, while 
all their cattle and horses were shot dead by the French* 
The colonists' position was hopeless; with little food or 
ammunition left, they were outnumbered and trapped. 
Washington was compelled to give in. The French allowed 
him to march out under arms and to take his force back 
to Virginia, except for two officer hostages. One of these 
was Van Braam, who, still acting as interpreter, translated 
the instrument of surrender that the French required him 
to sign. 

It was a bitter defeat for the young officer. Some thought 
he had shown poor judgment. But he had done his best, 
and in general his actions were praised, both at Williams- 
burg and in London. For a comparative youngster he was 
famous; a private letter of his describing the Jumonville 
skirmish was reprinted in the London Magazine^ and 
Horace Walpole says that he spoke about it with King 
, George II. "We obtained a most signal victory/' Washing- 
ton had written to his brother, adding with youthful en- 
thusiasm, "I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, 
there is something charming in the sound/' According to 
Walpole, King George remarked that Washington "would 
not say so, had he heard many/' This wry comment was 


unknown at the time to Washington or his Virginia con- 
temporaries* But he knew that what wa$ happening in the 
back country was under keen scrutiny in Paris and Lon- 
don. It was intoxicating for a young provincial soldier to 
think that the local event, of his own producing, held 
world-wide significance. 

Indeed, Washington became for a brief period a figure 
of notoriety when the French published his personal jour- 
nal, which by accident was left behind at Fort Necessity. 
They used it for propaganda purposes, so as to prove that 
the British were the aggressors in these frontier clashes. 
Jumonville, they maintained, had come on a peaceful 
errand much like Washington's mission a few months 
earlier, only to be "assassinated/' Since Van Braam had 
failed to notice the ugly word in the surrender document, 
where it occurred more than once, the French contended 
that Washington had signed an admission of his own guilt. 
Yet though the French spoke of him as an archvillain, and 
even featured him as such in a long epic poem composed 
for the occasion, this was all the more reason for British 
fellow countrymen to defend him, pointing out that he 
had signed in haste and virtually under duress. Nor, cer- 
tainly, was it his fault that the Virginia authorities dis- 
honored his pledge, in the Fort Necessity agreement, to 
arrange the release of the prisoners captured in the Jumon- 
ville encounter. 

Gradually the fuss died down, and several months went 
by before Washington was again embroiled. He resigned 
his commission in 1754, in despair at the confusion that 
seemed to attend all plans connected with frontier cam- 
paigning. But in the spring of 1755 he once more took 


the familiar route toward the Ohio forks. This time he 
was a volunteer, without official status, like the "Swedish 
gentlemen" who had marched with him a year before. The 
opportunity, though, was promising. General Edward 
Braddock, a senior soldier of decided views, had arrived 
in Virginia with two British regular battalions to clear 
away the French from that part of British America, and 
Washington secured an invitation to act as an unpaid mem- 
ber of Braddock's "family" of aides-de-camp. 

As usual there were tiresome delays. Finally at the end 
of May 1775, Braddock's army (of something over two 
thousand men, in regulars, volunteers and militia) was 
setting out from Fort Cumberland to cover the one hun- 
dred fifty miles to Fort Duquesne. Burdened by baggage 
and artillery, the force moved so slowly that at his own 
suggestion, Washington says the less mobile elements 
traveled separately in the rear. He was with them, suffer- 
ing from an attack of dysentery, when six weeks later the 
bullets began to whistle in a less charming way. 

Braddock's advance guard was within a few miles of 
Duquesne, probing cautiously through the woods, when 
it was rushed by a band of French and Indians. Clad in 
Indian costume, and led by a bold French officer, they 
appeared suddenly among the trees, spread out at his sig- 
nal and opened fire. For a little while the British had the 
situation in control, and the French attack wavered. Then 
the balance of the battle swung against Braddock. Bunched 
in their conspicuous clothing, bewildered by accurate fire 
from unseen enemies, unable to get into formation and 
fight as they were trained to do, the British redcoats grad- 
ually became a mass of helpless, frantic men, dropping in 


scores. Struggling to rally the ranks, nearly three quarters 
of their officers became casualties. Braddock, among them, 
bursting with angry courage as he rode to and fro on horse- 
back, was mortally wounded. The Virginia troops behaved 
more coolly, according to Washington, who hastened up 
to join in the contest. His own efforts and those of others 
were unavailing. Indeed, he was lucky to escape with his 
life; two horses were shot under him, and his clothing torn 
by bullets. Many were less lucky. The woods became a 
slaughter ground. Close on nine hundred of Braddock's 
men lay dead or wounded, a harvest of scalps for the yelling 
Indians ("The terrific sound" of their whoops "will haunt 
me till the hour of my dissolution," said a British officer 
afterwards) as the demoralized survivors poured back in 

The disaster might still have been amended if Brad- 
dock's second-in-command had gathered the remnants and 
again advanced on Duquesne. In fact, the battle might 
easily have gone the other way. Braddock was not as foolish 
as tradition alleges: his men were not taken completely by 
surprise; he outnumbered the French; and if the sortie 
from Duquesne had been less audacious, it would have- 
failed. Yet these post-mortem reflections could not alter 
the shameful reality of defeat. Duquesne was still French, 
and the whole Virginia frontier lay exposed to marauding 
Indians, jubilant with victory. 

There was some comfort for Washington. Whatever the 
general dismay and recrimination, his own reputation did- 
not suffer. He was known to have behaved gallantly, al- 
though a sick man. "Permit me now Sir," the governor of 
North Carolina wrote, "to congratulate you on Your Late 


Escape and the Immortal Honour You have Gain'd on the 
Banks of Ohio," and he received other equally complimen- 
tary letters. He returned to Virginia's service, again as a 
colonel, but now with the title of Commander in Chief of 
Virginia's soldiery. This was in August 1755, when he was 
only twenty-three. 

The title was exalted, the task sickeningly hard. With a 
few hundred men he was suppos'ed to protect a three-hun- 
dred-fifty-mile line. The high hopes of settler and speculator 
alike seemed shattered. War was not officially declared be- 
tween Britain and France until May 1756; and both before 
and after that date the main campaigns were staged else- 
where in North America. Washington and his companions 
in the western outposts began to feel that they were for- 
gotten men on a forgotten front. In the latter part of 1757- 
he fell ill again with dysentery. Finally he had to give up, 
gravely unwell, and come home to Mount Vernon, doomed 
perhaps to follow his father and his half brother to the 
graveyard. Still unmarried, he had not even a direct heir 
to continue his line. Mount Vernon had been sadly neg- 
lected; so had his other affairs. He had twice put his name 
forward as a burgess at election time, and had twice been 
vanquished at the polls. 

Yet with the spring of 1758 he was fit again and ready 
to engage in another campaign. A British army under 
Brigadier General Forbes one of several in North Amer- 
ica was again to advance on Fort Duquesne. It would 
be the fourth time that Washington had taken that trail. 
But to his horror and indignation, Forbes decided not to 
follow the well-worn path but to cut a new road westward 
from Raystown in Pennsylvania. In vain Washington 


pleaded the merits of his route; Forbes had the last word. 
So as Washington saw it, in despair of the outcome 
the weeks dragged into months, till the summer was gone 
and Forbes's army was still hacking its way toward the Ohio 
forks. The British had almost decided to abandon their 
effort for the winter when, at the end of November 1758, 
the French finally relinquished the struggle in the Ohio 
valley, leaving Fort Duquesne in flames without waiting 
for a siege. There was a rather dreary element of anticlimax 
in this bloodless success. Yet the desired result had been 
achieved. Fort Pitt, now a British stronghold, rose on the 
ashes of Duquesne, and a measure of tranquillity returned 
to the Virginia frontier. 

Washington was ready to say a personal farewell to arms, 
though elsewhere the struggle against France continued. 
He had ended the campaign with the honorary rank of 
brigadier; in 1758 he had at last been victorious as can- 
didate for the House of Burgesses in Frederick County; 
and he was engaged to be married. When they heard of 
his impending resignation, the officers of his Virginia Regi- 
ment, urging him to stay another year, said in a "Humble 

Judge then, how sensibly we must be Affected with the 
loss of such an excellent Commander, such a sincere 
Friend, and so affable a Companion. . . . 

It gives us an additional Sorrow, when we reflect, to 
find, our unhappy Country will receive a loss, no less ir- 
reparable, than ourselves. Where will it meet a Man so 
experienc'd in military Affairs? One so renown'd for Pa- 
triotism, Courage and Conduct? ... In you we place 
the most implicit Confidence. Your Presence only will 
cause a steady Firmness and Vigor to actuate in every 


Breast, despising the greatest Dangers, and thinking light 
of Toils and Hardships, while lead on by the Man we 
know and Love. 

There is no doubting the genuineness of such a tribute. 
Nor can we overlook the essential truth of his own state- 
ment to Dinwiddie (in September 1757): 

That I have foibles, and perhaps many of them, I shall 
not deny. I should esteem myself, as the world also would, 
vain and empty, were I to arrogate perfection . . . but 
this I know, and it is the highest consolation I am ca- 
pable of feeling, that no. man, that was ever employed in 
a public capacity, has endeavoured to discharge the trust 
reposed in him with greater honesty and more zeal for 
the country's interest, than I have done. 

Yet there is something a little odd in this declaration, 
something that needs further examination before we take 
up the story of Colonel Washington in retirement. In con- 
junction with Washington's other correspondence of this 
five-year period, it reminds us that to him they were mainly 
years of frustration and humiliation. Nor can we blame 
him for being exasperated at times. As his officers assured 
him, he came to know the forms and possibilities of fron- 
tier warfare as thoroughly as anyone in the colony and 
a great deal better than most of the legislators in far-off 
Williamsburg. He was eager to oust the French before they 
grew too strong and won over all the Indians in the Ohio 
country. But he met with maddening obstacles. The As- 
sembly seemed to him blind to "the country's interest"; 
one burgess even said that the French had a right to the 
Ohio. Suspicious of Dinwiddie (and of the Ohio Company, 


with which the Governor was associated), the Assembly 
was reluctant to vote funds. Dinwiddie, though not apa- 
thetic, was apt to be parsimonious (at least, as George 
viewed him). Nursing private plans, he was unhelpful in 
other respects. He became less and less friendly to young 

Washington's task as military administrator was thank- 
less. Supplies and equipment of all kinds were lacking. 
Recruiting went slowly; most of the men who were cajoled 
into enlisting were of poor caliber, skilled in nothing but 
the art of desertion. As a result he acquired a lasting con- 
tempt for short-term militia troops. Indeed, he was a Vir- 
ginia gentleman to whom all enlisted men were social in- 
feriors. He looked after them, but he punished them sternly 
when they transgressed. Thus he wrote to Dinwiddie in 
August 1757: 

I send your Honor a copy of the proceedings of a Gen- 
eral Court Martial. Two of those condemned, namely, 
Ignatious Edwards, and Wm. Smith, were hanged on 
thursday last. . . . Your honor will, I hope excuse my 
hanging, instead of shooting them. It conveyed much 
terror to others; and it was for example sake, we did it. 
They were proper objects to suffer: Edwards had de- 
serted twice before, and Smith was accounted one of the 
greatest villians upon the continent. Those who were in- 
tended to be whipped, have received their punishment 
accordingly; and I should be glad to know what your 
Honor wou'd choose to have done with the rest? 

"The rest" were subsequently pardoned; Washington had 
been keeping them "in a dark room, closely ironed.'* 
Often he could get no explicit instructions. "My orders," 


he complained in December 1756, "are dark, doubtful, 
and uncertain; to-day approved, to-morrow condemned." 
His whole position was ambiguous and anomalous, giving 
him the semblance of power but not much actual author- 
ity. He and his force in 1754 received less pay than troops 
from other colonies. Though a colonel, he was outranked 
-by every captain who happened to hold a royal (or regular) 
commission instead of a militia one. A Captain Mackay 
who brought a company from North Carolina in 1754 
would not acknowledge Colonel Washington as his chief; 
nor, a few months later, would a Captain Dagworthy whose 
royal commission was only a memory since he had retired 
and sold his pension rights. And Washington must have 
known that British regular officers as a group were dis- 
dainful of the provincials (one of them referred to Virginia 
militia officers as "Jockeys," and another remarked pri- 
vately that "a planter is not to be taken from the plough 
and made an officer in a day"). 

All this understandably irritated Washington. The strik- 
ing feature is that it did more; it rankled with him, it 
drove him to the pitch of fury. Granted that he was honest 
and competent, we must feel that he insisted on his own 
virtues too often in his letters to Dinwiddie and others. 
One clue is provided by the fact that, back in 1753, he 
volunteered to bear Dinwiddie's ultimatum to the French. 
If that was the act of a brave and patriotic Virginian, it 
was also the act of an extremely ambitious young man. His 
subsequent acts and correspondence reveal that he was not 
a wild romantic. Reputation, though sought in the cannon's 
mouth, was not for him a bubble but a solid matter of 
recognition and reward. He had, so to speak, speculated 


on "the Art Military." To be a planter was something; 
he glimpsed another and more dazzling possibility the 
"honor" and "preferment" that came from the Crown. 

The word "preferment," as applied to his own career, 
occurs more than once in Washington's letters of this 
period. Even in Virginia it was vital to know the right 
people; in the larger world everything might depend upon 
reinforcing merit with patronage. Daniel Parke, a well- 
connected Virginian who served as a volunteer with the 
Duke of Marlborough, was rewarded by Queen Anne with 
one thousand guineas and her miniature portrait set in 
diamonds, when he brought her the news of the victory 
of Blenheim in 1704. This was an exceptional piece of luck, 
especially when followed by Parke's appointment to the 
governorship of the Leeward Islands. Washington's hopes 
hardly soared so high. But he knew that as a provincial 
militia officer he was far down the ladder of preferment. 
Perhaps he was not even on it at all, 
*" So he longed for a regular commission (after all, his 
brother Lawrence had held one) to give him an identity, 
a stake. In 1754 he had been in the world's eye, tempo- 
rarily almost a symbolic figure in the vast imperial 
drama of Britain and France. In 1755, as one of Braddock's 
inner circle of privileged young gentlemen, he had again 
stood near the forefront. He had served with distinction 
afterward. Looking back on his career as a whole, it might 
appear that the young Virginian advanced in renown 
without a break. We could, as many biographers have done, 
lay stress on the words of the minister who in a sermon 
of 1755, on the disaster at the Monongahela, singled out 
Colonel Washington as an American hero whom Provi- 


dence might have marked for great things. But in his own 
view, at least in pessimistic moments, these were lost years 
in every sense, years in the wilderness. His services went 
unrecognized; his luck was out. Braddock was killed; Brad- 
dock's successors seemed unimpressed by Washington's tal- 
ents. How, then, could he make his point? If he failed, it 
was not for want of trying. When Lord Loudoun became 
commander in chief in North America, Washington wrote 
(January 1757): 

Altho' I had not the honor to be known to your Lord- 
ship, your Lordship's name was familiar to my ear, on 
account of the important services performed to his Maj- 
esty in other parts of the world. Do not think, my Lord, 
that I am going to flatter; notwithstanding I have exalted 
sentiments of your Lordship's character and respect your 
rank, it is not my intention to adulate. My nature is open 
and honest and free from guile! . . . 

With regard to myself, I cannot forebear adding, that 
had his Excellency General Braddock survived his unfor- 
tunate defeat, I should have met with preferment agree- 
able to my wishes. I had his promise to that purpose, and 
I believe that gentleman was too sincere and generous to 
make unmeaning offers. 

By the spring of 1758 he said he had "laid aside all hopes 
of preferment in the Military line." Nevertheless, he sent 
two slightly unctuous letters to British regular officers of 
his acquaintance, asking them to recommend him to Gen- 
eral Forbes "as one who would gladly be distinguished . , . 
from the common run of provincial officers." And in June 
1758 he welcomed the arrival o Dinwiddie's successor, 
Lieutenant Governor Fauquier, with a similar assortment 
of overdone flattery and modesty. 


In other words, he did everything feasible to win pre- 
ferment (he rode all the way to Boston in 1756, to estab- 
lish with the commander in chief his precedence over 
Captain Dagworthy) everything, that is, short of dis- 
honor. There is something unlikable about the George 
Washington of 1753-1758. He seems a trifle raw and 
strident, too much on his dignity, too ready to complain, 
too nakedly concerned with promotion. Yet he had real 
grievances; he was efficient and resolute. His fault lay in 
saying so too frequently to other people, and in nearly 
developing a persecution complex as his hopes faded after 
a promising, almost sensational early start. "I have long 
been convinced," he reiterated to Dinwiddie in October 
1757, "that my actions and their motives have been mali- 
ciously aggravated." He had yet to learn the wisdom of 
patience; or rather, he was learning it in a painful school. 

Otherwise, his shortcomings were more than balanced 
by his good qualities. His outlook was rather narrowly 
Virginian. He did not conceive of the war as a whole; 
when Forbes chose the Raystown route in 1758, Washing- 
ton's hostility persisted close to the point of insubordina- 
tion. He was sure that Forbes was the victim of a Pennsyl- 
vania "artifice," by which the rival colony would get itself 
a road into the back country and so steal the trade of the 
Ohio frontier. It did not seem to occur to him that his 
own attitude might be construed as a Virginia "artifice." 
^But at any rate he was loyal to Virginia. What he wanted, 
ideally, was a regular commission to defend Virginia. If 
he had wanted a royal commission on any terms, he could 
have purchased one, as young Bryan Fairfax did. 

With the longing for preferment went the thirst for 


"honor/* Sometimes Washington defined this so as to make 
it almost synonymous with preferment. It also meant to 
him, however, the "friendly regard of my acquaintances" 
(with Sally Fairfax perhaps high on the list). All through 
his adult life Washington was to be closely concerned with 
his reputation. In part this was simply an aspect of his 
canniness a matter of taking care that there was a writ- 
ten record of everything that was done to him as well as 
by him. Beyond this, though, Washington needed the solace 
of public approval. He was determined to do what was 
right, and he hoped that his rectitude would be acknowl- 
edged even if his actions turned out badly. In the last re-- 
sort, honor (and honor within his own colony) mattered 
more than preferment. Colonel Washington was a man on 
the make, but he was fundamentally a decent man. His 
military ambitions, though considerable in their way, had 
never been inordinate. And so he was able to tuck them 
away in a corner of his mind. How deeply buried they were 
we cannot tell. We know that in 1759, when he was em- 
bellishing Mount Vernon, he ordered six portrait busts 
from London. They were of Alexander the Great, Julius 
Caesar, Charles XII of Sweden, Frederick II of Prussia, 
Prince Eugene and "the Duke of Marlborh" all military 
heroes. His agent was unable to supply them, but Wash- 
ington did not accept the busts of poets and philosophers 
that were proffered instead. 

At a time of despondency Colonel Fairfax had consoled 
him with the observation that "having Caesar's Commen- 
taries and perhaps Quintus Curtious [the author of a life 
of Alexander] You have therein read of greater Fatigues, 
Murmurings, Mutinys and Defections, than will probably 


come to your Share, tho if any of these casualtys should 
interrupt your Quiet I doubt not but You would bear them 
with equal Magnanimity those Heroes remarkably did/' 
If, on retiring, Washington was still in need of consola- 
tion, he could reflect that Caesar was murdered and that 
Alexander, while a king at nineteen, was dead at thirty- 
two. General Wolfe, one of his own contemporaries, had 
a brilliant career, but he too died at thirty-two, in the 
capture of Quebec. Of Washington's associates none had 
far outstripped him, and some had disgraced themselves. 
Others were dead his old companion Christopher Gist, 
for example, who had succumbed to smallpox. Thanks to 
his illness in Barbados, Washington was at least immune 
to that particular scourge. 

The Retired Planter 

HE HAD more tangible grounds for content. The Fair- 
faxes were still his friends. He had valuable properties, and 
the hope of adding to them when the French troubles were 
over. Above all, he was ending his bachelor days. His bride 
was an amiable, prosperous young widow, Martha Dan- 
dridge Custis, whose first husband was descended from the 
Daniel Parke who had borne the Blenheim dispatches to 
Queen Anne. Martha was a few months older than George 
and had two children by her first marriage. When he first 
met her, or how their courtship developed, is uncertain. 
A love letter he is supposed to have sent her in the summer 
of 1758 appears to be a forgery. There is some evidence 
to suggest that at about the time of the betrothal, George 
was still emotionally disturbed by Sally Fairfax; a letter 


to her may be interpreted as a confession of love. It is 
doubtful whether George and Martha's was a love match 
as a romantic novelist might understand the term. For both 
it was a prudent engagement. Among other things, Martha 
gained a manager for her holdings and George married a 
fortune. But there is no reason to suppose that it was simply 
a marriage of convenience, or that George turned to 
Maltha as a desperate substitute for Sally. No one whose 
opinion has survived ever suggested that their marriage 
was inharmonious or inappropriate; and it is likely that 
any sign of strain between them, at any stage in their long 
connection, would have provoked a good deal of comment. 
George was married in January 1759, and in September 
he wrote to a kinsman in London: 

I am now I believe fixed at this Seat with an agreable 
Consort for Life and hope to find more happiness in re- 
tirement than I ever experienced amidst a wide and bus- 
tling World. 

True, in the same letter he regrets that he cannot visit 
London despite the "longing desire, which for many years 
I have had" because "I am now tied by the Leg and must 
set Inclination aside." But there are no other indications 
that he found life with Martha irksome. The remarkable 
thing is that he adapted himself so rapidly to an existence 
in such sharp contrast with the one he had led in places 
like Fort Cumberland. 

One explanation must be that Washington had in fact, 
as he claimed, wearied of soldiering and relinquished his 
expectations of military preferment. There remained the 
other road to distinction, a less thrilling but a steadier one 


that of the Virginia landowner. A second explanation 
is that Washington was extremely busy. There was much 
work to be done on the Mount Vernon farms, which were 
in poor condition through his absence. The house had to 
be furnished on an adequate scale; crowded invoices were 
sent to London, covering everything from "i Tester Bed- 
stead 7^ feet pitch" to "the newest, and most approv'd 
Treatise of Agriculture," from "40 Yds. of coarse Jeans or 
fustian, for Summer Frocks for Negroe Servts." to "6 little 
books for Childn begg. to Read/' The children beginning 
to read were George's stepchildren, John Parke (Jackie) 
and Martha Parke (Patsy) Custis. He also ordered toys and 
trinkets for them. Indeed, he was to take endless trouble 
with them and with all the other children who came 
within his circle. Cynics might say that Jackie and Patsy 
imposed a very pleasant burden upon him, since their 
estate and their mother's brought him considerable wealth. 
But that seems a harsh judgment, from what else we 
know of him. 

It may sound absurd to use the word patriarch in con- 
nection with an active young man of twenty-seven. There 
was, however, something patriarchal in his way of life. He 
presided over a domain at Mount Vernon that was in effect 
a little village. By degrees Mount Vernon became the head- 
quarters of the Washington clan. George was the most suc- 
cessful of all the brothers and sisters, who looked to him 
for advice and succor. When he was not dealing with the 
affairs of his own family, or considering the appeals of 
hard-up acquaintances, Washington had to manage the 
Custis properties. As a burgess he had to attend sessions at 
WiHiamsburg, and to keep his electors content. Not long 


after his marriage he joined the bench as a county magis- 
trate. Then, following in his father's footsteps, he became 
a vestryman of Truro Parish (and later, a churchwarden). 
In 1766 he filled a vacant place as a trustee of Alexandria. 
Moreover, he was still a keen speculator who bought land 
whenever the opportunity arose. He persisted, with ulti- 
mate success, in his claim to fifteen thousand acres of the 
bounty land that had been promised to the volunteers of 
1754. He joined in land ventures like the Dismal Swamp 
Company (in southern Virginia) and the Mississippi Com- 
pany (which proposed to develop a tract on the Mississippi 
River). Still young in years, he was relatively old in re- 

By the time he was forty, Colonel Washington was a 
substantial figure in Virginia, though not yet among the 
small circle of enormously powerful men. Perhaps he still 
remembered his military years with a tinge of regret and 
disappointment. Perhaps there is some significance to the 
fact that when he posed for his portrait to Charles Willson 
Peale in 1772, he dressed himself in the uniform of a Vir- 
ginia colonel of militia. But it seems more likely that he 
chose uniform because he was fond of fine clothes and 
knew that he looked particularly distinguished in military 
raiment. The face that gazes at us from that portrait is 
of a man in his prime who is at peace with the world. It 
is the face of a man who leads a full and active life and is 
thereby preserved from boredom or smugness, who is not 
gnawed by envy, or driven on by some private demon of 
aggressive ambition, or kept awake at night by a load of 
debt, the threat of betrayal, the torment of a bad con- 
science. It is the face of a man who has a place in the com- 


munity, near the head of things and, one would guess, 
of a family man. 

Since this is very much what Washington was, we can 
conclude that it was an accurate portrait. He had no chil- 
dren of his own; however, he was a family man as far as 
Martha's children were concerned, and though Patsy died 
in 1773, Jackie was married only a few months afterward, 
and before long had two children to engage the grand- 
fatherly affections of Colonel Washington. He was uncle 
or guardian to a whole brood of other children. 

One dearly wishes that we had another, earlier portrait 
to set beside Peale's.* If we could see Washington in, say, 
1757, we should get a glimpse of an individual who was 
far less mature. As he confronts us in 1772, we can under- 
stand why adjectives such as "sagacious" were so often ap- 
plied to him. He seems poised, almost benign the master 
of himself and his surroundings. In 1757, by contrast, 
he might have appeared able but a trifle on edge. We 
can almost imagine him scowling a little and adopt- 
ing a belligerent stance, like those anonymous, pathetic 
young heroes, a century later, in daguerreotypes of the 
Civil War. 

In the intervening years George Washington, as we can 
clearly gather from his correspondence, grew in moral 
stature. This is not to say that he underwent any sudden 
conversion. The road back to Mount Vernon was not for 
him the road to Damascus. Ignatius Loyola was a warrior 
until he sickened of bloodshed while convalescing at Pam- 

* There is in fact a miniature portrait, attributed to J. S. Copley, which 
used to be accepted as a likeness of Washington done in 1,757. This now 
seems most unlikely; and in any case, the portrait is too mild and innoc- 
uous to suggest the character of its subject, whoever he may be. 


plona; so was Francesco Bernardone until he turned back 
in the middle of an expedition, to start existence afresh as 
Francis of Assisi. Not so George Washington. There was 
no moment of revelation. It is true that he was a sound 
Episcopalian, but his religion, though no doubt perfectly 
sincere, was a social performance, quite lacking in angels 
or visions except for those that Parson Weems contrived 
for him. He was a Christian as a Virginia planter under- 
stood the term. He seems never to have taken communion; 
he stood to pray, instead of kneeling; and he did not in- 
variably go to church on Sundays. Perhaps illness had an 
effect upon him, as it had more dramatically upon 
Loyola and Saint Francis. He was dangerously sick in the 
winter of 1757-1758, and again in 1761, when he wrote 
that "I once thought the grim King would certainly master 
my utmost efforts and that I must sink in spite of a noble 
struggle/' The prospect of death does concentrate a man's 

Yet there is not very much to be got out of the attempt 
to visualize Washington as a warrior saint. The most we 
can say (and it is a good deal) is that, like Loyola or Saint 
Francis, he showed a capacity for growth; his character im- 
proved, if not to the point of sanctity. Thus a biographer 
investigating Washington's career up to 1759 could main- 
tain that Washington was tight, even stingy, where money 
was involved. For instance, when Washington was forced 
to hand Van Braam over to the French as a hostage at Fort 
Necessity, he sold Van Braam a dress uniform which he 
might otherwise have found a nuisance to carry away with 
him. It was not a shameful transaction, but it was a brisk 
one. After his retirement, however, Washington lent money 


with an almost reckless generosity, when he often had no 
guarantee of getting it back. Sometimes he gave his sup- 
port privately and unasked. Worldly success spoils many 
people; it suited Washington. 

So, as we observe him in the Peale portrait, the Wash- 
ington of the early 17705 was a contented, upright man. 
When he was not supervising his plantations or occupied 
with other duties, he diverted himself with dances, card 
games and riding to hounds. He also entertained on a 
liberal scale. In the seven years up to 1775 about two thou- 
sand guests visited Mount Vernon, most of whom stayed 
to dinner and many of whom remained overnight. Apart 
from his attendances at Williamsburg, business or pleasure 
took him to Annapolis, Fredericksburg, the Dismal Swamp 
and elsewhere. In 1770 he made a long trip to the frontier, 
past Fort Pitt and down the Ohio by canoe, to seek out 
possible land claims. He planned another western trip for 


Yet in the early summer of 1775, instead of working out 
the details of a western journey, he was heading northward 
to Boston. George Washington, Esquire, was now General 
Washington; the loyal Virginia gentleman was a rebel 
indeed, the military leader not merely of Virginia but of 
all the thirteen American colonies from Georgia to Mas- 

The Modest Patriot 

THERE is NOT room enough here to analyze this stag- 
gering development in any detail. Briefly, we can see that 
there were three main causes of colonial intransigence. The 


first was the removal (thanks to the victorious war of 1756- 
1763) of the French threat. By the peace of 1763 France 
gave up all her possessions in North America. Once her 
power was ended, so in great measure was colonial de- 
pendence upon the mother country. The second cause, 
which followed logically from the first, was the attempt of 
Britain to reorganize her colonial empire. Some degree of 
reorganization was inevitable, since Britain had conquered 
the Canadian provinces. To colonials it also appeared that 
Britain had inherited French conceptions of empire in the 
back country between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi, 
by reserving the area for Indians and fur traders. Such 
seemed to be the motive behind the Proclamation of 1763, 
which forbade white settlement beyond the Allegheny 
watershed, while the Quebec Act of 1774 designated as 
Canadian territory all land north of the Ohio River. In 
the intervening years the mother country had tried to cre- 
ate a more systematic imperial structure, embracing the 
older as well as the newly won dominions. The seaboard 
colonies were now required to pay their share of the costs 
of empire, through taxes that would also define more 
sharply the mercantilist pattern, according to which the 
colonies supplied raw materials to Britain and provided 
a market for Britain's manufactures. The proposed taxes 
were not burdensome in themselves; the colonies as a whole 
were prosperous and under lighter fiscal burdens than the 
mother country. 

What irked the American colonies and here we come 
to the third cause was the assumption that they were 
not parts of Britain but possessions of Britain. In actuality 
they were mature, or nearly so, in modes of life and in 


habits of self-government. But the mother country regarded 
them as infants, to be indulged when they behaved obe- 
diently and spanked when they were naughty. It was not 
at heart a question of tyranny, whatever patriotic orators 
said, but of minor grievances that took on the semblance 
of major ones because the parent was muddled and ob- 
stinate and patronizing, while the offspring were of an age 
to want their own way. "Is it the interest of a man to be 
a boy all his life?" Tom Paine put the question in his 
pamphlet Common Sense, in 1776; and for more than ten 
years, with varying answers, others had been asking them- 
selves the same question. 

Certain broad attitudes were common to all the colonies, 
or to the equivalent groups within them. The merchant 
of Boston could understand the merchant of Philadelphia. 
The Southern planter took rank with the well-established 
proprietor of New York; indeed, George Washington may 
have cast a matrimonial eye at the daughter of one of them 
when he passed through New York in 1756. Lawyers every- 
where spoke the same language, and so did the less ar- 
ticulate settlers along the enormous colonial frontier. 
Within each colony were special sources of dissatisfaction. 
Tidewater Virginia was preoccupied with an alarmingly 
unstable economy. Even a carefully run plantation such 
as Mount Vernon brought its owner little profit (though 
Washington augmented his farm income by constructing 
a flour mill and exporting barrels of fish caught in the 
Potomac). Tobacco prices were low, and the crop impov- 
erished the soil. Currency was scarce, and since Virginia 
bought more than it sold, the colony's planters Washing- 
ton among them fell in debt to British merchants who, 


it was alleged, often cheated their helpless victims. Wash- 
ington himself began to grow wheat instead of tobacco at 
Mount Vernon, to halt the drain on his resources. The 
alert speculator could still look to the west; but the British 
proclamations threatened to hinder him, and the British 
speculators began to compete with him through the Wai- 
pole Grant. The Ohio Company's claims were rejected by 
the home government in favor of some speculators from 

The picture should not be painted too black. For one 
thing, the mother country was not entirely to blame for 
the swing in Virginia's fortunes, and until the eve of con- 
flict she was not held wholly responsible. Again, though 
her land policy was irritating, it did not strangle Virginia 
enterprise; Washington was able to patent twenty-four 
thousand acres of land in the Ohio and Kanawha valleys, 
apart from the twelve thousand acres he owned in the 
settled areas. Nor should we make too much of the loss 
of prestige the British are supposed to have suffered as a 
result of Braddock's defeat. Even if Washington and his 
fellow Virginians focused upon events in their own colony, 
they must have been aware of the British feats of arms at 
Louisburg and Quebec- They knew that after 1763 a sub- 
ject of King George III was a member of the strongest 
nation in the world. When the Virginian spoke of "my 
country," he meant Britain and its fifth dominion, Virginia, 
in one splendid entity. If he was in debt to tradesmen for 
wine or elegant clothes or household articles, so was many 
another English gentleman nearer London. 

But pride wore a double aspect. "Our government," said 
William Byrd in 1735, "is so happily constituted that a 


Governor must first outwit us before he can oppress us, and 
if he ever squeeze money out of us he must first take care to 
deserve it." Thirty years later, when Britain passed the 
Stamp Act, Americans did not agree that the proposed 
revenue was deserved. They took their stand as liberty- 
loving Britons; their eloquence arose naturally out of their 
heritage and out of their own circumstances. Some were 
more fluent than others: in Virginia, the erudite young 
Thomas Jefferson, the vehement Patrick Henry or the more 
seasoned George Mason found the words that struck a re- 
sponse. But the debate, by turns curiously lofty and curi- 
ously practical, widened throughout the colonies. The word 
"speculation" held its ancient meaning, even for the solid 
planter Colonel Washington; the Stamp Act, he wrote in 
1765, "engrosses the conversation of the speculative part 
of the Colonists" (my italics). 

In that year, neither Washington nor any other colonist 
was contemplating disunion. The American case found 
support at home in England; the Stamp Act was repealed; 
and Washington in correspondence with his merchants 
could still say, as an Englishman to Englishmen, that all 
"who were instrumental in procuring the repeal are en- 
titled to the thanks of every British subject and have mine 
cordially." However, in the same letter he speaks of the 
ominous consequences of nonrepeal; and this hard edge 
became apparent again in his letters in another three or 
four years. The Stamp Act had been followed by other taxa- 
tion by the mother country in the shape of the Townshend 
Acts. Washington was sufficiently aroused to play a leading 
part among Virginians in 1769-1770 in agreeing not to 
import taxable goods from Britain. "Addresses to the 


throne and remonstrances to Parliament we have already, 
it is said, proved the inefficacy of," he told his friend and 
neighbor George Mason of Gunston Hall; "how far their 
attention to our rights and privileges is to be awakened or 
alarmed by starving their trade and manufactures, remains 
to be tried." He also wrote grimly to Mason that if need 
be, as a "last resource," Americans should be prepared to 
take up arms to defend their ancestral liberties from the 
inroads of "our lordly Masters in Great Britain." 

Few anticipated that the dispute would be put to the test 
of overt violence. Once more the home government yielded 
to pressure. All the Townshend duties were repealed, ex- 
cept that on tea imported by the colonies. Perhaps the 
trouble would all blow over. Prominent men such as Wash- 
ington had, after all, plenty of private business to attend to. 
Arguments lost their savor through repetition. 

But at the end of 1773 a well-drilled party of radicals in 
Boston staged the celebrated Tea Party, throwing some 
cargoes of tea into the harbor rather than pay duty upon it. 
Conscious or not of the emblematic meaning, the Bos- 
tonians concerned disguised themselves as Indians the 
true natives of the American continent. Their action and 
the wanton destruction it accomplished was not universally 
endorsed in the colonies. However, the retaliatory, coercive 
legislation enacted by Parliament against Massachusetts, 
which was viewed as the ringleader among the colonies, 
brought the rest to her support. 

In Virginia, Washington was again one of the principal 
agents in the gathering crisis. He was not one of the ex- 
tremists ("a modest man, but sensible and speaks little 
in action cool, like a Bishop at his prayers," he was de- 


scribed in 1774), but took the middle ground between 
fiery radicals such as Patrick Henry and worried conserva- 
tives such as Attorney General John Randolph. Thus, 
though he defended the experiment of "non-importation," 
he was opposed to the further scheme of "non-exportation," 
on the grounds that Virginians could not pay their due 
debts to British creditors unless they were allowed to con- 
tinue to export their products. 

Yet once he made his mind up, he did not conceal his 
views. And while he was not himself an articulate contro- 
versialist, he painstakingly absorbed the arguments of those 
who were: George Mason, for example, whose lucid prop- 
ositions he put forward as "resolves" at a Fairfax County 
meeting in July 1774. As a burgess of long standing, he 
moved forward step by step with his fellows in the Virginia 
House of Assembly toward something like open revolt. 

Some dropped behind, horrified by the atmosphere of 
defiance; Randolph was not the only wealthy Virginian 
with misgivings. Why, then, did it never seem to occur to 
Washington to hesitate? Why, even, as another wealthy 
Virginian, should he not have become a loyalist and left 
the colony, as Randolph did? After all, Washington's father 
and two half brothers were all educated in England. His 
near neighbors and close friends the Fairfaxes were English 
in sentiment. Bryan Fairfax, the brother of Colonel George 
William Fairfax (Sally's husband), wrote to him to plead 
for reconciliation with the mother country. Why was he so 
unimpressed by Bryan's arguments? 

The answer seems evident enough; or it did to Washing- 
ton. Not only did his own nature impel him to resistance; 
"the voice of mankind is with me." By mankind he no 


doubt meant Virginia. He was a Virginian by birth, up- 
bringing, instinct and not least by property. Here 
were his lands; here he belonged. If his fellows felt as he 
did, that was all that he needed, being a straightforward 
man, by way of reassurance. 

There are tantalizing possibilities to consider in the 
story. What if his relations with Dinwiddie had remained 
sweeter? Or if Braddock had not died in the wilderness 
battle near Duquesne but had beaten the French, and, in 
the generous glow of victory, had recommended his Vir- 
ginia aide to royal patronage? What if, in short, Washing- 
ton had been awarded his precious royal commission? The 
war against the French had lasted several more years 
long enough for him to fight on many fields outside Vir- 
ginia, long enough to forge new ties and weaken old ones. 
It is an intriguing thought. 

But the minute accidents of history combined otherwise. 
Colonel Washington of Mount Vernon, attending the Vir- 
ginia Provincial Convention at Williamsburg in August 
1774, was drawn further into the conflict. His opinions 
were formed in what was, in a sense, a borrowed vocabulary 
(he listened a great deal to talk about "natural right," "law 
and the constitution" and so on) but in what was more 
importantly a shared vocabulary. That autumn he was 
elected as one of seven Virginia delegates to a meeting of 
all the thirteen colonies, the First Continental Congress 
in Philadelphia. 

Thomas Jefferson was too ill to be nominated; and 
George Mason, not being a burgess, was excluded. Even so, 
the choice of Washington apparently with a substantial 
vote shows that in the esteem of his peers he was now 


among the most important Virginians who sympathized 
with the colonies rather than with the Crown. He could 
dine with the royal governor without being suspected of 
temporizing. His rise had been unobtrusive, yet unmistak- 
able. Patrick Henry, another of the seven delegates, was 
more likely to say the magnificent thing; Washington 
could be counted upon to do the right thing, according to 
decency and common sense. 

At Philadelphia, sure enough, he heard Patrick Henry 
declare in moving tones, "I am not a Virginian, but an 
American" a novel notion, belonging at present more to 
rhetoric than reality. Here, too, news reached the Congress 
that British troops had occupied Boston and were fortifying 
it a monstrous act, they all felt. Agreement was harder 
to reach on other elements in the situation. Indignation was 
all very well; what precise forms should it take? The dele- 
gates, John Adams wrote home to his wife, were fifty 
strangers, "not acquainted with each other's language, 
ideas, views, designs. They are, therefore, jealous of each 
other fearful, timid, skittish." There was a good deal of 
oratory and verbal maneuver. Each delegate took his own 
emotional temperature, so to speak, and that of all the 
others. Washington was a rather silent participant, though 
not an unsociable one. In a situation where everyone 
tended to talk too much, his reserve was probably an asset. 

Nor was the occasion futile in other ways. Agreement was 
reached on various peaceful measures of protest and op- 
position, and the Congress adjourned until the spring of 
1775. Washington was again chosen as a Virginia delegate. 
When he arrived back in Philadelphia from Mount Vernon 
in May 1775, to attend the Second Continental Congress, 


he wore uniform the only uniform in the gathering, as 
it chanced. On the way, he reviewed a number of volunteer 
companies; and his companions in Philadelphia could re- 
port similar signs of popular excitement in the districts 
they had traveled through. Indeed, temperatures were rising 
everywhere. In April, at Lexington and Concord, there had 
been a prolonged skirmish between Massachusetts militia- 
men and British regulars from the Boston garrison, who 
had been roughly handled in the affair. In May, just after 
Washington reached Philadelphia, a body of colonials cap- 
tured Fort Ticonderoga, at the northern end of Lake 
George the main route to Canada. At about the same 
time, in his own Virginia, the men of Patrick Henry's 
Hanover County were openly challenging the governor's 

No one could predict the outcome of so much unrest. 
But the colonies had banded together. The bolder spirits 
represented in the Continental Congress were ready to 
answer force with force. They needed an army and the 
army needed a commander. On June 15, 1776, it was re- 
solved that "a General be appointed to command all the 
continental forces raised for the defence of American 
liberty." The day before, in Congress, the influential John 
Adams of Massachusetts, supported by his persuasive col- 
league and namesake Samuel Adams, had put forward the 
name of Colonel Washington. The Virginian, probably 
taken by surprise and certainly confused by the sudden eu- 
logy, slipped out of the room. He stayed away on the fif- 
teenth, when his name was put in formal nomination by a 
Maryland delegate and when as a result "George Wash- 
ington Esq. was unanimously elected/' 



mTmrnnnrcin^ a a a a m 

Let us appear nor rash nor diffident: 
Immoderate valour swells into a fault, 
And fear, admitted into public councils, 
Betrays like treason. Let us shun them both. 
ADDISON'S Cato, Act II, Scene I 

Command and Crisis: ^775-177^ 

POSTERITY ACCEPTS George Washington as the 
only conceivable choice for the post of commander in 
chief. But why did the delegates at Philadelphia pick him 
out? Only in part for military reasons. Several other men in 
the colonies had seen as much service and could claim to 
have acquitted themselves as satisfactorily. One or two 
notably Charles Lee and Horatio Gates, former English 
regular officers who now upheld the American cause had 
had considerably more experience of soldiering. And Arte- 
mas Ward of Massachusetts was already in the field, direct- 
ing the New England militia around Boston. 

Yet Washington was chosen, unanimously. He would 
probably have been passed over if he had not himself been 
a delegate, and become known and trusted. As it was, he 
did not contribute much in set discussion. But he made an 


excellent impression, in committee and at private dinner 
tables, as a man of sense and sincerity. Though Samuel 
Curwen, who met Washington at Philadelphia in May 
1775, was a stanch loyalist who soon after departed for 
England, he admitted that the Virginia colonel was "a fine 
figure and of a most easy and agreeable address." The 
members of Congress confirmed Curwen's opinion: "an 
easy, soldierlike air/' one of them noted, with the added 
comment that Washington had "a very young look." At 
forty-three he was exactly the right age to combine vigor 
with "sound information." 

Moreover, Washington was a wealthy man, if not quite 
as rich as rumor had it (or he himself perhaps believed). 
The New York delegates had been instructed beforehand: 

On a General in America, fortune also should bestow 
her gifts, that he may rather communicate lustre to his 
dignities than receive it, and that his country in his prop- 
erty, his kindred, and connexions, may have sure pledges 
that he will faithfully perform the duties of his high of- 
fice, and readily lay down his power when the general 
weal shall require it. 

No one could have better fitted this description. Washing- 
ton revealed himself as an aristocrat with radical leanings. 
At any rate, unlike some of the prominent citizens at 
Philadelphia, he was prepared to commit himself and his 
estates on the side of the colonies. His military apparel 
proclaimed the fact; his demeanor and his reputation pre- 
served him from the charge of flamboyance. The first signs 
of the myth-making process appeared. A rumor got about 
in 1775 that in the previous year Colonel Washington had 


offered to raise and lead to Boston a regiment of a thousand 
Virginians, paying for them out of his own pocket. The 
rumor seems to be entirely without foundation, though 
biographers have often repeated it as true. But it shows 
how eagerly the men at Philadelphia cast about for evi- 
dences of greatness, for the lineaments of the altogether 
exceptional man. In Sam Adams and others Congress had 
patriots who could rouse a rabble; its imperative need was 
for someone who could discipline and lead a rabble, who 
could both look and behave like a commander on the 
European model and yet be a true American. 

There was one other important consideration. So far, the 
clash had been confined to New England. If the other 
colonies were to join in fully, the command of the proposed 
Continental army would have to be given as John and 
Samuel Adams realized to a soldier from outside New 
England. With Massachusetts, Virginia held pre-eminence 
in colonial power. As a Virginian, George Washington was 
therefore all the more eligible. In the parlance of more re- 
cent American history, he was the "available" candidate, 
and his subordinate major generals were appointed with 
due regard for the political and other factors involved: 
Artemas Ward to appease Massachusetts; the much-traveled 
Charles Lee for his military sophistication; Philip Schuyler 
(another delegate, a rich man and a seasoned military of- 
ficer) to satisfy New York; and Israel Putnam as a favorite 
son and folk hero of Connecticut. Horatio Gates, British by 
birth and a Virginian by adoption, was appointed adjutant 
general. As their juniors, several brigadier generals were 
chosen from similarly mixed motives. 

Perhaps it is misleading to use the word "candidate" in 


relation to Washington. He had not thrust himself forward; 
he was undoubtedly sincere in assuring Congress that he 
did "not think myself equal to the command," and there is 
a story that he even confided to Patrick Henry, with tears 
in his eyes, that "from the day I enter upon the command 
of the American armies, I date my fall, and the ruin of my 
reputation." The story may not be authentic, but there is 
no doubt that Washington still retained a high sense of his 
own good name. Though he protested in many a letter that 
he did not mind criticism, and though he had to withstand 
a great deal of it, to the end of his days he never learned 
to accept it as one of the inevitable trials of public office. 
He kept his anger within bounds; in contrast to many of 
his contemporaries he excluded dueling from his code of 
honor. But he cared intensely, not because he was conceited 
but because he was proud. He detested shabby behavior 
in others, and could not bear that they should attribute 
petty instincts to him. Once before, as a gentleman volun- 
teer under Braddock, he had shown his disinterestedness by 
serving without pay and without formal rank. He now re- 
peated the gesture on a grander scale, by informing Con- 
gress that he required no salary; he would accept only his 
expenses (Congress had decided on an allowance of five 
hundred dollars a month for the commander in chief's pay 
and expenses). 

If almost overwhelmed by the responsibility that had 
been put upon him, he would have been inhuman not to 
be profoundly gratified by the compliment it implied. He 
had never allowed his former military disappointments to 
rankle. But whatever the regrets he had once nourished, 
they were canceled at a stroke. A long time ago the young 


Washington had written to Sally Fairfax that he would 
dearly like to play Juba to her Marcia, in Addison's Cato. 
Marcia was Cato's daughter, and Juba was a Numidian 
princeling, one of Cato's supporters. That theatrical dream 
belonged to the buried past; Sally Fairfax had sailed for 
England with her husband in 1773, and was never to return 
to America. The same play, though, was performed at 
Washington's headquarters, Valley Forge, in May 1778; and 
possibly, though he was not given to such fancies, the 
thought might have occurred to General Washington that 
in his image the young half-alien Juba had been recast as 
the full Roman and acknowledged leader, Cato. When he 
took over command of the patriot army outside Boston, 
the date July 3, 1775 was another reminder of the dis- 
tance he had traveled in his career. It was the twenty-first 
anniversary of his surrender to the French at Fort Neces- 
sity. The youthful colonel had been trapped by a superior 
force; the mature man was himself the besieger, at the head 
of not far short of fifteen thousand militia. Inside Boston 
was less than half that number of British troops, who a 
fortnight earlier had lost a thousand men in their expen- 
sive victory at Breed's Hill. Their commander, General 
Gage, had led Braddock's ill-fated advance guard twenty 
years before, when Washington was a junior aide-de-camp. 
At the time, however, such consolations were dwarfed by 
a mass of problems. There was the wrench of leaving 
Martha and his cherished Virginia estates. There were all 
the worries of command. Many of the New Englanders 
were suspicious of Washingtpn, and he was suspicious of 
many of them as he revealed in some indiscreet corre- 
spondence. He complained that "Order, Regularity and 


Discipline" were lacking. So, as a concrete result of what 
he regarded as Yankee slovenliness and dishonesty, were 
supplies of tents, blankets, uniforms, medicine, food, am- 
munition and powder. There was virtually no staff, or 
artillery. Until Congress made provision, there was no 
proper pay chest. Congress had determined to raise a Con- 
tinental army; would all the states respond by furnishing 
the quotas asked for? The answer to this particular question 
was more no than yes, and was to remain thus throughout 
the war years. 

What was to be done, actively, with the forces available? 
Neither Congress nor Washington could develop far-reach- 
ing plans. As at Fort Necessity, the opposing troops were 
not formally at war. The Americans spoke of General 
Gage's British army in Boston as the "ministerial" troops 
maintaining the argument that the colonies were still 
loyal to King George, and that they were merely standing 
up for their rights as free subjects of His Majesty. In the 
closing months of 1775 only an extremist minority fa- 
vored complete independence. The majority of Amer- 
icans hoped for an "accommodation" with the mother 
country, though its shape was hard to envisage. In the 
meantime, a bold front was necessary; but what could be 
done? Congress had made tentative overtures to the Cana- 
dian provinces; Washington took the step of sending an 
expedition under Colonel Benedict Arnold to seize Quebec 
and clinch the matter. With equal boldness he more than 
once proposed an assault on Boston. But Arnold's invasion 
was a gallant failure, and the council of war at Washing- 
ton's headquarters voted down the suggested assault. 

It has been said that Washington deferred too readily to 


his subordinates. If so, his hesitations are understandable 
in view of "the limited and contracted knowledge, which 
any of us have in military matters." Even Charles Lee, 
despite his conversational flow, had had no practical ex- 
perience in maneuvering large formations. Washington's 
service had been confined to frontier warfare, in a rela- 
tively junior capacity. He had no firsthand acquaintance 
with cavalry tactics or the use of massed artillery, not to 
mention the handling of a large composite force. He could 
not afford to trust his own judgment while so much re- 
mained a closed book to him. Moreover, in holding 
councils of war he was actually conforming to a practice 
common to all armies and all commanders of the day. 
Again, he had to be as tactful as possible in dealing with 
men senior in years who at first were inclined to resent that 
he had been put over them. This was particularly the case 
with Artemas Ward. Five years older than Washington, he 
too had served as a colonel of militia in the French wars and 
felt that he had so far been more than a match for Gage at 
Boston. Israel Putnam, who won anecdotal immortality 
at Bunker Hill ("Don't fire, boys, until you see the whites 
of their eyes"), was fourteen years older than Washington 
and had led an extraordinarily varied and adventurous life. 
Such men had to be handled with care by a newcomer from 
another colony a slaveholder, moreover, and therefore 
doubly suspect to the New England conscience. Patriots 
from Connecticut or New Hampshire or Massachusetts did 
not wish to be ordered about by Southern nabobs. It was 
just as well in other respects that Washington did consult 
his generals; although he was sometimes criticized for ex- 
cessive caution, he was in fact inclined to be too impetu- 


ous, as in his younger days. Washington hated inactivity. 
Against his will he had to wait out the winter of 1775-1776. 
With the spring of 1776, one theme at least became 
gradually clearer amid so much perplexity the theme of 
American independence. The desire for independence 
grew by rapid stages, stimulated by proofs that George III, 
no less than his ministers (Lord North, Lord George Ger- 
main, the Earl of Sandwich and others), was bent on crush- 
ing the rebellion. "Arms as the last resource decide the 
contest; the appeal was the choice of the King, and the 
Continent has accepted the challenge." So declared Tom 
Paine in his pamphlet Common Sense, whose stirring 
sentiments met with passionate approval among most of 
the colonists (including General Washington). A few years 
earlier, Paine's opinions would have sounded like treason 
and blasphemy. In the early months of 1776 there was still 
something shocking in the statement that George III, far 
from being the best of kings, was simply "the Royal Brute 
of Great Britain." But the shock was delicious, except to 
horrified loyalists those whom Nicholas Cresswell, an un- 
fortunate young Englishman who had arrived in the colo- 
nies in 1774, referred to in his journal as Sgnik Sdneirf. 
Sgnik Sdneirf was a pathetically transparent code reference 
to "King's friends." Those whom Cresswell angrily de- 
scribed as Sleber "rebels" in reverse found that Paine 
had decisively reversed beliefs to which they had long paid 
lip service. 

Every thing that is right or reasonable pleads for sepa- 
ration. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of na- 
ture cries, 'TIS TIME TO PART. Even the distance at 
which the Almighty hath placed England and America 


is a strong and natural proof, that the authority of the 
one over the other, was never the design of Heaven. 

The course of events made Paine's eloquence yet more 
persuasive. The American failure at Quebec and with- 
drawal from Canada were counterbalanced by the failure 
of a British expedition by sea, led by General Henry Clin- 
ton, against Charleston. Most cheering news of all, Boston 
was recovered from the British in March 1776. Washington 
could do little there until he acquired an artillery train. 
The lack was supplied when the able and energetic young 
General Henry Knox (a Boston bookseller by trade), after 
a wearisome winter journey, arrived with forty-three can- 
non and sixteen mortars. Knox had dragged them over- 
land from Fort Ticonderoga, where they had been cap- 
tured several months previously. Working at great speed, 
under cover of darkness, Washington's men installed this 
ordnance behind breastworks on Dorchester Heights, from 
which it could dominate Boston and most of the harbor. 
General William Howe (who had superseded Gage as 
British commander in chief) thought of attacking the 
heights but was dissuaded, perhaps by heavy rain which 
was apt to render muskets useless and possibly by the 
memory of Bunker Hill, whose carnage he had seen at 
close quarters. Thanks to American enterprise, Boston was 
no longer a secure base. Outwitted, if not exactly defeated, 
Howe embarked his army, took on board a thousand de- 
jected loyalists, destroyed what stores he could, and after 
lingering a few more days in the harbor, set sail eastward 
to Washington's surprise for Halifax, Nova Scotia. 
"Sir," Washington wrote to John Hancock, the president 
of Congress: 


It is with the greatest pleasure I inform you that on 
Sunday last the i^th. Instant, about 9 O'clock in the 
forenoon the Ministerial Army evacuated the Town of 
Boston, and that the Forces of the United Colonies are 
now in actual Possession thereof. I beg leave to congratu- 
late you Sir, and the Honorable Congress on this happy 
event, and particularly as it was effected without endan- 
gering the Lives and Property of the remaining unhappy 

Congress replied with a vote of thanks and a gold medal; 
Washington's praises were sung throughout the land. 

At midsummer there was thus no British regular force 
within the thirteen colonies, except for one led by Sir Guy 
Carleton, who was pushing down from Canada into north- 
ern New York. Congress was in good heart and would 
have been even more cheerful had it known that the 
French, while ostensibly neutral, were planning to strike 
at their old enemy, Britain, by secretly supplying munitions 
to the colonies. However, loyalists were active in some 
areas, especially in the South, and it was apparent that a 
high proportion of Americans were still Sgnik Sdneirf 
Tories or, if not outright Tories, were, in Washington's 
phrase, "still feeding themselves upon the dainty food of 
reconciliation." The greater reason, then, to encourage the 
true patriot and apply pressure to the doubting one. By May 
1776 Washington had decided where he stood, and a ma- 
jority in Congress felt as he did. There was to be no more 
polite equivocation. A "Ministerial Army" was a royal 
army; indeed, George III was indicted as the chief villain. 
It was he who was blamed for hiring German mercenary 
troops usually, though rather inaccurately, referred to in 
the mass as Hessians and for almost every other offense 


that a fertile American brain could name. A brain as fertile 
as Thomas Jefferson's could name a great many, as we 
may see by reading beyond the splendid preamble and on 
through all the other clauses of the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence that he drafted, with some assistance, for Con- 

His work received final approval (with the absten- 
tion of the New York delegates) on July 4, 1776. Hence- 
forth, for the American leaders, at any rate, there was no 
turning back. Their aim was complete independence. If 
they failed, they would be ruined men, destined probably 
for the hangman's noose. They were sustained by the 
eloquence of Paine, and now of Jefferson. Even prosaic cor- 
respondents such as Washington drew inspiration from the 
air and spoke with a certain grandeur of their fight for 
liberty. It was, Washington wrote several times, a "noble" 
cause, a "just" cause, "as I do most religiously believe it to 
be," in which Providence would surely aid the brave 
and provident. 

Yet five months later his vocabulary was altered. He had 
not lost his nerve, but in common with most other Ameri- 
cans he had almost lost his hope. His army was about to 
disintegrate; he faced humiliation and disaster. "Our only 
dependence now," he confessed on December 10 to his 
cousin Lund Washington, "is upon the speedy enlistment 
of a new army. If this fails, I think the game will be pretty 
well up." The game will be . . . up: that phrase came so 
horribly pat that he used it in other correspondence. So, 
too, another phrase: choice of difficulties. "You can form no 
idea," he told his brother John Augustine, on December 18, 
"of the perplexity of my Situation. No Man, I believe, ever 


had a greater choice of difficulties and less means to ex- 
tricate himself from them." 

What had happened between July and December is 
simply told. Howe was outmaneuvered at Boston. But he 
had been intending in any case to leave Boston and move 
his headquarters to a more central base of operations. If 
he had felt strong enough, he would have sailed direct from 
Boston to attack New York or Philadelphia. As it was, he 
retired to Halifax to await reinforcements. These were 
promised shortly, and the first of them arrived at New York 
on July 12, in a fleet commanded by his elder brother, 
Admiral Lord Howe. General Howe had already come 
ashore on Staten Island, on the very day July 2 that 
Congress took the final vote for independence. In the next 
few weeks shipload after shipload of British, German and 
loyalist troops (including Clinton's expedition, back from 
Charleston) landed on Staten Island, until Howe by mid- 
August had over thirty thousand soldiers, well clad and well 
armed, at his disposal. 

Washington had been in New York since April, in 
anticipation of the plan ("We expect a very bloody sum- 
mer of it at New York," he informed John Augustine 
on May 31), but was powerless to intervene while the 
disembarkations continued. There seemed an insolent 
sureness and deliberation about the process. Supreme at 
sea the American navy was insignificant by compari- 
son, a scratch force of prowling privateers the British 
seemed about to assert their supremacy on land also. 
They outnumbered Washington by several thousand. A 
part of his army consisted of militia, enrolled for short 
terms, in whom he placed little reliance; and the re- 


mainder, the "Continental" nucleus, were engaged to serve 
only until the end o December. 

Nevertheless, if we may judge from the tone of his orders 
of the day, Washington was reasonably confident. Possibly 
he was too confident, too eager to offer fight after a whole 
year in command with only the sham-fight victory of Dor- 
chester Heights to show by way of battle honors. Whatever 
the reason, he did not acquit himself altogether admirably. 
The first setback occurred in late August, when Howe at 
last broke the lull by landing with twenty thousand of his 
best troops on the tip of Long Island. His obvious aim was 
to move north and cross Manhattan by the East River. The 
way was barred by strong American fortifications on Brook- 
lyn Heights, but most of the eight thousand Americans on 
Long Island (under General Putnam) were grouped on 
high ground outside the fortifications. By a serious over- 
sight, which Howe discovered, the American left flank was 
unprotected. Sending two columns against the American 
right and center, Howe himself therefore led the main 
British column round to the American left. His other two 
detachments had some success, in fairly stiff fighting; Howe, 
more spectacularly, rolled up the American flank, inflicted 
two thousand casualties (half of them in prisoners, includ- 
ing Major General John Sullivan of New Hampshire) and 
had the enemy almost at his mercy, pinned against the East 
River. Washington must take some of the blame for the 
faulty American dispositions. He was further in error when 
he reinforced the American lines at Brooklyn, instead of 
withdrawing the survivors at the first opportunity. 

Fortunately for him, General Howe did not press the 
assault. Washington quickly recovered, and redeemed him- 



self by evacuating the Brooklyn lines under cover of dark- 
ness and a storm that held off Admiral Howe's ships. His 
army was now on Manhattan, where it might still be 
trapped. After some hesitation Washington decided to aban- 
don New York City. By the middle of September his tat- 
tered regiments were manning a line across upper Manhat- 
tan at Harlem Heights, and Howe was ensconced in New 
York. It was a cat-and-mouse game; but if Washington was a 
rather bewildered mouse, Howe proved to be a somnolent 
cat. Each time the cat stirred itself, the mouse scrambled be- 
latedly away north from Manhattan to White Plains, 
and then to North Castle. In the tangled operations that 
followed, Washington left part of his force with Charles 
Lee, crossed to New Jersey, and watched in helpless despair 
while the British captured three thousand patriots whom 
he had left to hold Fort Washington, at the northern end of 
Manhattan. There was no course open to Washington, in 
the gloom of mid-November, but ignominious retreat, 
pursued southward through New Jersey by one of Howe's 
field commanders, Lord Cornwallis, and still separated 
from Charles Lee. The only bright feature was that the 
American forces led by Schuyler, Horatio Gates and Bene- 
dict Arnold were intact and had discouraged Carleton from 
attempting a campaign down the Champlain-Hudson route 
toward New York. Elsewhere, there was every reason for 
depression. True, Charles Lee managed to bring his detach- 
ment back to New Jersey, and Washington was able to 
send for twelve hundred men from the northern army 
at Albany. Otherwise, though, the game was "pretty well 
up" in early December. Washington was back across the 
Delaware. Save for the absence of boats, which Washington 


had had the forethought to collect up and down the river, 
there was nothing to stop the British from marching in 
strength upon Philadelphia. Morale in the middle colonies 
was understandably low, and not improved when Congress 
acting upon advice from Generals Israel Putnam and 
Thomas Mifflin withdrew from Philadelphia to Balti- 
more. Charles Lee in a careless reconnaissance was taken 
prisoner by a British patrol. The militia were deserting in 
numbers, and the Continental enlistments were about to 

But somehow the crisis was averted. Howe called off 
large-scale operations for the winter and dispatched six 
thousand men under Clinton to occupy Newport, Rhode 
Island. By the offer of bounties some troops were persuaded 
to re-enlist. Two thousand militia were sent forward from 

Above all, Washington rose to the occasion with a bril- 
liant coup at Trenton, during Christmas night. His plan 
was to take three parties across the half-frozen Delaware 
and surprise the British outposts on the far bank. In more 
ambitious form, it was reminiscent of his dawn assault of 
Jumonville's camp, back in 1754. The scheme was admi- 
rably conceived, and though two of the three columns 
were unable to negotiate the river, the principal one 
led by Washington succeeded. The garrison of fifteen 
hundred Hessians in Trenton was overwhelmed after a 
brief struggle, though five hundred managed to slip away. 
Their performance was abject, no doubt because some of 
them had drunk too much in celebration of Christmas. 
Still, that is not to gainsay the high daring of Washington's 
attack, or the boldness of his further stroke, a week later. 


Having again crossed the Delaware, he was almost trapped 
by Cornwallis, but nimbly extricated himself, fighting a 
successful skirmish at Princeton on the way. 

It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of these 
ventures in their effect upon patriotic morale or upon 
Washington's own reputation. On January 17, 1777, Nich- 
olas Cresswell was at Leesburg, Virginia. After talking 
with an acquaintance there, Cresswell noted in his journal: 

Six weeks ago this gentleman was lamenting the un- 
happy situation of the Americans and pitying the 
wretched condition of their much-beloved General, sup- 
posing his want of skill and experience in military mat- 
ters had brought them all to the brink of destruction. In 
short, all was gone, all was lost. But now the scale is 
turned and Washington's name is extolled to the clouds. 
... It is the Damd Hessians that has caused this, curse 
the scoundrel that first thought of sending them here. 

After Princeton, Washington remained quiet for the 
winter at his Morristown headquarters. Howe withdrew 
the Delaware outposts, concentrating his garrisons around 
New Brunswick. For both sides it was a period in which 
to take stock. We may do the same, first with reference to 
the American position. 

Problems and Possibilities 

MOST BIOGRAPHERS have praised Washington's general- 
ship, with little or no qualification. In fact, he made 
serious errors of judgment in the campaigns around New 
York. A British comment, at a later stage in the war, was 
that "any other General in the world other than General 


Howe would have beaten General Washington; and any 
other General in the world than General Washington 
would have beaten General Howe/' With the forces at his 
disposal in 1776, Washington had practically no chance of 
defeating the British, but he did blunder. At Brooklyn 
Heights he made the mistake of reinforcing failure; a 
sharper opponent would not have allowed him the luxury 
of second thoughts. His subsequent movements were, 
though not panicky, indecisive and clumsy. The loss of Fort 
Washington, or rather of its large garrison and its precious 
cannon and supplies, was in part at least his fault. 

Moreover, he was reluctant to acknowledge his mistakes. 
The line between righteousness and self-righteousness is 
always a narrow one; and Washington, though he had 
matured impressively since his Virginia colonel days, still 
showed a tendency to confuse the two. He suffered acutely 
when he was under criticism, or felt he might be. Over and 
over, in the letters he wrote during 1776, and again in 1777, 
he insisted that he did not object to fair criticism; yet, since 
only he and his close associates were fully aware of his 
"choice of difficulties," how could any criticism be fair? 
Desperately concerned for his "honor," he was still a shade 
too ready to shift the onus onto others. Thus, he was not 
quite just to his faithful general, Nathanael Greene, in his 
account of the Fort Washington surrender. And he was in- 
clined to overstress his vexations at the hands of Congress. 

Militarily, Washington still had much to learn. Tem- 
peramentally, he was something less than perfect. But he 
was capable of learning; and, in balance, his temperament 
was extremely well adapted to the task before him. In his 
initial lapses we may discern the source of his ultimate 


victories. For he was a fighter; he erred not through timid- 
ity, which would have proved fatal in the long run, but 
through pugnacity. It was bitter for him to accept the 
tactical necessity that America's weakness laid upon him: 
the necessity of avoiding a major engagement. But by de- 
grees he reconciled himself to the truth that (as he wrote 
to Congress in September 1776) "on our Side the War 
should be defensive." His task henceforward was uncom- 
fortable, and even inglorious, but at any rate it was be- 
coming clear that he must survive, and with him an army, 
until the enemy wearied of the struggle. Fortunately, he 
was tenacious as well as pugnacious. The man who had 
persisted in his Virginia land claims for fifteen years was 
not likely to give up when so much more was at stake. This 
was the meaning of his sudden defiance at Trenton. He 
yearned for a more ambitious stroke, and his truculence at 
Princeton almost brought disaster. But the device by which 
he escaped from Cornwallis's army at Princeton showed 
how Washington was beginning to grasp the role of guer- 
rilla general: he lit camp fires and then, leaving them 
burning, slipped away in the darkness. 

We have said that he sometimes complained at Congress. 
Not without cause; its procedures were often tardy, in- 
adequate and even stupid. Some of the delegates were me- 
diocre; and the level of merit sank as the war dragged on. 
Congress could, and should, have done more to provide a 
proper standing army, instead of the miscellany of Con- 
tinentals and militia that formed the patriot armies. But 
its own difficulties were more formidable than Washington 
realized. The war was costly; the Continental currency be- 
came so debased that a loyalist newspaper in New York 


facetiously advertised for some on behalf of an English 
gentleman who wished to use it for wallpaper. If Washing- 
ton was new to his responsibilities, so was Congress; and it 
had preoccupations its negotiations with foreign coun- 
tries, for example with which Washington did not have 
to concern himself. 

The point is that Congress treated Washington far better 
than some of his biographers have cared to admit. Its official 
relations with him were honest and courteous, and most of 
its members were on good terms with him. There was 
bound to be some friction where his authority and that of 
Congress could not be firmly distinguished. If Washington 
had been a more imperious commander in chief, there 
might have been serious disagreement. But in general he 
trusted and deferred to Congress, and Congress we must 
emphasize reciprocated. How else, even allowing for the 
nervousness of the moment, are we to account for Con- 
gress's extraordinary gesture in December 1776? For a pe- 
riod then unspecified which turned out to be six months 

it conferred almost dictatorial powers upon George 
Washington, as far as the raising and maintenance of his 
army were concerned. Indeed, he was commonly mentioned 
at the time as the "Dictator" not always in a hostile sense 

and some people, with or without the precedent of 
Oliver Cromwell in mind, spoke of him as "Lord Pro- 

Congress and Washington had their problems; so had 
the British. At home they were divided in their allegiances 
and hence in their policies. There was decided opposition, 
in Parliament and elsewhere, to George III and his Tory 
advisers. The King himself had no doubt that the colonies 


must be restored to his realm, by force if reason failed 
the iron hand in the velvet glove. But as the war dragged 
on, it seemed that the figure should be changed; what the 
British proffered was a mailed fist with a flabby hand within 
it. They held military and naval supremacy, yet seemed un- 
able or unwilling to use it decisively. It would be inaccu- 
rate to portray General Gage and his successors as a group 
of tender-hearted well-wishers, though neither were they 
(nor poor melancholy, conscientious George III) the super- 
cilious monsters depicted in patriot propaganda. Their 
original mistake lay rather in despising than in secretly ad- 
miring the American colonists. "They are raw, undis- 
ciplined, cowardly men," declared Lord Sandwich in a 
much-publicized taunt; and Gage's frontal assault at 
Bunker Hill showed that he shared Sandwich's opinion 
though not when the battle was over. Sir William Howe 
(he was knighted for having won at Long Island) was less 
sanguine, but he also conducted operations in 1776 with a 
degree of disdain. 

To some extent, though, his hesitations are explicable 
in terms of scruple. We may perhaps discount the fact that 
Gage had an American wife, that Clinton's father had been 
colonial governor of New York, that Howe's elder brother 
(killed at Ticonderoga in 1758, fighting the French) had 
been a hero in the colonies. 

But we cannot overlook the fatal ambiguity of their en- 
deavors. It is well summarized in the situation of the Howe 
brothers, who, when they came to New York to wage war 
on the rebels, in all the panoply of destruction, came also 
as peace commissioners, officially empowered by George 
III to discuss an "accommodation." After General Howe's 


success on Long Island, he delayed further operations in 
order to hold a parley with the enemy. He and Admiral 
Howe were to be employed again as commissioners in 1778, 
while still responsible for the conduct of the war. But their 
victories were too mild, and their terms too harsh. 

In part, of course, the trouble lay with their lack of mili- 
tary genius. Britain had had a Blake, and was to produce 
a Nelson; it had had a Marlborough, and was to produce 
a Wellington. But Lord Howe, Graves, even Rodney were 
not Nelsons. Neither Gage nor "Billy" Howe nor Clinton 
nor "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne was a Wellington. 
This is not to say that they were altogether incompetent; 
nor was Lord George Germain, who as secretary of state for 
the colonies directed the war from London, as viciously 
silly as some commentators have asserted. All the British 
commanders in the field were moderately good soldiers, 
courageous, methodical, and skilled in the art of European 
warfare. The best of them, Cornwallis, had a highly suc- 
cessful subsequent career in other parts of the world. Their 
misfortune was that they were not great soldiers. They were 
not unperceptive; indeed, they were all too clearly aware 
of their problems. As in some old fairy tale, they were to be 
vouchsafed three chances the first golden, the others in- 
creasingly tarnished to end the war at a stroke. This first 
chance was given to Gage on Charlestown peninsula in 
June 1775. If he had been prudent in attacking Breed's 
Hill, and then bold in following up his opportunity, in- 
stead of the other way around, he might have shattered 
Artemas Ward's inchoate army before Washington ever 
arrived on the scene. The second chance was given to Howe 
on Long Island and afterward. If he had burst through 


Washington's defenses at Brooklyn Heights, or advanced 
more briskly in the subsequent pursuits, he might have 
destroyed the Continental army beyond redemption. He 
was to be given another, final chance in 1777. 

Each time the odds grew longer. On the face of it, the 
British had all the advantages. Viewed more closely, their 
advantages seemed to dwindle. The war was costly, and 
unpopular at home. The navy, undermanned, was allotted 
more tasks around the world than it could carry out. The 
army likewise was under strength, and scattered across the 
globe; hence the need to hire troops from European prince- 
lings. Operations had to be developed three thousand 
miles from home; communications were slow and erratic; 
soldiers and sailors had not been trained to cooperate with 
one another. What confronted Howe and his associates was 
a kind of guerrilla war in an enormous land whose climate 
sweltering to stark taxed even the native Americans. 
It was a land of few roads, densely wooded outside the 
settlements; Washington, we may recall, had in 1754 taken 
fifteen days to cut his way twenty miles through the Alle- 
gheny forest. An implacable country as it still strikes 
European travelers today. 

Washington had his "choice of difficulties." Yet by the 
autumn of 1776 his duty, though desperately demanding, 
reduced itself to simple essentials. He must endure, evade, 
exhort. Howe in comparison had almost an excess of al- 
ternatives. With the aid of the navy he could descend on 
any part of the American seaboard; and though secrecy 
hardly appears to have been aimed at in the strategic plan- 
ning of the period, it was not a vital factor. All the chief 
American cities lay at his mercy. Howe held Newport, from 


which he could threaten New England. Possession of New 
York, apart from protecting the considerable loyalist ele- 
ment in its population, enabled him to control access to 
Canada and the Great Lakes. If he could seize Philadelphia, 
the largest city in America and the seat of Congress, he 
might dominate the middle colonies; and the capture of 
Charleston might open the door to the South. 

But what then? He could not occupy every American 
seaport simultaneously; and even if that were possible, it 
would not quell the rebellion. There would remain the 
intolerable expanse of wilderness, the long marches, the 
thankless chase, the risk of ambush by an enemy that did 
not abide by the orthodox rules of war did not know 
that there were rules. There would remain the innumer- 
able settlements, most of them yet unrecorded by the map- 
maker. Washington himself was a countryman, the product 
of a large state without a single city in it. Perhaps it was 
thereby easier for him to envisage his true role. Howe pre- 
ferred to traverse ground and garrison cities rather than 
harry the Continental troops. He had his reasons, of which 
a taste for comfort snug quarters and a charming mis- 
tress was only one and not the most important one. He 
could not afford heavy losses, or to lose his army in driblets. 
American forces might be scattered, but they could reunite; 
more men would be forthcoming. Howe's troops were ex- 
pensive commodities, to be husbanded. So he argued 
wrongly. His subordinate, Sir Henry Clinton (who also 
collected a knighthood), was wiser, at any rate in theory, 
in urging Howe to strike at Washington. But Clinton in 
practice was not an aggressive warrior. Moreover, he and 
Howe were congenitally opposed, so that each tended to 


frustrate the other's schemes. "By some cursed fatality," 
Clinton was to confess in July 1777, "we could never draw 

Behind their mutual irritation lay the reflection that they 
were waging a civil war, with all the tragic, queasy discord 
that such strife entails. Should they be ruthless, and make 
themselves the more hated? Should they be magnanimous, 
and be ridiculed for their pains? In this particular sense, 
they came by stages to realize, they could never entirely 
win. Perhaps there was no definable objective, except to 
dispose of Washington himself. No wonder the rumor was 
so often spread that Washington had been taken prisoner 
pure wish fulfillment. There was a plot to kill Wash- 
ington in 1776; from the British point of view it was an 
excellent idea. (Charles Lee, the other highly esteemed 
American commander in 1776, actually was made prisoner 
in December of that year, but with no very evident results. 
No general on either side, except Washington, was regarded 
by many people as indispensable. When later a raid was 
proposed, to kidnap Clinton, the project was criticized on 
the score that a better general might be sent out from Eng- 
land to replace him.) 

If Washington ever had a bad dream he left no record 
of one it might well have been that he was at sea in a 
small vessel whose sail was made of paper (his army; the 
precarious union of the colonies, not even enrolled under 
a system of government until the Articles of Confederation 
were finally ratified in 1781); the rain came and the sail 
dissolved. If ever Howe had a bad dream which is quite 
conceivable it might have been similar, except that the 
ship was large, and the sail made of stout canvas; there 


came a storm; the sail blew loose and Howe had not 
enough hands to fasten it down again. In short, Washing- 
ton's plight was to defend a continent without substantial 
enough means; Howe's fate was to attack it when once 
the rebellion gathered momentum no means could be 
quite sufficient. The British were to demonstrate, as others 
have done since, how hard it is to suppress a popular rising 
in a big country if the inhabitants have any pride of spirit. 
Napoleon in turn was to make the discovery in the Spanish 
peninsula and again, more disastrously, in Russia; the Boer 
republics were to hold out for three years against Britain; 
the Germans were to learn the lesson in occupied Europe. 

Crisis and Cabal: 7777-1775 

FOR THE MEANTIME, though, Howe's prospects for 1777 
were fairly rosy. In the early spring, while Washing- 
ton was moving forward his army out of winter quarters, 
Howe was considering various schemes. His first impulse 
was, not to meet Washington's modest challenge, but to 
join forces at Albany with an expedition to be sent south 
from Canada. This scheme, which also involved an attack 
on Boston from Rhode Island, he submitted to the colonial 
secretary, Germain. Then Howe changed his mind and 
advocated an advance on Philadelphia, together with a 
limited offensive northward from New York City by a 
smaller army. Germain preferred the second plan on the 
grounds of economy; hardly any reinforcements were avail- 
able and Howe said he would need an additional fifteen 
thousand men to implement the previous plan. Germain 
was also influenced by Burgoyne, who had returned to 


England on leave for the winter. Angling for an inde- 
pendent command, Burgoyne convinced Germain that he 
had a master stroke to propose: a converging advance upon 
the focal point of Albany by three forces with Burgoyne 
himself at the head from the north, out of Montreal. 
Germain also sanctioned this scheme. 

Here the inadequacies in the British system of command 
became crucial. As befitted one who was an amateur play- 
wright, Burgoyne's plan had a certain dramatic symmetry. 
But like its author's literary productions it was, while im- 
posing in conception, weak in detail. It paid little heed to 
the problems of co-ordinating three separate attacks, or 
of movement and supply in the rough terrain between 
Montreal and Albany. It assumed that merely to arrive in 
Albany was to have won a major victory: New England 
would be isolated; the colonies would be carved into seg- 
ments like some succulent turkey. But would they? Could 
the British keep their communications open; could they 
possibly hope to prevent American parties from moving 
across the extended line? 

Howe's amended plan was superior, if it meant dealing 
with Washington's army. There, if anywhere, lay the heart 
of the rebellion. During the spring and early summer 
Cornwallis attempted rather perfunctorily to get to grips 
with Washington. But the latter was by now too skilled in 
adversity to accept the challenge, and dodged away, 

Howe in the interim changed his mind again. His new 
idea was to capture Philadelphia by sea, in a great naval 
operation for which he set aside fifteen thousand of his best 
troops. This meant that no regulars could be spared for a 
push north from New York City, only some loyalist bands 


with vague injunctions to be active. Only two of the three 
forces would therefore converge on Albany; instead of pin- 
ning the northern American army, Burgoyne ran the risk 
of being trapped himself. But Howe was set on Phila- 
delphia, and too engrossed in the complex logistics of that 
enterprise to listen to the protests of Clinton, who was to 
be left in New York. Neither Burgoyne nor Germain 
learned of the altered emphasis of Howe's intentions until 
it was too late. Even then Germain did not worry unduly; 
he was content to order Howe to support Burgoyne as soon 
as Philadelphia was taken. 

It is not surprising that these British contrivances mys- 
tified Washington; their logic was hard to follow. But it 
gradually became clear to him that the enemy had two 
main ends in view: to invade from Canada, and to invade 
the middle or southern colonies by sea. Washington was 
able to guess fairly accurately at the numbers involved. 
Burgoyne, with eight thousand men, could be dealt with 
by the northern army. Clinton, with seven thousand (only 
half of them regulars), could do no more than skirmish 
from his New York base, unless he showed unwonted en- 
ergy. Washington was therefore free to parry Howe. He 
would be outnumbered, but not hopelessly so, for by mid- 
summer he had some nine thousand Continentals, plus an 
indefinite quantity of local militia. "If the Enemy will give 
us time to collect an Army levied for the War," Washing- 
ton wrote to Benedict Arnold in February 1777, "I hope 
we shall set all our former Errors to rights." He did not 
get more than a fraction of what he wanted; although Con- 
gress offered bounties of money and land to men who 
would enlist in the Continental service for three years or 


the duration of the war, these terms were less attractive 
than the bounties offered by individual states to their own 
militia for shorter service within their own boundaries. 
The Continental army was to remain dismayingly small. 
Yet it did provide Washington with a solid nucleus of sea- 
soned soldiers. And while they and the militia looked un- 
kempt, appearances were deceptive. Thanks to surrepti- 
tious aid from France and Spain, captured British supplies 
and their own improvised manufactures, the American 
troops were moderately well armed and clothed. 

The enemy also gave Washington ample time. Howe's 
armada did not sail out of New York Harbor until late 
July, and did not disembark for a whole month after that. 
Howe came ashore at Head of Elk, in Chesapeake Bay, 
farther than he need have been from Philadelphia. Still, 
once he was on the move, he acted confidently, skirmish- 
ing toward the city by steady stages. Washington had been 
baffled by Howe's preliminary motions, not understanding 
why a general who was only sixty miles away from Phila- 
delphia at New Brunswick should make a four-hundred- 
mile sea voyage in order to be seventy miles away at the 
end of it. He believed that Howe's objective must be 
Charleston. But it was, he discovered, Philadelphia after 
all; and Howe's journey took so long that Washington was 
able to forestall him and to interpose the American army 
between Howe and his goal. 

So far, fortune smiled on Washington. In the next few 
weeks, the dice rolled against him and, as in previous 
campaigns, he had himself to blame somewhat. Unless he 
stood fast and fought, he was certain to lose Philadelphia. 
Though that would not spell utter defeat, it would, he 


/rote, "strike ... a damp" to the American cause. It was 
LIS duty, therefore, to face Howe; and in this sense Howe's 
cheme was not altogether futile. Washington was out- 
lumbered eleven thousand to fifteen thousand but 
ie could choose the ground for an encounter. The place 
le selected was a few miles from Wilmington, where the 
irandywine Creek crossed his front. This was on Septem- 
)er 10. Washington entrusted his right wing to Sullivan 
who had been exchanged after capture on Long Island), 
he center to Nathanael Greene, and the left flank to the 
> ennsylvania militia. The Brandywine could be forded at 
everal points, but otherwise formed a useful natural ob- 
tacle, especially on the American left. 

Howe's plan of attack was similar to that at Brooklyn: 
L feint against the American center while the main thrust 
vas delivered on the flank the right flank on this occa- 
ion. It was his standard procedure, and Washington was 
low in not anticipating it, or even arranging a screen of 
couts. The result was that the battle opened on September 
L i with inconclusive clashes in the center, to cover a long 
weep round the flank by Cornwallis. His ten thousand men 
:aught Sullivan unprepared and dislodged the American 
ight wing. Washington made the best of the situation by 
ending most of his remaining troops, under Greene, to 
establish a second line behind Sullivan's retreating divi- 
ions. Greene's troops, fighting stubbornly, held on till 
lark. Meanwhile, the center, denuded to support the flank, 
:ollapsed under Howe's pressure. The battle lost its shape; 
it dusk, as the firing died down, weary men straggled back 
n disarray, leaving about a thousand of their comrades 
lead and wounded on the field. 


It was a defeat, and a more costly one than need have 
been incurred. But it was by no means a decisive defeat. 
A cynical observer might note that few American prisoners 
were taken; they ran away too fast. It could be said, in 
reply, that they ran just far enough; by the next morning 
they were regrouping in their old units. And those who 
held firm with Greene gave an excellent account of them- 
selves, since the British suffered over five hundred casual- 
ties. In other words, if the Americans were still not able 
to worst a British army in a formal battle, they showed that 
they could combine the agility of guerrillas (in retreat, 
it is true) with the steadiness of regulars not in an ideal 
combination, yet with sufficient resourcefulness to avert 

What followed repeated the pattern, with the addition 
of the special quality of belligerence that Washington al- 
ways revealed at critical moments when he felt America's 
future and his own reputation was at stake. Howe 
plodded toward Philadelphia; Congress hastily departed 
to Lancaster and then to York, Pennsylvania; Washington 
essayed another battle, which was canceled by heavy rain; 
Howe entered the city; Washington challenged him at 
Germantown, ten miles outside Philadelphia. This time 
there was a battle, a confused one in which Washington's 
audacity was ill rewarded by the loss again of a thousand 
men at half that cost to his adversary. Washington's reac- 
tion was to risk another battle, but Howe could not again 
oblige him- With December came the winter another 
winter of mild uneasiness for the British and of active dis- 
content among the patriots. While Howe was warm in 
Philadelphia, Washington's men had to keep watch out- 


side, twenty miles away along the Schuylkill in their for- 
lorn encampment at Valley Forge. 

Nevertheless, the patriot balance sheet, during the win- 
ter of 1777-1778, did not look bad. On the debit side wae 
the broad factor of Howe's seizure of Philadelphia, with 
the parenthetical setbacks of Brandywine and German- 
town. On the credit side Washington's army was still in 
being, though weakened and disgruntled by cold weather, 
niggardly supplies and arrears in pay. While his army 
dwindled almost to nothing each winter, that was offset by 
the British habit of hibernating. Congress likewise dwin- 
dled amid the discomforts of York, until its sessions were 
sometimes attended by fewer than twenty members; yet it 
too was still in existence. The sap ran back into the tree; 
the tree did not die. As for Howe, his expedition was a 
failure because it was not a triumph. He had expected that 
the loyalists would rally to his banner; but while the Penn- 
sylvanians were ready to sell him provisions taking his 
gold where they refused the Continental currency only 
a handful actually joined him. Despondent, Howe sent in 
his resignation. 

More positively, the "Northern Department" had won a 
resounding victory over Burgoyne. Burgoyne's invasion 
started ominously for the Americans with the capture of 
Fort Ticonderoga in early July. But thereafter his advance 
was slow and painful; and the secondary invasion along 
the Mohawk, despite initial success, fizzled out. In mid- 
August a portion of Burgoyne's force, in search of sorely 
needed supplies, was annihilated by patriot militia at Ben- 
nington in southern Vermont. He had no alternative but 
to press south to Albany, even though he learned that there 


would be no army from New York City to meet him. He 
was brought to a halt a few miles south of Saratoga by the 
northern army (formerly commanded by Schuyler and now 
under Horatio Gates). In September and again in early 
October he tried in vain to break out. Worried by the im- 
minent catastrophe, Clinton at last responded by sailing 
up the Hudson with as many men as he could spare. By 
the middle of October, pushing aside resistance, he was at 
Esopus (Kingston), only eighty miles from Burgoyne. But 
Clinton was as cautious as Burgoyne had been rash; he 
came too late and thanks to Howe's obsession with 
Philadelphia brought too few with him. The day after 
Clinton's vanguard reached Esopus, Burgoyne at Saratoga 
surrendered what was left of his army: fifty-seven hun- 
dred men. It was a sensational reverse for British arms. 
Clinton retired to New York, to remain there quietly 
through the winter. Howe, also alert, waited in Philadel- 
phia until his resignation was accepted; then, in May 1778, 
he handed over his command in America to Clinton and 
went home. Gage had gone, Burgoyne, Howe. Washing- 
ton was outlasting them all. 

The moral was not lost on Europe. In London, Lord 
North began to arrange another peace commission, though 
Britain was not yet prepared to recognize the independence 
of the colonies. In Paris there was intense activity. In con- 
junction with Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin the 
American agents in Paris the French Government had 
for some time been aiding the colonies. Part of their aid 
consisted in sending over foreign officers to serve with 
Washington, and some came on their own initiative. The 
majority were a doubtful asset and added to Washington's 


troubles, since they expected high rank. But some 
notably Thaddeus Kosciusko, the eager young Marquis de 
Lafayette, Baron de Kalb and "Baron" von Steuben (of 
spurious nobility but a genuine soldier) were of great 
value to the American cause. On the news of Saratoga, the 
French decided to do much more. Their decision was not 
based on sentiment, though they admired the courage of 
the colonies and the firmness of Washington, the com- 
mander in chief. It rested on a hardheaded estimate of 
America's chances and above all on the prospect of 
weakening Britain. Hence the readiness, which France's 
ally Spain deplored, of a despotic monarchy to come to the 
aid of a struggling republic. In a letter sent at the end of 
February 1778, Franklin was able to announce that "the 
most Christian king agrees to make a common cause with 
the United States . . . [and] guarantees their liberty, sov- 
ereignty, and independence, absolute and unlimited." By 
midsummer France was officially at war with England. 
Spain followed suit a year later, though she would not go 
as far as the French in recognizing the United States as a 
separate nation. 

Washington heard of the treaty in April. "I believe no 
event," he wrote to Congress, "was ever received with more 
heartfelt joy," and no one was more relieved than himself. 
Oddly enough, the weeks during which the alliance was 
being formulated were among the worst in Washington's 
whole life. To the physical misery of the log huts at Valley 
Forge was added a good deal of mental anguish, for this 
was the period of the so-called Conway Cabal a plot to 
oust Washington from the supreme command in favor of 
Horatio Gates. 


We shall probably never know the exact truth of the 
affair. As Washington saw it, a number of malcontents in 
the army combined with others in Congress in a secret 
program to discredit him. The military ringleaders ap- 
peared to be Gates, Mifflin and Thomas Conway (an Irish 
volunteer, formerly a colonel in the French service). Ac- 
cording to the familiar story, their machinations were 
exposed by faithful supporters of Washington (including 
Lafayette, who had become his ardent admirer and friend); 
Washington then confronted Gates with evidence of the 
plot, and thereby so abashed the conspirators that they 
abandoned their dark projects. However, Bernhard Knol- 
lenberg and other recent scholars have questioned the 
orthodox version. They point out that it was natural 
enough at the time to praise Gates, who had vanquished 
Burgoyne, and to be correspondingly less enthusiastic 
for the moment over Washington, who had been 
worsted by Howe. Perhaps Gates did not deserve so much 
acclaim, nor Washington so much blame. But that is the 
way with popular esteem, especially in war; the lucky gen- 
erals are usually promoted, the unlucky ones shelved. It 
may have been ungrateful to grumble at Washington; was 
it, though, lese majesty for a few of his associates to dis- 
cuss his shortcomings in private letters to one another? 
Conway was self-seeking, and perhaps not even sincere at 
that, when he wrote to Gates that he preferred him to 
Washington; was he a monster? Washington apparently 
thought so, and most of his biographers have agreed, 
putting themselves not only in his shoes (as a biographer 
should) but also in his pocket (which is a blind devotion). 
In consequence they have tended to accept as given data 


the notion that Gates and the rest behaved treasonably, 
that Gates was incompetent as well as disloyal, and that 
Congress was composed almost entirely of knaves and fools. 
In fairness to Washington we must admit that his friends 
spoke as though there were an actual conspiracy. "I cannot 
doubt its reality in the most extensive sense," wrote Colonel 
Alexander Hamilton. True, some members of Congress 
were malicious and irresponsible. * 'There is as much in- 
trigue in this State-House as in the Vatican," John Jay 
complained. And there was a great deal of back-biting 
among Washington's senior officers. But that is always 
found where men compete for honor and advancement 
witness the ill feeling between Clinton, Howe and Bur- 
goyne. If Washington had been one of several major gen- 
erals, instead of in the lofty office of commander in chief, 
would even he have been immune to the pangs of jealousy? 
As it was, though his conduct in relation to the cabal was 
dignified, and certainly effective, he was almost excessively 
angered by it. For months he was still furious with Gates 
and Congress was wise in making sure that the two men 
were* kept widely apart. 

Monmouth to Yorktown: 

PLOT OR NO, the trouble was soon overlaid by more urgent 
considerations. In June 1778, to Washington's amazement, 
Clinton marched his redcoats out of Philadelphia, not 
to fight but to head northeast across New Jersey. He 
was not insane he had never liked Howe's plan; few 
reinforcements were promised from England; there was a 
report that a French fleet was on the way; hence he pre- 


ferred to concentrate his forces in New York City. So, like 
Boston two years before, Philadelphia was relinquished to 
the Americans. The mere evacuation was a moral victory 
for the United States. Washington, breaking camp at Valley 
Forge, followed in Clinton's wake, determined to drive 
home the lesson. 

His opportunity came on the morning of June 28, as 
Clinton's rearguard was moving off from Monmouth Court 
House. It was Sunday, a day of ovenlike heat. Washington's 
orders to the vanguard of the American army were to 
accost the British and bring on a battle. This task he en- 
trusted to Charles Lee, who had been taken prisoner in 
December 1776 and only just released, on exchange. The 
two armies were fairly equal in strength, and Washington 
held the tactical advantage of having the enemy drawn out 
on the move. But the eccentric Lee seemingly disapproved 
of the scheme. He advanced without much conviction and 
retreated without much skill when Clinton swiftly brought 
up reinforcements. Washington, alarmed and then an- 
noyed, halted Lee's withdrawal and patched up his front- 
No full-scale battle developed, however, and that night, 
when each side had suffered about three hundred fifty 
casualties, Clinton's redcoats continued their methodical 
progress to New York. Embarking at Sandy Hook, they 
completed the journey by sea. Washington's chance was 
gone, and the subsequent court-martial of Lee (who was 
deemed guilty of serious insubordination and suspended 
from active command for the rest of the war) did nothing 
to sweeten the fact. But, apart from all else that might be 
said about the encounter at Monmouth, it offered one 
more proof of Washington's aggressive spirit. It was not 


simply that he revealed again, as conspicuously as at Tren- 
ton or Germantown, his personal courage under fire. It was 
that against the advice of his council of war he tried 
to bring on a major battle. His motive may have been quite 
practical, since he suspected that the New Jersey militia 
would desert him (which they did immediately afterward) 
to go and gather in their crops. Or he may have felt that 
the American morale "stood in need of something to keep 
us a float" (a phrase he used some time later). Whatever his 
reasons, the interesting feature is his eagerness to commit 
his army in a formal engagement. 

In retrospect we can see that the French alliance was the 
turning point of the war. Once the British were at grips 
with their old enemy, and with Spain, their naval suprem- 
acy was challenged; thus, they could not prevent a French 
fleet under the Comte d'Estaing from sailing for America 
in 1778. Elsewhere they were hard pressed in the Medi- 
terranean, where Gibraltar was besieged, in the West In- 
dies, and as far away as the Indian Ocean. They had to face 
the possibility (though it never matured) of a Franco- 
Spanish invasion of Britain. In December 1780 Holland 
joined Britain's enemies; and in the same year, led by 
Russia, a number of European countries demonstrated 
their hostility by banding together in a League of Armed 

In retrospect again, we can see Valley Forge as the nadir 
of the American effort. Henceforward, Washington's pri- 
macy as military leader was unquestioned. The third and 
final hope of routing him lay with Howe at Germantown 
and Brandywine or perhaps in a sudden midwinter as- 
sault upon Valley Forge. When Howe settled for minor 


successes, there was never to be another time at which 
Washington, or the cause he stood for, could be smashed 
at a blow. Now, if the French were as good as their word, 
the prospect of victory and independence for the United 
States was not far over the horizon. 

It would make a neater story if all had gone well for 
Washington after Valley Forge. But it is only hindsight 
that permits us to speak so optimistically. When Wash- 
ington continued his march from Monmouth, circling New 
York City to take up position at White Plains, his army, 
geographically, stood where it had two whole years be- 
fore. Weeks, months, years were dragging by. To talk of 
horizons did not bring much consolation when the way 
ahead seemed so interminable. His wife Martha had been 
able to spend part of each winter with him. But Mount 
Vernon, where his cousin Lund Washington was in charge, 
must have appeared infinitely remote. It was often in his 
thoughts; even at unlikely moments we find him dropping 
his official concerns for a while to send instructions on 
experiments in agriculture, or additions to be made to the 
house ("How many Lambs have you had this Spring? . . . 
Have you any prospect of getting paint and Oyl? Are you 
going to repair the Pavement of the Piazza? . . . Have you 
made any attempts to reclaim more Land for meadow?"). 
Over and over in his letters he recurs wistfully to the dream 
of reposing under his "own vine and fig tree," as though 
that particular Biblical phrase summed up for him every- 
thing that life held of contentment. 

There was, by contrast, little tranquillity in the immedi- 
ate scene. The French alliance made heartening news, but 
its first effect in America was disappointing. D'Estaing's fleet 


duly arrived, in July 1778. Since New York City was too 
tough a nut to crack, Washington arranged for the French 
to combine with an American force led by Sullivan in an 
attack on the British garrison at Rhode Island. D'Estaing, 
however, was tackled by a British fleet and eventually re- 
tired to the West Indies, while, deprived of naval support, 
Sullivan failed to overcome the garrison. It was not an 
auspicious start to the alliance. Clearly, coalition warfare 
posed a whole set of fresh problems which would require 
all Washington's ingenuity and tact to solve. A French fleet 
would be merely on loan; it would be extremely difficult 
to concert plans far in advance; strategic decisions would 
now have to take into account not only Congress but also 
the views of the French court and the French commanders 
in America. 

Indeed, Washington feared that the intervention of 
France might lead to a fatal relaxation of effort on the part 
of his countrymen. As enemies, the Americans' own apathy 
and inefficiency were almost as dangerous as all of Clinton's 
redcoats. Or so it seemed to Washington, who it must be 
remembered spent most of his time not in fighting but 
in dealing with an endless series of administrative crises. 
His correspondence was so enormous that at times he em- 
ployed several secretaries; and the greater part of what he 
wrote had to do with food, weapons, ammunition, cloth- 
ing, blankets, horses, pay (invariably in arrears), requisi- 
tioning, recruiting, promotions (and refusals to promote), 
punishments, bounties, militia quotas and the like. He felt 
that such labors could be much reduced if Congress, the 
states and individual Americans would only pull their 
weight. It is possible that he complained too much and 


that he exaggerated a little the extent of the army's varlou 
shortages like any shrewd claimant who does not expec 
to get all that he asks for and therefore asks for more thar 
he can actually make do with. Even so, he was not exaggerat 
ing much when as late as April 1781 he could declare 
that " we are at the end of our tether." From his standpoin; 
the winter at Valley Forge was in some respects less critica 
than those of 1778-1779 and 1779-1780, each of which lee 
to small mutinies by a portion of the Continental line 
Nathanael Greene bore the same ominous testimony fronc 
the South, in January 1781: "Unless this army is better sup 
ported than I see any prospect of, the Country [i.e., the 
South?] is lost beyond redemption." 

It is understandable that Washington became increas 
ingly bitter against both the British and their Tor) 
supporters in America. Who was loyal? Clinton and Wash- 
ington, each with equal justification in his own eyes, gave 
opposite answers. To one a Tory was a patriot, potentially; 
to the other, a traitor. Washington thought of his own 
well-developed intelligence service as a legitimate auxiliary 
arm, but viewed Clinton's similar activities as sinister and 
underhand; and vice versa. Clinton was disappointed b} 
the weakness of the Tory response, though Simcoe's Rang- 
ers and other loyalist bodies rendered him valuable service; 
Washington was disgusted by the extent of hidden Torj 
sympathy* Treason lurked everywhere. No one knew foi 
certain whether Charles Lee had been "corrupted" while 
he was a prisoner; had he not been borne off by a patrol 
from the i6th Light Dragoons his old regiment as a 
British officer, and Howe's? Patrick Henry was so disturbed 
by the mood of Virginia in June 1778 that he wrote to one 


of the state's delegates in Congress, "For God's sake, my 
dear sir, quit not the councils of your country, until you 
see us forever disjoined from Great Britain. The old leaven 
still -works. The flesh pots of Egypt are still savoury to de- 
generate palates." His words took on a prophetic ring two 
years later when Benedict Arnold the most dashing of- 
ficer in the American army, the hero of Quebec and Sara- 
toga was detected while preparing to betray the Hudson 
defenses at West Point to Clinton. Arnold escaped; even 
worse, lavishly rewarded, he became a British brigadier 
general and carried out destructive raids in Connecticut 
and Virginia. With an asperity rare in him, Washington 
hanged Major Andr, the attractive young British officer 
who acting under Clinton's orders was Arnold's go- 
between, and whose capture revealed the plot. 

Hard times: words like "mortification," "embarrass- 
ment" and "misfortune" come readily to Washington's pen 
in the long interlude after the midsummer day at Mon- 
mouth. This was true of campaigns as well as of life in 
camp. The Americans did score some minor successes on 
land, while John Paul Jones and other captains in their 
infant navy came off best in several small engagements. 
None of these, however, made much difference to the gen- 
eral tenor of the war. The British concentrated their chief 
effort in the South, evacuating Newport at the end of 1780 
to employ its garrison more profitably elsewhere. They had 
seized Savannah, in Georgia, a year earlier; and in the 
autumn of 1780 Clinton brought an army by sea to Charles- 
ton and laid siege to it. His operations were cumbersome, 
but they achieved the desired result. Charleston fell, and 
with it, in the most costly setback of the war, a force of 


over five thousand American defenders. Clinton returned 
to New York, leaving Cornwallis with eight thousand men 
to hold Georgia and South Carolina as a loyalist bastion. 
Washington, compelled to remain on the Hudson and 
watch Clinton, did what he could by dispatching all the 
troops he could spare to the South; and Congress sent 
Horatio Gates to take command there. 

Now at last the struggle quickened dramatically in 
tempo. Over thousands of miles the main actors, unwitting, 
began to make the moves that would draw them all together 
for the final act. The lesser protagonists, deservedly or not, 
were shouldered aside as irrelevant. Some had been promi- 
nent hitherto Gates, for example. But he was heavily 
defeated by Cornwallis at Camden, South Carolina, in 
August 1780, and was superseded within three months. Out, 
too, goes the worthy Baron de Kalb, mortally wounded at 
Camden. Charles Lee is already relegated to the wings. 
Clinton, fretting but immobile in New York, has few more 
lines to say a "shy bitch/* as he diagnosed himself, he 
is not one of history's lucky generals. 

The remaining cast is headed by five figures, with others 
(Greene, Steuben and so on) in subsidiary roles. The five 
are Cornwallis, Lafayette, Washington and two latecomers 
the Comte de Rochambeau and Admiral de Grasse. 

Cornwallis brought on the denouement through his win- 
ter campaign of 1780-1781. Ironically, it was a very able 
campaign. He was swift, he was resourceful, and he adapted 
his tactics to American conditions. He and his associate, 
the cavalry leader Banastre Tarleton, humbled Gates at 
Camden and struck hard at Greene (in March 1781, at 
Guilford Court House). Yet Cornwallis writ in water. 


Behind him, as he hastened north, south again, and north 
once more, resistance rose afresh. By May he was in Vir- 
ginia, where Tarleton almost captured Governor Thomas 
Jefferson and the startled state legislature. Cornwallis was 
bold, even brilliant. But he was doomed when, having 
failed to dispose of agile American forces led by Lafayette 
and Steuben, he decided to make for the coast and put 
himself in touch with Clinton. He chose Yorktown. Corn- 
wallis had overreached himself. In previous campaigns 
Howe had failed through excess of prudence and Bur- 
goyne through lack of it. If Clinton resembled Howe in this 
respect, Cornwallis ran the risk of being (as a contemporary 
remarked) "completely Burgoyned." Yorktown was not an 
easy place to defend and Cornwallis had fewer than eight 
thousand men. 

Washington had endured three years of the times that 
try men's souls, then three more of the kind that tried 
men's patience and their pocketbooks. Now came the test 
of his capacity to seize a heaven-sent opportunity, to ac- 
complish what, with too little strength, he had half essayed 
on other fields a concerted maneuver by "the allied arms 
on this Continent ... to effectuate once for all the great 
objects of the alliance." The opportunity arose through 
Rochambeau and De Grasse. The former, a good-natured, 
capable soldier, was at Newport with five thousand French 
troops. The latter, in command of the French West Indies 
fleet, announced that his ships, plus three thousand more 
French soldiers, would be available for a limited period, 
and that he was sailing for Chesapeake Bay. 

Washington had been meditating an attack on New York 
with Rochambeau. He changed his mind on hearing from 


De Grasse and marched off toward Virginia. For the first 
time since Dorchester Heights, everything went smoothly 
for him, as though all the participants had rehearsed be- 
forehand. De Grasse reached the jaws of Chesapeake Bay 
just ahead of a British squadron, sealing off Cornwallis's 
seaward exit. Within a few days Washington, Rochambeau, 
Lafayette and De Grasse converged and met. Seventeen 
thousand allied troops (eight thousand of them French) 
surrounded Yorktown, and for the moment the French held 
naval supremacy. It was a miracle made actual. It was even 
being enacted in Washington's own setting; only a few 
miles away was Williamsburg, where half a lifetime ago 
he had ridden back from the Ohio country to warn Din- 
widdie of the encroachments of the fleur-de-lis. In Sep- 
tember and October 1781 he was well content to have the 
fleur-de-lis ranged alongside the "thirteen stripes alternate 
red and white/* the "thirteen stars white in a blue field." 
His Continentals strove to emulate the professionalism 
of the French: days of punctilio to round off the tatter- 
demalion years. Allied guns and mortars hammered the 
town. Outnumbered by two to one, and thwarted by a 
storm in an attempt to escape across the York River to 
Gloucester Point, Cornwallis lost heart. With an anguish 
that may be imagined, he sent a brief note to Washington 
on October 17 the third anniversary of Saratoga: 


I propose a cessation of hostilities for twenty-four 
hours, and that two officers may be appointed by each 
side .... to settle terms for the surrender of the posts at 
York and Gloucester. 

I have the honour to be, fee 



Instead of "honour" he might more descriptively have 
substituted one of the words of Washington's lean years 
"mortification," "embarrassment," "misfortune." For 
General Washington the drama was at the moment of 
splendid climax, as the British and the Hessians filed out, 
battalion after battalion, their standards furled, to lay down 
their arms. At this moment we should be able to terminate 
the tale, while the whole world (including even the Brit- 
ish) applauded him. 

But never was a narrative so full of buts it was not 
yet the end. As anticlimax, there were to be two more years 
of tedious epilogue, while the war slowly expired in an 
atmosphere of mingled exuberance, doubt and recrimina- 
tion. The pleasure of Yorktown was overshadowed by the 
death of Washington's stepson, Jack Custis, who had caught 
"camp-fever" there while serving as an aide-de-camp. The 
satisfaction Washington derived from the sterling perform- 
ance of his Continentals in that last siege was marred in 
the next months as his army began to grumble and accuse. 
Others, the Continentals argued, had profiteered while they 
starved. Having won liberty for the United States, why 
must they have to plead with Congress for back pay? Re- 
sponsible both to Congress and to his soldiers, with whom 
he had every sympathy, Washington had to summon all his 
tact to soothe his angry officers. Had they beaten the Brit- 
ish only to come to blows with one another? 

However, the war was won. There was no more serious 
fighting after Yorktown. Clinton, whose fleet had arrived 
too late with reinforcements for Cornwallis, went back 
uselessly to New York as he had done after Saratoga. Be- 
fore long, treading the same path as Howe, he resigned 


and sailed for England. The remainder of the tale, for the 
British forces, was drab; little by little they packed their 
bags, evacuated their ports and fortresses and sailed away. 
The center of interest had shifted to Paris, where the 
American commissioners John Adams, Franklin, Jay 
and Laurens xvere getting an even better bargain than 
they had hoped. The independence of the United States 
was recognized, and her territories were defined as stretch- 
ing from the seaboard to the Mississippi, from the Great 
Lakes to Spanish Florida. This handsome treaty was for- 
mally ratified by Congress in September 1783. 

The war was won, the peace was won. When Washing- 
ton accepted command in June 1775, he had written con- 
solingly to Martha that he expected to "return safe to you 
in the fall." Privately he may have suspected that the call 
to duty would last much longer. He can hardly have sup- 
posed that it would last for eight and a half years. He was 
heartily glad to be homeward bound. But he could not 
make the transition and take "my leave of all the employ- 
ments of public life" without deep emotion; too much had 
happened in the interim. Saying good-by to his officers at 
Fraunces' Tavern in New York, in December 1783, he and 
they were in tears; and when Washington handed back 
his commander in chiefs commission to Congress at An- 
napolis a few days later, the significance, the weight of the 
occasion overwhelmed the spectators. There was too much 
to be said an almost unbearable sense of history made 
and in the making. It lingered over Washington, in Ameri- 
can minds, as he rode away, hurrying to be at Mount Ver- 
non by Christmas Eve. 


The Commander in Chiefs Achievement 

WHERE DOES he stand as a military leader? How, dis- 
counting malice and adulation alike, can we form a fair 
estimate of his accomplishments? The kind of war he was 
engaged in does not permit useful comparisons to be 
drawn with the renowned campaigns of history. It was one 
in which the Americans lost nearly all the battles except 
the last, and in which none of the battles was on a giant 
scale. In the field, so far as we can judge, Washington did 
not show genius, though his opportunities were limited. 

Perhaps he may more justly be compared, not with Al- 
exander, Frederick or Napoleon, but with fellow country- 
men in another, subsequent American civil war. His mili- 
tary talent would not seem as fanatical as that of Stonewall 
Jackson, or as complete as that of Robert E. Lee. Unlike 
Lee, or McClellan, he did not inspire enthusiastic affection 
among the rank and file. Stirred by the writings of Tom 
Paine, who hated aristocracy, he could nevertheless insist 
that only "gentlemen'* were fit to be officers; and it was the 
officers who admired him most. He lacked the common 
touch; it is significant that no one, not even on the British 
side, contrived a nickname for him. In the company of his 
equals, after dinner, he could thaw out most agreeably, as 
he sat sipping wine and eating nuts, which were his fa- 
vorite dessert. But he cracked nuts, not jokes; and to the 
ordinary soldiers he was a stern, awe-inspiring figure. He 
attended to their wants, he shared their dangers and dis- 
comforts, but he was not one of them. He kept a distance, 
and emphasized it in a host of orders of the day that have a 


rigid, monitory sound; they are full of rebuke and prohibi- 
tion, and where they are appreciative they are still a little 
glacial. They do not give praise; they bestow it. 

It would be silly to stretch this point, and expect an 
eighteenth-century Virginia planter to behave like a twen- 
tieth-century expert in public relations. Yet he did strike 
even his contemporary associates as a reserved person. The 
war meant everything to him, but he did not verbally 
speaking rise to its major occasions. When the news of 
Saratoga reached him, he was having his portrait painted 
by Charles Willson Peale. "Ah," said Washington, reading 
the dispatch, "Burgoyne is defeated" and continued to 
sit. Nothing more. And when Cornwallis surrendered, 
Washington detailed one of his aides to notify Congress, 
instead of composing the message himself. This goes be- 
yond the laconic to a disappointing flatness. 

However, these are hardly serious shortcomings, as we 
may see by looking again at that other American general 
named George: George B. McClellan, who for a while 
during the Civil War was also credited with having saved 
the Union. Both men were curiously compounded of hu- 
mility and confidence. McClellan's, however, were mis- 
placed. He was a notable trainer of armies better than 
Washington (although the latter did not lean as heavily on 
Steuben as legend would have it). But McClellan was 
not a notable fighter. He displayed humility in face of the 
enemy and confidence to the point of arrogance where his 
chiefs or colleagues were concerned. A gifted man, he 
was nevertheless nervous and messianic, by turns. Wash- 
ington, on the other hand, was a fighter who, with rare ex- 
ceptions, kept the issue clear in his own mind. When he 


erred as a soldier, it was on the side of rashness; knowing 
this, with the deep self-knowledge that he somehow ex- 
pected others to share, he was incensed by the imputation 
of timidity. Others might talk of Fabian tactics, even ap- 
provingly; he himself seems never to have invoked the 
name of Fabius Cunctator, the Delayer. 

He was not a perfect soldier, then; yet in Washington 
was discovered someone who came near to meeting an im- 
possible list of requirements. Congress wanted first a com- 
mander in chief who would confer luster upon their cause. 
This Washington did with a polish that impressed even 
hostile Englishmen like Howe, not to mention a sympa- 
thetic Englishman such as Chatham, who informed the 
House of Lords (in February 1777), "America ... is not 
a wild and lawless banditti, who having nothing to lose, 
might hope to snatch something from public convulsions; 
many of their leaders . . . have a great stake in this great 
contest: the gentleman who conducts their armies^ I am 
told, has an estate of four or five thousand pounds a 
year."* Even more important was the impression that 
Washington made upon the French. Perhaps he laid him- 
self out to please them; if so, he succeeded to an astonish- 
ing degree. To nearly all he was a veritable Chevalier 
Bayard, sans peur et sans reproche. Here, they agreed, was 
a gentleman of quite unusual poise and integrity. 

Next, Congress wanted a commander who could raise 
and direct an army on the European model, fit to 
encounter professionals a genuine Continental army, 
worthy of the United States. This was Washington's own 
overriding passion: to procure "Order, Regularity and 

* My italics. 


Discipline." True, he thought mainly in terms o infantry-, 
somewhat to the neglect of cavalry and other arms. But he 
envisioned an army of veterans; that is the essential fact 
and the cause of much of his distress during the war 

For, thirdly, Congress also wanted a commander whose 
forces would consist largely of short-service militiamen, ir- 
regulars even, despite what Chatham said, "banditti." 
Congress wanted a man who could control such makeshift 
troops and exploit their special qualities. Here, perhaps, 
Congress began to expect too much of Washington. By tem- 
perament, at any rate, he was a shade too "European" for 
the circumstances of his America. His own experiences 
with militia, since Virginia frontier days, had been almost 
invariably unpleasant. It so happened that he was not 
present at any of the engagements from Bunker, or 
Breed's, Hill to Cowpens in which militia distinguished 
themselves. He was therefore reluctant to admit that mili- 
tia had any virtues.* He had enough of confusion; he was 
not interested, except incidentally, in harassing the red- 
coats, but in beating them soundly by pitched battle. Yet 
even here he did as much as Congress was entitled to expect 
of any fallible mortal. Washington was certainly not a 
martinet, seeking blindly to impose an alien pattern of 
military etiquette upon Americans. He was well aware that 
American conditions called for special and rather unortho- 

* At least, not unless properly trained and mustered. Some years later, 
when Washington attempted to secure a satisfactory military organization 
for the United States, he recognized that the regular army was bound to 
be a minuscule affair. He therefore recommended a well-trained militia as 
the basis of national defense. He never lived to see such a phenomenon, 
nor did generations of his successors, though they maintained the idea as a 
pious hope. 


dox military solutions. But he dreaded carrying the process 
too far. In style of generalship he closely resembled Corn- 
wallis, and Cornwallis was a regular who lived to get a move 
on, with a well-trained army. That was also Washington's 

Wealthy gentleman, impeccable generalissimo, guerrilla 
warrior: Congress sought all these in the person of George 
Washington. In addition, Congress required such a para- 
gon to think as a civilian. This putative commander, a dig- 
nified brigand capable of imposing his authority over 
forces, regular and militia, from thirteen different and 
semiautonomous states, must yet submit cheerfully to the 
supreme authority of Congress, 

The marvel is that, dem?" .ling the impossible, Congress 
so nearly got it in George Washington. As a bonus, they 
found in him a man of quite extraordinary persistence. 
Fitzpatrick's huge edition of Washington's writings is un- 
likely to be read by many in its entirety. There are some 
ten thousand pages for the war years alone, and the docu- 
ments in them are too minutely detailed and far too repeti- 
tive to whet one's appetite. Yet the repetition is vital to an 
understanding of the nature of the man. We watch him 
hammering away, in plain, workmanlike prose, neither 
witty nor pompous, neither blustering nor apologetic, until 
he either gets his way or concludes that he has come to an 
absolute impasse. Particularly is this true when he writes 
of the means, however remote, of bringing the war to a 
close. Victory was the goal he kept in sight; unlike the 
British commanders, he never hopelessly confused the sec- 
ondary advantage with the primary aim. Grand strategy 
was not his forte (and, perhaps he believed, not his busi- 


ness but that of Congress); after the failure of the Canada 
invasion in 1775-1776 he did not encourage ambitious 
projects of that kind. Instead, he concentrated upon what 
must be: a larger army, better ways of maintaining it, 
more prompt and more generous contributions from the 
states, the support of a navy that could, at least for a space, 
wrest naval supremacy from the British. His long-deferred 
reward came at Yorktown. 

David Ramsay of South Carolina, who published a His- 
tory of the American Revolution in 1789, said, "It seemed 
as if the war not only required, but created talents/' The 
remark well fits George Washington. He was never the 
"little paltry Colonel of Militia" that Lord Howe's secre- 
tary, Ambrose Serle, sneered at in 1776. His critics in 
America argued that he had n?ft so much grown in stature 
as in public esteem. Yet even they, by the end of the war, 
had to admit that he wore his honors becomingly and 
unassumingly. We can trace the process by working 
through those ten thousand crowded pages of his wartime 
writings. In them, little by little, we can detect the signs of 
greater assurance, wisdom and equanimity. The comments 
of French officers who met him in the later stages of the 
conflict (when he had mellowed a good deal) tell the same 
story. They speak of a man respected by nearly all, revered 
by some; capable of geniality if not of gaiety; keeping a 
good table but not a sot; well mounted and well tailored 
but not a dandy; proud but not vainglorious "His Excel- 
lency" in fact as well as in title. 

His was not the only American talent created by the 
emergency. His reputation may have been unduly ex- 
alted at the expense of men like Horatio Gates. It could be 


argued that, placed in his shoes, others might have met 
the test as adequately. Philip Schuyler might have over- 
come his patrician manner, his New York parochialism, 
just as Washington learned to overcome certain Virginia 
prejudices against New England and other areas. Na- 
thanael Greene, the Rhode Island Quaker general who 
fought so faithfully, might have satisfied his countrymen 
as supreme commander. It is hard to believe that the in- 
telligent but morose and cynical Charles Lee could have 
stayed the course. But possibly Artemas Ward, whom Lee 
dismissed contemptuously as a "church warden," had tal- 
ents for leadership that he never revealed after he felt 
shouldered aside in 1775. It is even conceivable that Bene- 
dict Arnold, given the glory he craved, would have burned 
away the resentments that instead made him a traitor. 
These are only conjectures. The sure and staggering truth 
is that Congress (and America) was luckier than it could 
reasonably hope to be in choosing Colonel Washington. 
The "available" man proved to be, despite all his minor 
defects, the indispensable man. 




Farmer Washington may he like a second Cincinna- 
tus, be called from the plow to rule a great people, 

(Toast offered at a Fourth of July cele- 
bration, Wilmington, Delaware, 1388) 

"Retiring within Myself 9 

GENERAL WASHINGTON longed to turn himself 
back into Farmer Washington. He was physically and 
spiritually weary. His health was indifferent he had had 
a good deal of trouble with his teeth and he drooped un- 
der the cumulative weight of almost nine years of responsi- 
bility. In fact, as he was soon to realize, Washington after 
1783 was a private citizen who could never again enjoy 
true privacy. But it was only natural that he should cher- 
ish a little, wistful dream of peace, that he should conceive 
a rural idyll which we might call a kind of poetry. 

The idyll was quickly overlaid by circumstance. Yet we 
can still trace it in the letters he wrote during the early 
months of 1784. This proud Virginia planter referred then 
to Mount Vernon, with a curious humbleness, as his "cot- 
tage" and his "villa" words he had never used before 
in describing his domain. He saw himself as "a private citi- 


zen of America, on the banks of the Patowmac . . . under 
my own Vine and iny own Fig-tree, free from the bustle of 
a camp and the intrigues of a court/' who would hencefor- 
ward "glide gently down the stream of life" until he was 
finally laid to rest. "I am not only retired from all public 
employments," he said, "but I am retiring within myself." 

Perhaps he \vas half consciously playing the part of 
Cincinnatus. Plenty of people were comparing him to that 
patriot and making him sound more like a simple husband- 
man than an important landowner. But for a little while, 
at any rate, he Tvas able to indulge the dream. He had or- 
dered a quantity of books, in anticipation of ample leisure. 
(Some were travel narratives; they hint at a second dream, 
also to prove illusory, of a voyage to France, where 
Lafayette and others promised a warm welcome.) He re- 
: gned as vestryman of Truro Parish, without specifying 
ids reason; possibly the post seemed to him one more mi- 
nor "public employment" of which to rid himself. He 
made no attempt to enter into the political life of Vir- 
ginia, though he could have had a seat in the state legisla- 
ture more or less for the asking, or even the governorship. 
He held only one high office, in an honorary capacity: he 
was president-general of the Society of the Cincinnati, a 
commemorative organization of former army officers. But 
he had not been among the founders of the society, nor 
had he sought the distinction of heading it. Washington's 
hope was that he might, in the years to come, manage 
merely his own affairs. 

These affairs, though, were exacting and various enough 
to dispel any lingering notion of a relaxed, secluded life. 
Three old enthusiasms soon engrossed him. The first, his 


particular pride, was his Mount Vernon home. The second 
was the practice of agriculture. The third was the devel- 
opment of Western lands. The three spread out in con- 
centric circles of activity, until nothing was left of the 
brief vision of postwar placidity. 

Mount Vernon could with fair accuracy have been 
called a cottage back in 1757, when Washington first be- 
gan to improve the property. But by 1783 it was accord- 
ing to American standards a mansion, a great estate. To- 
day, tourists see it as immaculate and serenely complete. 
In Washington's eyes, as he beheld Mount Vernon after 
years of exile, it was a half-finished sketch. While he might 
speak in metaphor of his vine and fig tree, he could not (so 
to speak) sit under them until they had been planted and 
coaxed into growth. So, within a month of his return 
Washington was deep in correspondence on the state of 
the chimneys, paving for the piazza, suitable decorations 
for his "new room" or "banquet hall." From then on, his 
letters and his diary (which he had almost abandoned 
during the war) are crowded with detailed evidence of the 
care he lavished on Mount Vernon. He "purchased" in- 
dentured servants, newly arrived from Germany, to work as 
joiners and bricklayers. Inside the house, he concerned 
himself with wallpapers, bookshelves and Venetian blinds. 
Outside, he built an ambitious greenhouse; laid out roads, 
walks, lawns and shrubberies; redesigned his icehouse; 
fenced and stocked a deer park; constructed a fruit gar- 
den . . . 

Beyond the house and its grounds lay the five Mount 
Vernon "farms," or "plantations" (either word will do 
Washington used both for he did not raise cotton but 


wheat, a "farm" crop; on the other hand, his workers were 
"plantation" slaves some two hundred in all, including 
children and old folk). Since Washington came home with 
"empty hands" and was almost without ready cash, it was 
urgently necessary to set his affairs in order. Pride made 
him reject tentative proposals that he should, as America's 
First Citizen, receive a special allowance from Congress. 
Prudence insisted that he devote himself wholeheartedly 
to farming; so did inclination. In this respect he and 
Thomas Jefferson spoke the same language: a matter-of- 
fact vocabulary of seeds, manures and implements that 
fails to disguise their common underlying passion for what 
Washington called "the most delectable" of livelihoods. It 
was a laborious occupation, full of disappointment, yet 
there seems no doubt that Washington loved it. He sought 
advice from the English agriculturist Arthur Young, 
erected a barn to the latter's specification and imported an 
English farmer to superintend operations. He bred new 
strains of livestock, experimented with novel crops and sys- 
tems of rotation and struggled to prevent soil erosion. 

Washington's attention was not confined to Mount Ver- 
non. His western tracts had yielded little or no profit; some 
were occupied by squatters or by farmers who disputed 
his title to them. In the autumn of 1784 he therefore set 
out once more across the Alleghenies, by the old route 
that held so many memories, to see for himself what was 
happening. But he got little satisfaction from the occupiers 
of his Virginia bounty lands, and was unable to journey 
farther and inspect his claims on the Ohio and Great 
Kanawha. Though the trip was to have important conse- 
quences, within the immediate context of his life it meant 


mainly a break in an unending round of duties at Mount 
Vernon. Washington could not find a secretary until the 
summer of 1785, with the result that (as he grumbled to a 

I can with truth assure you, that at no period- of the 
war have I been obliged to write half as much as I now 
do. . . . What with letters (often of an unmeaning na- 
ture) from foreigners. Enquiries after Dick, Tom, and 
Harry who may have been in some part, or at sometime 3 
in the Continental service. Letters, or certificates of serv- 
ice for those who want to go out of their own State. Intro- 
ductions; applications for copies of Papers; references of 
a thousand old matters with which I ought not to be 
troubled, more than the Great Mogul; but which must 
receive answer of some kind, deprive me of my usual 
exercise; and without relief, may be injurious to me as 
I already begin to feel the weight, and oppression of it 
in my head. 

People asked him for loans. Friends and neighbors sought 
his opinion. His own conscience impelled him to watch 
over the doings not always wise or successful doings 
of his many relatives. 

The Cincinnati added to Washington's burden. No 
sooner was the society instituted than, to the dismay of 
its president-general, an outcry arose in several states. Its 
members saw the society as a harmless association of vet- 
erans, who in naming ft after Cincinnatus had deliberately 
emphasized their peaceful intentions. Its enemies thought 
it at best a comically snobbish club (membership was 
hereditary, and confined to officers) and at worst an inner 
council of would-be aristocrats. Washington did his best 


to meet these objections, but the society continued to cause 
him embarrassment. 

And although he enjoyed company, his appetite was 
surfeited at Mount Vernon. The man and his home had 
become a port of call for visitors of every sort, from old 
acquaintances to inquisitive foreigners. They filled his 
guest rooms week after week, winter and summer, eating 
up his provisions by the ton and drinking his wine by the 
gallon. Thus, one night in 1785, Washington, his family 
and several guests had already gone to bed when they 
were aroused by the arrival of the French sculptor 
Houdon, who had come to do a portrait of Washington. 
Room was found somehow for Houdon and his three as- 
sistants. While they were his guests, Washington was hav- 
ing part of the roof shingled, and there was a wedding at 
the house between Washington's nephew and namesake, 
George Augustine (who replaced Lund Washington as es- 
tate manager), and Martha Washington's niece, Frances 
Bassett. Not until June 1785 could the besieged proprietor 
of Mount Vernon note in his diary, "Dined with only Mrs. 
Washington, which I believe is the first instance of it since 
my retirement from public life." Such isolation remained 
a rarity. 

All in all, however, the George Washington of these 
years was probably as happy as he had ever been. If cor- 
respondence was a nuisance, it must have gratified him 
to receive tributes from all over the world. The King of 
Spain presented him with a jackass (the broad humor of 
this was not lost on Washington, who named the animal 
Royal Gift and joked about its sluggish performance at 
stud); an English admirer gave him a marble fireplace; 


a Frenchman sent a pack of hounds; a European noble- 
man requested a portrait of Washington for inclusion in a 
gallery of military heroes. Remembering (if he did) his 
own abortive collection of that kind, Washington was en- 
titled to feel that the Virginia colonel of militia was at 
last reaping his reward. 

There were other compensations. Little by little he es- 
tablished a routine that enabled him, without slighting his 
guests, to handle his own affairs. For exercise there was 
the almost daily ride around his farms, and in the winter 
months the delight of fox hunting. There was the pleas- 
ure of watching Mount Vernon approach the elegance 
he had planned for it; the comfort of a congenial mar- 
riage (though visitors occasionally found the General dis- 
agreeably stiff, they all praised Martha's amiable temper); 
and the stimulation of young children two of Jacky Cus- 
tis's offspring were adopted by the Washingtons after their 
mother remarried. 

Above all, there was his third enthusiasm, for opening 
up the country. In 1782 he had taken advantage of a 
quiet spell to travel in northern New York and buy a tract 
there. He was still interested in the Dismal Swamp, be- 
tween Virginia and North Carolina. And there were ex- 
citing prospects somewhat nearer home. Indeed, one of the 
purposes of his western journey in 1784 was to examine 
these. He came back convinced that Virginia and the 
West could and should be linked by water. The Potomac 
was navigable for a considerable distance upstream, and 
only a short portage divided it from the headwaters of the 
Ohio River system. When the necessary improvements had 
been made (the chief one a canal around the Potomac falls), 


he pictured a vigorous, ever-growing traffic that would 
flow along this new highway past his own front door. The 
effect (which he set out in a long diary entry that reads 
like the first draft of a prospectus) would be to increase 
trade, to hasten the settlement of the back country (with 
profit, of course, to the owners of trans-Allegheny lands) 
and last but not least to bind the men of the interior 
to the Union. Otherwise, already restless, they might fall 
victim to the wiles of Spain and Britain, which were in 
control of the Mississippi and Great Lakes exits from the 
Ohio valley. 

The more Washington pondered the scheme the more 
it appealed. Without realizing quite where his boldness 
would eventually lead him, Washington began to set 
events in motion. Such schemes were being widely dis- 
cussed in the central states; a James River route was also 
in fashion. Since Virginia shared rights to the Potomac 
with Maryland, local jealousies might result in deadlock. 
But, acting swiftly and helped by the prestige of his 
name, Washington secured the approval of both state leg- 
islatures in the winter of 1784-1785. As a commissioner 
for Virginia, he met with representatives from Maryland; 
and a Potomac River Company came into being, with 
himself as its (reluctant) president, under the patron- 
age of the two states, which both guaranteed support. A 
James River Company was also created. 

The Potomac commissioners ratified their joint agree- 
ment at Mount Vernon in the spring of 1785. A sugges- 
tion that Maryland and Virginia should meet annually in 
future was generally welcomed. Gradually the idea grew 
in scope, until in January 1786 the Virginia legislature 


issued an invitation to all states of the Union to confer 
with its own commissioners and review matters of com- 
mon interest concerning trade and commerce. Out of the 
proposal came the Annapolis convention of September 
1786, to which five states (including Virginia) sent repre- 
sentatives. One of the Virginia delegates, James Madison, 
recommended in a report that another convention should 
be held in May 1787, at Philadelphia. Out of this, as 
everyone knows, came the new Constitution. The new Con- 
stitution provided for a President of the United States. 
The new President was George Washington. 

Toward a New Constitution 

SOME OF WASHINGTON'S more eulogistic biographers have 
made his career practically synonymous with American 
history as a w T hole during his lifetime, placing him in 
the center of the stage at every episode. Tracing his 
story backward, they have seen a direct causal chain of 
circumstances all the way from his mission to Fort Le 
Boeuf in 1753 to his statesmanlike plan for the Potomac 
Company and thence, step by logical step, to the full glory 
of the Presidency in 1789. See, they proclaim, Washington 
is the Father of His Country; with uncanny prescience and 
a perfect sense of the true meaning of the Union he guides 
events, from early manhood to righteous old age. 

Now this contention is not entirely wrong. We can dis- 
cern an oddly circumstantial sequence; Washington does 
have a knack of being on hand at the place and moment 
where history is being made. But, before the Revolutionary 
War, there is an element of accident in the pattern. In 


those days he achieved a measure of distinction, but he 
did not (in the eyes of his contemporaries, at any rate) 
achieve true greatness. That he accomplished in the war 
itself. In retirement afterwards, he was a factor in the 
national scene; whatever he did tended to have national 
repercussions, and whatever he did not do was also, 
negatively, a factor of national importance. Washington 
was well aware of this; and even if he had not been, his 
experience as president-general of the Cincinnati was 
well calculated to ram home the lesson. 

The problem in considering Washington's development 
between 1783 and 1789 is this: did he achieve further 
greatness in his own right, or was further greatness thrust 
upon him, as something he could not avoid? Did he take 
a lead in re-forming the Union, or was he merely brought 
in, so to speak, in an honorary capacity? Or does the 
truth lie somewhere between such extremes? And behind 
this problem is another one, which still engages histo- 
rians in vehement debate: what was the actual state of 
the Union during the years of the Confederation? Was 
this "the critical period," or was America in fact flour- 
ishing? Did the United States really need a new in- 
strument of government? And (to come back to our hero) 
did Washington himself genuinely believe that the Union 
was in danger? If so, did he make up his own mind, or 
did others plant the notion? 

Perhaps no final answers to such questions are possible. 
But they are worth raising, to shake our minds free of the 
conventional, oversimplified picture of George Washing- 
ton even if we end up with explanations not wildly dis- 
similar to the usual ones. 


Temperamentally and from his experience as com- 
mander in chief, Washington favored a strong national 
government or at least one that would be more effectual 
in moments of emergency than the wartime Congress he 
had served. This is clear from his Circular to the States, 
a lengthy memorandum compiled in June 1783, which is 
condensed to a phrase in the toast he offered at a dinner 
in Philadelphia, the day before he surrendered his com- 
mission: "Competent powers to Congress for general pur- 
poses." There is an implication (which, because of his 
scrupulous modesty, appears only now and then in his let- 
ters) that he had begun the work, and through example 
and precept had indicated the path for the new nation 
to follow. Thus, in a letter to John Jay (Foreign Secretary 
under the Confederation) Washington speaks a little pon- 
tifically of the way in which his fellow countrymen have 
neglected his "sentiments and opinions . . . tho* given as 
a last legacy in the most solumn manner. 5 * To this extent 
did he identify himself with America: his own reputation 
and hers were inextricably interwoven, and it hurt him 
that America should present to outsiders a spectacle of 
disunity. He was especially sensitive to British reactions, 
and naturally annoyed that the British the enemy he 
had beaten refused to evacuate various Western posts 
according to their treaty obligations. It was the more gall- 
ing that the British had some excuse, since several Ameri- 
can states had likewise failed to honor their treaty prom- 

But the letter to Jay was sent in the summer of 1786 
and does not accurately convey Washington's outlook in 
the previous couple of years. At that period he shrank from 


involvement. Cato or Cincinnatus, he had played his part 
and said his piece. He was now a bystander, determined 
to devote his remaining years to the consolidation of his 
private fortunes. Though he had no direct heirs, that did 
not lessen his zeal to have and to hold like any other Vir- 
ginia dynast. True, he had a sharper sense than most of 
American's nationhood, real and potential. But it should 
be noted that the Potomac plan aroused his pride as a 
Virginian. The plan was recommended to him by another 
Virginian, Jefferson; and after he had assumed control, 
Washington initially thought in regional rather than na- 
tional terms. Writing to Northern acquaintances, he 
stressed the urgency of thwarting Britain; to men of his 
own area, he disclosed that he was equally concerned with 
the rivalry of the "Yorkers" and their route to the interior 
via the Hudson. 

This is not to say that Washington behaved dishonestly, 
but only that in 1784-1785 he was not thinking in grandly 
Continental terms. His state pride never ran counter to 
the interests of America as a whole. Yet for a spell these 
interests receded; they did not dominate his imagination. 
Friends in Congress kept in touch with him; his bulging 
post bag brought news of conditions in most parts of the 
Union, from Massachusetts to Georgia. But Congress was 
a long way off, shifting, as it did, away from Annapolis 
to Trenton, and then further, to New York. Domestically 
absorbed, anxious to maintain the proprieties of retire- 
ment, uncertain as to the true import of what his cor- 
respondents told him, sick of dissension, Washington ex- 
pressed his opinions with oracular vagueness. It was men 
like John Jay, Henry Lee and James Madison who com- 


mitted themselves (though also warily), who took the lead 
in the move for a new government. They wanted to en- 
list his aid not for his pen or his brain but for his name. To 
Americans, Washington was victory, rectitude and, for 
the moment, something of a cipher. Surely, Jay told him 
in March 1786, he could not watch the disintegration of 
America "with the eye of an unconcerned spectator"? 
Sounding him out, Jay went on: "An opinion begins to 
prevail, that a General Convention for revising the articles 
of Confederation would be expedient." Replying, a month 
later, Washington agreed broadly that the "fabrick" was 
"tottering'*; but he confined himself to cautious generali- 

Again, this is not to accuse Washington of stupidity or 
irresponsibility, but merely to emphasize that he had no 
ready solution to offer. Viewed as an agglomeration of 
farmers and merchants, America was prospering. Con- 
gress was not entirely inept; it was the legitimate govern- 
ment of the land. If Congress were not willing to reform 
itself, could reform be legally imposed by some ad hoc 
convention? What would people say? What would the 
states say? On the other hand, the Articles of Confedera- 
tion, in practice, did not admit of firm national govern- 
ment; the states were dangerously indifferent to Congress 
and antagonistic to one another. Something should be 

Following some way behind the active controversialists, 
as he had done before 1775, Washington gradually began 
to sort out his ideas. Thus on August i, 1786, he wrote 
three letters. Two went to France, to the Chevalier de la 
Luzerne and the American minister, Thomas Jefferson. 


The third was to Jay in New York. The first two were 
cheerful in tone, the third full of foreboding. Why the 
discrepancy? In large part because Washington did not 
wish to discredit America's reputation abroad; even to 
his bosom friend Lafayette he spoke of America with a 
perhaps forced optimism. In part, too, because he was di- 
vided in his mind, and so reacted differently to different 
correspondents. So, he frankly acknowledged to the pes- 
simistic Jay, "I cannot feel myself an unconcerned spec- 
tator. . . . Your sentiments, that our affairs are drawing 
rapidly to a crisis, accord with my own." 

For Washington, the crisis revealed itself in the shape 
of Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts, in the autumn of 
1786. It was an abortive and incoherent rising of back- 
country malcontents. But both the rebellion and the way 
in which it was handled seemed to Washington sympto- 
matic of profound disorder. Expletives were rare in his let- 
ters; now he burst out in alarm: Are your people getting 
mad? . . . What is the cause of all this? When and how 
is it to end? . . . These disturbances Good God! who 
besides a tory could have foreseen, or a Briton predicted 
them? . . . What, gracious God, is man! that there should 
be such inconsistency and perfidiousness in his conduct? 
. . . We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion! 

What should he do? For months he worried and hesi- 
tated, while more actively engaged Americans laid the 
groundwork for the Philadelphia convention of May 1787. 
Would he attend as a Virginia delegate? He was urged to 
declare himself. One uneasiness was removed early in 
1787 when Congress gave the convention its blessing. 
But Washington was plagued by doubts. He was fifty- 


five, and felt older, racked with rheumatism, short of 
funds. He had already declined to attend the triennial 
meeting of the Cincinnati, which was also to be held in 
Philadelphia at the same time as the convention; how 
could he now disclose that his reasons for nonattendance 
were mere excuses? Above all, Washington shrank from 
associating himself with a body that might prove as im- 
potent as the Annapolis convention of September 1786. 
If the northeastern states again held aloof, as they had 
done at Annapolis, the Philadelphia delegates would get 
nothing done. Worse, they might do harm to the coun- 
try and to their own reputations. Washington wanted no 
part in a conspiracy or a farce. 

Douglas Southall Freeman, Washington's foremost bi- 
ographer, thinks that his conduct at this period was un- 
pleasantly egocentric. If America was in peril, Freeman 
wonders, why did he not rush to the rescue? This seems 
too harsh a verdict. The most that we can say of Wash- 
ington is that he was, after all, a human being and not 
a sort of ideal permanent patriot-without-portfolio. His 
motives were not heroic, but they were understandable. 
Still, one wonders; can excessive modesty become almost 
the same thing as its opposite inordinate vanity? Did it 
in his case? 

Perhaps. The essential fact is that Washington did finally 
decide to go to Philadelphia. He arrived there in early 
May, was elected president of the convention by the 
unanimous wish of the other delegates, and sat in his 
chair of office through exhausting weeks of argument and 
maneuver, until the business was concluded in mid-Septem- 
ber. There was one lengthy adjournment in August. Wash- 


ington took advantage of it to visit his old encampment 
at Valley Forge and the town of Trenton, where he had 
caught the Hessians unaware. No doubt the interlude 
refreshed him; one would like to affirm that the glimpse 
of the past also moved him, but if so, he nevertheless wrote 
of other things in his diary. 

His role in the Philadelphia convention, as it toiled 
through the hot summer, exactly suited him. Whenever a 
point was put to the vote, he appears to have stepped down 
from his chair to record his preference among the other 
delegates. Otherwise, he was able to maintain a certain 
detachment. As he listened, contributing little to the in- 
tricate sequence of debate, he could make up his mind at 
leisure, in and yet not exactly of the company, arbiter 
rather than advocate. Only one other man, Benjamin 
Franklin (who was also present), could have filled the pres- 
idential chair with equal appropriateness; but Franklin 
was past eighty and sick, though still not moribund. 

Sometimes Washington voted on the losing side, and 
usually on what was to be known as the Federalist side; 
that is, for a strong national government and an effective 
executive within the government. Little by little, however, 
the Federalists carried the day. None of the delegates 
including Washington was entirely satisfied with the 
document that gradually emerged. A number were so dis- 
gusted that they withdrew from Philadelphia or would not 
put their signatures to the finished work. Some regretted 
the explicit surrender of provincial powers to the federal 
government. Those from such large states as Virginia and 
Massachusetts feared the loss of privileges not merely to 
the federal government, but to such smaller states as 


Delaware and New Jersey; and men from the smaller 
states clung to the principle of equal representation that 
had been granted under the Articles of Confederation. Sev- 
eral times the convention was near deadlock. But by de- 
grees it moved forward; and Washington shared the con- 
viction of a majority of his colleagues that its compromises 
were workmanlike. Politics was the an of the possible; the 
new Constitution was the best that could be drawn up in 
the circumstances. 

Washington, at any rate, thought so. He could approve 
of its provisions for an executive (in the shape of a Presi- 
dent), for a Congress (of two houses, a Senate and a 
House of Representatives) and for a judicial system 
headed by a federal Supreme Court. Each branch was 
separated from the others. The arrangement made sense 
to him in terms of his own experience; the President 
would be something like the Governor of Virginia (except 
that there would be no instructions and vetoes emanating 
from London), the Senate like the Governor's Council 
(with two members from each state, it would be a com- 
pact group of twenty-six seasoned counselors) and the 
House of Representatives comparable to the Virginia Gen- 
eral Assembly. Indeed, Virginia would have an influen- 
tial voice in its proceedings, since she as the most popu- 
lous state would have more members ten, for example, 
as against only one for lowly Rhode Island than any 

While the individual states would retain a degree of 
autonomy, the Constitution pleased Washington by put- 
ting teeth into the federal government. It would exercise 
in practice powers that Congress had hitherto wielded 


only in theory; and it gained new powers. It would be 
able to present a united front to foreigners, to collect its 
revenues, to regulate its finances, and in general to ease 
the way for every law-abiding American, be he planter, 
farmer, manufacturer or merchant. 

Washington could ride home in his coach to Mount Ver- 
non that September with the conviction that he had done 
his duty. His own house was almost finished; as a final 
touch, an ironwork dove of peace was being added to 
Mount Vernon's cupola as a weathervane. But the new 
Constitution was still unfinished until it had been rati- 
fied by state conventions and put into effect. Washington's 
life entered a new phase, with almost as much distress 
and uncertainty as in the months before he set out for 
Philadelphia. He was committed to support the Consti- 
tution, and did what he could. Certainly in his own Vir- 
ginia his influence helped to tip the balance. But he was 
disturbed by the protests in state after state. The delegates 
at Philadelphia were accused (with some justice) of hav- 
ing exceeded their instructions. They had met in secret, 
not allowing their decisions to be announced until the 
end. They were intriguers, aristocrats. They were in too 
much of a hurry; let there be another convention to re- 
view the proposals of the first one. Such were some of the 
arguments against the Constitution makers. Radical Rhode 
Island had not even sent delegates to Philadelphia, and 
ratification seemed uncertain in several other states. It 
was not only debtors and paper-money men who attacked 
the Founding Fathers (or were they the Foundering Fa- 
thers?). There was enmity from disgruntled men of sub- 
stance: Governor Clinton in New York, Governor John 


Hancock in Massachusetts, and in Washington's own 
state Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Edmund Ran- 
dolph, even his old friend and neighbor George Mason. 

Nine out of thirteen states had to approve the Constitu- 
tion for it to be adopted. By January 1788 five states had 
ratified. In February Massachusetts came in by a narrow 
margin, swayed by the Federalist intimation to Hancock 
that he might be Vice-President, or even (if Virginia failed 
to ratify and Washington was thereby excluded) President 
under the new government. Hancock was w6n over. What 
was more, he introduced a valuable formula that was 
followed by other states: Massachusetts would accept the 
Constitution on the understanding that amendments would 
subsequently be adopted that would meet the criticisms 
raised against the document. These would amount to a 
Bill of Rights, similar to the provisions already incorpo- 
rated in various state constitutions. 

Two more states came in, making a total of eight; and 
Virginia, the most crucial of all, came in at the end of 
June after a tense struggle. Better still, it was learned in 
Virginia that New Hampshire had already ratified. Ten 
states were in, one more than the necessary minimum. 
Alexander Hamilton and other ardent Federalists in New 
York used the glad news to disarm opposition in that 
state. A year after the delegates dispersed from Philadel- 
phia, the Constitution they had drawn up was sanctioned, 
with or without reservations, by eleven out of thirteen 
states. Only North Carolina and Rhode Island stood out- 
side. Their obstinacy, though unfortunate, was not fatal. 

What next? For the nation as a whole, it remained for 
Congress to wind itself up and for a new Congress to be 


chosen. There was a squabble over the seat of the future 
government, ending in the tentative agreement that it 
should remain temporarily at New York. For Washington, 
there was the virtual certainty that he would be elected 
President. His name had been freely used by Federalists 
in the debates over ratification. Someone had suggested 
that the Federalists should be known "by the name of Wash- 
ingtonians," and that the Anti-Federalists should be named 
Shaysites after Daniel Shays, the Massachusetts rebel. 
Once the terms of the Constitution were published, Wash- 
ington seemed the obvious candidate for the Presidency. 
Only he was known, respected and trusted in all the 
states. Only he, apart from the aged Franklin, had the 
requisite magic, glory, prestige (there is no adequate word 
for this quality) demanded of those who are to fill the 
great offices of government. So the newspapers told him; 
so his friends insisted. "In the name of America, of man- 
kind at large, and your own fame," Lafayette > wrote in 
January 1788, "I beseech you, my dear General, not to 
deny your acceptance of the office ojE President for the 
first years. You only can settle that political machine." 
Washington's own emotions were mixed. He was grati- 
fied, embarrassed and alarmed. The honor proposed was 
immense. But how could he discuss it until it became 
actual? A foregone conclusion was not quite the same thing 
as an election. If he were offered the Presidency, he must 
accept. But if he accepted, how could he endure four 
more years of the strain of life in the pitiless limelight? 
No one else was better prepared, certainly, to under- 
take the task. But was he himself well enough prepared? 
"I should/' he said, "consider myself as entering upon 


an unexplored field, enveloped on every side with clouds 
and darkness." However, at the time that he wrote thus, 
in the autumn of 1788, it was taken for granted by his 
acquaintances that he would be President. AH through the 
winter they reminded him briskly of his duty, while he 
without enthusiasm thought of his coming trial. In April 
1789, waiting at Mount Vernon for the news that was 
bound to come, Washington told his old friend Henry 
Knox, in confidence: 

My movements to the chair of Government will be ac- 
companied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who 
is going to the place of his execution: so unwilling am I, 
in the evening of a life nearly consumed in public cares, 
to quit a peaceful abode for an Ocean of difficulties, 
without that competency of political skill, abilities and 
inclination which is necessary to manage the Helm. I am 
sensible, that I am embarking the voice of my Country- 
men and a good name of my own, on this voyage, but 
what returns will be made for them, Heaven alone can 

First Administration: 

A FORTNIGHT LATER the suspense, though not the appre- 
hension, was over. Washington had received every vote 
in the electoral college, Congress informed him; and John 
Adams of Massachusetts had got enough to qualify as 
his Vice-President. Washington set out at once for New 
York. All along the road a muddy road that took eight 
days to travel he met with a tumultuous reception: 
flowers, banners, triumphal arches, addresses of welcome, 


militia escorts, extravagant newspaper tributes to "our 
adored leader and ruler." 

To the beholder he was a magnificent figure. Inwardly, 
he was full of dread. His popularity could not be doubted 
in face of such lavish proofs. But each fresh demonstra- 
tion deepened his anxiety; his countrymen, in praising 
him as superhuman, would also make superhuman de- 
mands upon him. How correspondingly terrible would 
his crash be, if he failed in a task that he could not 
even adequately define to himself! Thirteen disparate 
states, two of them still outside the Union of a Constitu- 
tion that was still in the hazard, all jealous for their "dar- 
ling sovereignty/' stretching up the Atlantic seaboard for 
fifteen hundred miles; a population of less than four mil- 
lion (the exact figure was unknown), of whom nearly 
one in five were Negro slaves; a nation new to nation- 
ality, undertaking the experiment of federal republican- 
ism, burdened by debt, menaced by external enemies 
what might happen if the worst should come to the worst? 

However, it must be counted among Washington's ma- 
jor virtues that he never lost his nerve. In some men, anx- 
iety causes a general paralysis of the will or onsets of 
sudden directionless energy. In Washington it induced 
a certain extra caution, but also an extra, dogged adher- 
ence to the job in hand. 

A sour critic at the time and there were one or two 
whose skepticism touched even the majestic figure of Wash- 
ington in 1789 could feel that at this tremendous mo- 
ment in America's history the Chief Executive did not 
quite fulfill expectation. Bothered by private matters his 
debts, the proper care of Mount Vernon during his ab- 


sence, the furnishing of his house in New York, points of 
protocol, the need to vindicate himself against the charge 
(which no one was making) that he had been false to 
his previous pledges of retirement all these made him 
appear a trifle wooden. At least, they did in the eyes of 
such a witness as William Maclay, a caustic and irreverent 
senator from Pennsylvania. Half awed and half derisive, 
Maclay noted of Washington's inaugural address: 

This great man was agitated and embarrassed more 
than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed mus- 
ket. He trembled, and several times could scarce make 
out to read, though it must be supposed he had often 
read it before. 

His gestures were maladroit, Maclay said; and his cos- 
tume could also have been thought odd, since Washington 
wore a worsted suit of American manufacture together 
with the dress sword and white silk stockings of European 
court ceremony. Nor was there anything particularly mem- 
orable in the actual text of his address. It was ponderous, 
official; satisfactory, but not overwhelming. 

Yet, unlike Maclay, most of the crowd who saw Wash- 
ington inaugurated that April day were deeply stirred. If 
he was a little awkward, they forgave him and even 
trusted him the more. Washington was to discover what 
he no doubt already suspected: that his unique standing 
in the nation was a priceless asset. Other elements were 
on his side. He was not an expert on finance, or a nimble 
political tactician, or a constitutional -theorist, or a diplo- 
matist acquainted at firsthand with foreign affairs. But as 
commander in chief and as president of the Constitutional 


Convention he had gained some familiarity with these and 
other aspects of government, not to mention what he had 
learned in earlier days at Williamsburg and elsewhere. 
Whatever he might lack in the higher arts of polity, he 
was an honest, canny and methodical administrator. Thus, 
he had been deluged with requests from men seeking ap- 
pointments under the new government. With his usual 
blunt good sense he had refused to commit himself to any 
of them. He came to New York with a heavy heart but 
with clean hands. 

Fortunately, no immediate crisis threatened in the 
summer of 1789. Congress was slow to assemble and oc- 
cupied itself for a while mainly with minor problems of 
procedure and so on. All was not sweetness and light in 
Congress. The prolonged squabbles over the site for the 
permanent seat of the federal government revealed that 
sectional jealousies were still very much alive; and there 
were signs of more fundamental dissension. Even so, Con- 
gress and the nation as a whole accepted the new Con- 
stitution with remarkably little fuss. The necessary amend- 
ments to form a Bill of Rights were drawn up, submitted 
to the states and ratified without much trouble. North 
Carolina and Rhode Island thereupon both entered the 
Union. A Judiciary Act, to fill out the constitutional pro- 
vision for a federal court system, was also passed in 1789. 
Within a few months of Washington's inauguration, the 
document conceived at Philadelphia was taking on a life 
of its own. It was being accepted without demur as the 
given frame of reference. Indeed, while Washington was 
venerated as one symbol of American union, the Consti- 
tution was likewise assuming an almost sacred character 


as a second and more permanent symbol of that union. 
Much as Americans respected George Washington, even 
more did they respect the notion of representative govern- 
ment. They interpreted the notion in different ways. The 
debates in Congress were rancorous at times and petty at 
others. But they were carried on within the frame of ref- 
erence the parliamentary frame, in which Americans 
were at home through long experience. The Constitution 
was workable because a majority of Americans wished it 
to work. Without that vital element of habitual skill and 
harmony, all of Washington's labors and exhortations 
would have been in vain. 

His way was made easier also in that the new gov- 
ernment in 1789 inherited tangible features of the old 
one; there was a degree of continuity in actual institutions. 
The President benefited in personal terms by being able 
to add William Jackson, the former secretary of the Con- 
tinental Congress, to his own small group of secretaries 
Tobias Lear, David Humphreys and other knowledge- 
able, articulate men. More largely, he benefited from the 
survival of the old executive departments, some of whose 
heads had been closely associated with Washington in the 
past. Under the Constitution, the departments were men- 
tioned only obliquely. But Congress passed the neces- 
sary legislation to renew them and, after some argument, 
conceded that the President should have the right a cru- 
cial one to remove his executive officers as well as to ap- 
point them. 

He retained Henry Knox of Massachusetts, his former 
artillery chief, as Secretary of War. John Jay of New 
York, who had been Secretary of Foreign Affairs since 


1784, became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court 
In Jay's place, at the head of the redesignated Depart- 
ment of State, Washington put his brilliant Virginia friend 
Thomas Jefferson. Another Virginian, Edmund Randolph 
(who had in the meantime overcome his scruples with re- 
gard to the Constitution), was given office as Attorney 
General. As for the Treasury, which ranked in importance 
with the State Department, this had recently been admin- 
istered by a small committee. Washington, instead, en- 
trusted it to one man, Alexander Hamilton of New York, 
who, though still in his early thirties, had already made 
his mark as soldier, lawyer and theorist. Finally, the postal 
organization that Benjamin Franklin had once directed 
was given to Postmaster General Samuel Osgood, a former 
member of the Treasury board. All prominent men, all 
more or less familiar with their new functions. Indeed, 
New York was thronged with men who had contributed 
to American independence and union in one way or an- 
other. James Madison, for example, though kept out of 
the Senate by opposition in Virginia, was a leading figure 
in the House of Representatives. 

So far, Washington was merely implementing legisla- 
tion contrived in Congress to amplify what was already 
sketched in the Constitution. Many matters were still left 
in doubt. Among these was the precise nature of the Presi- 
dency. Washington and his contemporaries were in broad 
agreement that the Chief Executive should, while sharing 
certain powers and duties with the two branches of Con- 
gress, nevertheless stand somewhat aloof. In the Constitu- 
tional Convention, Franklin spoke against a salary for the 
President, on the grounds that (as British politics dread- 


fully revealed) a "Post of Honour*' that was also a "Place 
of Profit" was calculated to bring out the worst excesses of 
ambition and avarice. Washington had taken no salary, 
but merely his expenses, while commander in chief; and 
now in his inaugural address he proposed the same rule. 
He might well have ruined himself if the suggestion had 
been adopted. Happily for himself and his successors, 
Congress fixed the President's annual salary at $25,000. 
For 1789 it was a most substantial income, lifting him far 
above the Secretary of State and Treasury Secretary with 
their $3500 apiece, or above members of Congress with 
their six dollars a day. 

He was expected, then, to maintain a fairly high style. 
But (in the words of the old riddle) how high was high? 
There was no perfect answer. To live in splendor was to 
risk the hostility of men like Maclay, who were still sus- 
picious that some Americans hankered after monarchy; 
to practice undue economy was to expose the Presidency 
to contempt. Washington's compromise pleased most of 
his countrymen. It was the compromise implicit in his in- 
augural costume, when he wore the apparel of a. gentle- 
man who was nevertheless unmistakably an American 
gentleman. Dignity and common sense were his guides. 
What should his title be? John Adams, presiding over the 
Senate, made himself a little ridiculous by insisting on 
kingly designations. "His Highness, the President of the 
United States of America, and Protector of their Liberties" 
was the formula suggested by the Senate. The House, how- 
ever, wanted the plain title "President of the United 
States"; and Washington (though he is often said to have 
preferred "His Mightiness, the President of the United 


States") had the wisdom to let the argument die a natural 
death, until by general usage he was simply "Mr. Presi- 

Common sense, too, determined his policy on entertain- 
ing and on public visits. At Mount Vernon he had kept 
open house. That was impossible in New York; so, tak- 
ing advice beforehand, he established a system of weekly 
levees, at which formal calls could be paid, and of dinner 
parties (usually in the late afternoon, when the levee 
ended). He accepted no private invitations, though in- 
dulging his fondness for plays he frequently relaxed 
among guests at the theater. Taking advice again, he de- 
cided to travel in different parts of the Union. And again 
he sought a balance; if he toured New England in 1789, he 
paid his respects to the Southern states two years later. 

Perhaps it was all a little on the stiff side. Certainly 
this could be said of his relations with Congress. Both 
were on their best behavior; and best behavior is not easy 
behavior. His addresses produced formal replies, which in 
turn brought forth replies to the replies. One result, un- 
foreseen by the Founding Fathers, was that the President 
and the Senate drew apart. Perhaps it was inevitable, since 
all branches of the new government were so tensely aware 
of their own privileges and of the precedents that were 
being created at every step. But some coldness and be- 
wilderment were caused. Instead of becoming his inner 
council, the Senate maintained its distance from Washing- 
ton. Only once did he come to the Senate in person, to 
confer on foreign policy an area in which the Executive 
and Senate were supposed to share responsibility. The oc- 
casion was dismally unsuccessful. If Maclay is to be be- 


lievedr Washington was haughty and impatient, and de- 
parted irritably when the Senate was unwilling to give 
immediate assent to his wishes. 

However, even Maclay admits that xvhen Washington 
came back after the adjournment, he seemed perfectly 
good-humored. If he never repeated the experiment, 
neither did he persist in what might have been a disastrous 
relationship. In any case, Washington was not short of ad- 
vice. During the first years his closest ties were with James 
Madison. Madison came to see him, prepared papers for 
him and gave constitutional opinions. When Washington 
planned to retire at the end of his first term, it was Madi- 
son who in 1792 wrote the initial draft of what was to 
emerge four years afterward as the celebrated Farewell 
Address. He leaned heavily, too, upon Alexander Hamil- 
ton and somewhat less upon John Jay and Vice-Presi- 
dent Adams. Gradually he came to rely more and more 
on the heads of the executive departments. It was an un- 
planned process, for no one had envisaged the President 
as Prime Minister. Yet, in effect, by the end of Washing- 
ton's first administration, he was equipped with a "cabinet." 
The word was in use, and the idea in embryonic being. 

By then, also unplanned, Washington was confronted 
by something like a party system. Indeed, he was the cen- 
ter of acute antagonisms, so that for example he -and 
Madison fell almost completely out of step with one an- 
other. Madison, in his prescient way, had realized that 
"the spirit of party and faction'* was bound to exist in any 
civilized nation, and that the reconciliation of such inter- 
est groups would, inevitably, be among the tasks of Con- 
gress and the Chief Executive. Washington too had recog- 


nized, before he became President, that in addition to 
the usual provincial rivalries the country was seriously 
divided over the new Constitution. He thought it quite 
likely that the Anti-Federalists would vote against him in 
the electoral college. 

Washington and many others with him were dismayed 
to find that the adoption of the Constitution focused argu- 
ment rather than ended it. In general, those who had 
actively supported the Constitution in 1787-1788 were 
ranged against those who had had misgivings. They con- 
tinued to call themselves Federalists and Anti-Federal- 
ists, and to quarrel noisily over the desired shape of their 
infant nation. There was no neat division. Some men, 
such as Madison and Randolph, changed their minds. 
Differences of opinion were met within the same family; 
Fisher Ames of Massachusetts, the Federalists' most elo- 
quent champion in the House of Representatives, had no 
fiercer enemy than his own brother Nathaniel, who even 
refused to attend Fisher's funeral some years later al- 
leging that it was being staged as a piece of Federalist 
propaganda. Roughly, though, the Federalists (the "prig- 
archy," in Nathaniel Ames's view) were men of sub- 
stance: merchants, lawyers and the like, Easterners, for 
the most part. Their opponents ("mobocrats," as against 
"monocrats," in the terminology of the time) were in 
opposition for various reasons. Some still disliked the idea 
of a strong national government, or even the principle 
of administrative authority. Government, for them as for 
Tom Paine, was "the lost badge of innocence." Others, 
especially in the West and South, objected to the Federal- 
ists as a clique of selfish businessmen. 


The struggle that resulted was, for at least four reasons, 
intensely distasteful and disturbing to Washington. First, 
it pained him that the stability of the Union should be 
threatened at all. Second, the battle was fought within 
his own, executive branch of the government. Third, it 
extended to the field of foreign policy. Fourth, it directly 
involved his own reputation. 

When Washington took office in 1789, he believed not 
out of arrogance but because so many Americans had told 
him so that he was needed at the helm. Or, if we must 
use a nautical metaphor, it is better to say that he was 
needed on the bridge. America's primary requirement, as 
he saw it, was confidence. Crescit eundo She grows as 
she goes could well have been the Union's official motto. 
In the words of his Farewell Address, "time and habit are 
at least as necessary to fix the true character of govern- 
ment as of other human institutions/' Let the Union be 
set on the right lines and all else would follow. Let 
there be a small navy and army, and a suitable militia 
organization to keep the peace; let the revenues be col- 
lected, the laws obeyed, native pride encouraged; let things 
run in their own fashion thereafter. This was his phi- 
losophy. America and the Union were potentially sound, 
potentially great. It was not a doctrine that he expressed 
lyrically or analyzed with much subtlety. But he was not 
whistling to keep his spirits up. It was an article of faith, 
something that he felt. 

This being so, Washington as far as legislation was 
concerned acted as Chief Magistrate rather than as 
Chief Executive. Alexander Hamilton, his Treasury Secre- 
tary, was much more positive. To Hamilton the Constitu- 


tion was "a fabric which can hardly be stationary, and 
which will retrograde if it cannot be made to advance." 
It was, he argued, quoting Demosthenes, the duty of a 
statesman to "march at the head of affairs" and "produce 
the event." Confidence, then, was something to be con- 
trived, nurtured in fact, created. And by "a statesman" 
Hamilton meant himself. 

Hamilton is one of the most fascinating figures in 
American history. If Washington puzzles us because he 
seems too good to be true, the mystery of Hamilton is by 
contrast that of an amazingly diverse and inconsistent 
personality. By turns devoted and self-seeking, meticulous 
and slovenly, shrewd and reckless, cynical and righteous, 
practical and visionary, he would have been a handful for 
any President in any period. At a time when the details of 
government were still unsettled, this supremely confident 
and extraordinarily able young man threatened to domi- 
nate the executive and to emerge as a kind of Prime Min- 
ister, with Washington as a kind of limited constitutional 

Ambitions aside, Hamilton had some grounds for de- 
fining his position thus. In contemporary Britain (whose 
affairs he studied closely and whose constitution he re- 
vered), William Pitt, even more youthful than Hamilton, 
was both Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer. 
Some regulation of American finances was in any case es- 
sential; Hamilton's plans were therefore bound to figure 
prominently in Washington's first administration. More- 
over, Hamilton's appointment was worded so as to suggest 
that, among the executive heads, he might have a special 
function as an intermediary between President and Con- 


gress. Finally, the other chief executive head, Thomas 
Jefferson, did not take office until six months after Hamil- 
ton six vital months during which Hamilton's advice 
was constantly sought on all major problems, including 
foreign policy, and unfailingly given. 

The consequences were almost catastrophic, since Jef- 
ferson and Hamilton were soon at loggerheads. It is pos- 
sible to overstress the Hamiltonian-Jeffersonian polarity 
as a fundamental division in the story of America. The 
ideological gulf between them was less extreme than 
that of many other episodes in history. Yet there is no 
denying the sharpness of their conflict or the tumult of 
American faction that they typified. As great a figure as 
Hamilton, perhaps even greater, Thomas Jefferson was 
less pugnacious. Unlike Hamilton, he hated to become 
personally involved in controversy and had little of Ham- 
ilton's passion to be at the top; the high dangerous places 
did not beckon him. Hamilton had led troops in battle 
(storming a redoubt at Yorktown) and was eager to risk 
his hand again (incidentally, he could not resist doing the 
Secretary of War's job, when he got the chance, as well 
as his own and the Secretary of State's). Jefferson had 
never been a soldier and made no pretense of martial 

Nevertheless, the two men clashed, angrily and often. 
Jefferson was well enough pleased with the Constitution, 
once the Bill of Rights was incorporated in it. But, in 
the eyes of Jefferson, Madison and many others, Hamil- 
ton's policies were ultra-Federalist, viciously so. These pol- 
icies were sanctioned by Washington; most of them were 
adopted; and they now seem such commonplaces of Amer- 


ica's heritage that it takes an imaginative effort to see why 
they stirred up so much protest. 

The main reason is, of course, that Hamilton's proposals 
appealed strongly to the conservative and mercantile ele- 
ments in the Union and were correspondingly antipathetic 
to other, radical and agrarian groups. It was difficult in 
the circumstances to arrive at any compromise; one set 
of interests or the other was bound to be dissatisfied. The 
initial problem, which Hamilton tackled in 1790, was that 
of America's debts. These, which had been incurred dur- 
ing the Revolutionary War, amounted to about eighty 
million dollars, of which twenty-five million were owed by 
individual states. Hamilton proposed to honor them in full, 
though the paper securities which represented the various 
debts were greatly depreciated. He proposed, that is, to 
fund the national debt at face value and to assume the 
state debts as a national liability, almost at par. Hamilton 
won the debate, basing his case on national honor and 
national confidence both arguments that seemed sound 
to Washington. The arguments against funding and as- 
sumption were varied; but perhaps the most heated was 
that of Hamilton's scheme to enrich the speculator: the 
usual holder of paper securities was not the original owner, 
who had bought them for patriotic reasons and sold them 
through necessity at a discount, but the crafty Easterner 
who was thereby subsidized by the Federal Government. 
Hamilton himself was well aware of the process, but 
he saw its implications in a different light. His measures 
would (he rightly predicted) "cement" the Union by 
attaching to it every group that acquired a financial stake 
in its well-being. 


As Hamilton's plans unfolded, Jefferson became the 
more enraged, because he had been persuaded to support 
funding and assumption and bring his influence to bear 
in Congress by a compromise that had nothing to do 
with finance. Hamilton, he felt, had tricked him in a piece 
of horse trading. By it, Hamilton's Northern friends in 
Congress voted with the Southerners on the vexed issue 
of the national capital. With these votes the South was 
able, so to speak, to pull the projected site down as far 
as the Potomac instead of merely to Philadelphia, where 
Congress was to move until 1800, when it was expected 
that the new "Federal City" would be ready for occupa- 
tion. True, this was a concession to the South and, 
moreover, a source of quiet pleasure to Washington, 
whose home would be only a few miles away along the 
river. But it seemed an empty victory to set against Ham- 
ilton's Federalist molding of the Constitution. 

Early in 1791 the Treasury Secretary and the Secretary 
of State clashed violently in front of the President. Hamil- 
ton wished to establish a national bank, under govern- 
mental auspices, and had reported so to the House of Rep- 
resentatives in one of his masterly documents. The meas- 
ure aroused such an outcry that Washington asked his 
executive heads to submit their written opinions, not as to 
whether a national bank would be desirable but whether 
it would be constitutional. Hamilton naturally answered, 
again in masterly fashion, that it was. Jefferson, with equal 
brilliance, contended that the Constitution could not be 
stretched so far. What should Washington do? The two 
opinions were diametrically opposed. Neither seemed to 
him entirely tenable. Yet, since Congress had passed .the 


bill, it remained to him only to sign or veto. As it was 
Hamilton's brain child, not Jefferson's, he decided to sign. 
Soon afterward he approved an excise bill that Hamil- 
ton had likewise recommended, in order to augment the 
separate revenues derived from import duties. The ex- 
cise was to be levied on distilled liquor, which formed 
the main livelihood for many "Western farmers. Hence 
another division of opinion. 

Funding, assumption, a national bank, the excise tax: 
all seemed to Madison and Jefferson to prove that Hamil- 
ton was in power and would corrupt America if he con- 
tinued to win. Gone would be the prospect of a tranquil 
land of enlightened agrarians. Instead, the "monocrats" 
would consolidate their hold and turn America into a 
plausible imitation of Europe. Congress would be packed 
with placemen; and i the poison spread, America would 
revert to hereditary dynastic rule. The remedy, if any, 
was to combat Hamilton. Jefferson was reluctant to take 
the lead; like Washington, he longed to be a private citi- 
zen again in his native Virginia. But events had a mo- 
mentum o their own. Little by little, Jefferson, Madison 
and a few associates emerged as the spokesmen of those 
Americans who thought of themselves as Anti-Federalists. 
As their loose and somewhat accidental coalition became 
more self-aware, it adopted a new name: its members 
called themselves Democratic-Republicans, or Republicans 
for short. 

One symptom of the growing rift was the establishment 
in October 1791 of a Republican paper, the National 
Gazette. While not the first newspaper to attack the Fed- 
eralists, it was the first to offer an effective in fact, a 


devastating challenge at the national level to the Feder- 
alist Gazette of the United States, which had come into 
existence with the new government in 1789, under the ed- 
itorship of John Fenno, and which unfailingly supported 
Hamilton. Fenno's rival editor, the poet Philip Freneau, 
was a college friend of Madison, and an ardent Repub- 
lican. A much more enterprising journalist than Fenno, he 
was also employed as a part-time translator in the De- 
partment of State. Since Freneau was getting the better 
of the argument in 1792, Hamilton (writing for Fenno 
under a variety of pen names) accused the poet of being 
Jefferson's lackey. Freneau countered with equal ferocity. 

To a later generation the situation may seem fantastic. 
Washington's two most important cabinet members were 
engaged, by clandestine means that deceived nobody, in 
a bitter and fundamental quarreL The other executive 
heads were tending to take sides, Knox with Hamilton and 
Randolph with his fellow Virginian Jefferson. Hamilton 
was still actively (if secretly) concerning himself with 
foreign affairs. Nor were clear lines drawn in other direc- 
tions. Hamilton took over the postmaster-general's organi- 
zation, which would have been more suitably entrusted 
to the Department of State; and the new federal mint, 
which ought logically to have been put under the Treas- 
ury, was instead put under Jefferson. Was it all muddle 
and antagonism? 

Not at the time, as Washington's age saw it. The "cabi- 
net" had as yet little coherence; nor had the alignment 
of "parties." Only in a rough and undefined sense were 
the programs of the executive heads taken to be those of 
the President himself, still less of a unanimous Administra- 


tion. Both Hamilton and Jefferson respected the President 
and believed they were loyal to him and to their different 
ideas of the Union. In his presence they did not squabble. 
Their grievances were directed at one another, not at 
Washington; and each, it must be said, admired the other 
while distrusting him. Though there was a feud, there 
was not a hopeless crisis. If Washington was a somewhat 
remote figure who did not actively devise and promote 
legislation, he was not a fool or a weakling. During his 
first term no one seriously accused him of being Hamil- 
ton's dupe. He had known Hamilton intimately for four 
years in the Revolutionary War, when Hamilton was an 
aide-de-camp. He had heard Hamilton's conservative views 
on government expressed at the Philadelphia convention in 
1787. He had had ample opportunity to read what Freneau 
and others thought of Hamilton's "system." No doubt he 
was deeply impressed by the young man's intellectual abil- 
ity. Perhaps he knew from wartime conversations with his 
aide that even as far back as 1776 Hamilton was already 
fascinated by problems of finance and trade. No doubt, 
also, he realized the flaws in Hamilton's temperament 
a knowledge he must have gained at least as early as 
1781, when Hamilton, after an imagined slight, withdrew 
from Washington's headquarters in a fit of pique. 

Nevertheless, 1792 was an uneasy year for the Presi- 
dent. Until the summer, he fully intended to retire from 
an office that he had not enjoyed. He had suffered two 
serious illnesses a tumor on the thigh in 1789 and a 
bout of pneumonia in 1790; and in his letters we find 
several references to his weakening powers of meimory. 
He was aging, and Mount Vernon seemed increasingly 


dear to him, as Monticello did to Jefferson. He managed to 
live there when Congress was not in session, and when 
away, sent long, minutely specific instructions to his over- 

Was retirement feasible? The Union was prospering, 
despite perpetual troubles with the Indians along the fron- 
tier. But Federalist-Republican controversy was spreading, 
not diminishing. In a confidential talk, Madison urged 
Washington not to abandon the Presidency; no other fig- 
ure not even Madison's close friend Jefferson could 
preserve unity. John Adams, the Vice-President, was sus- 
pect as a Federalist, a snob and a New Englander. John 
Jay, though he had fewer enemies, was also too much of 
a Federalist. Hamilton was out of the queston, as the 
Arch-Federalist. Though Madison did not mention him- 
self, he likewise, as a prominent Republican, was out of 
the running. Only Washington would do. 

It was a disagreeable reflection. We cannot tell at what 
point Washington finally resigned himself to his fate. Pos- 
sibly he clung to the notion that some candidate could 
be found, if only he could heal the breach between Hamil- 
ton and Jefferson. At any rate he took pains to clarify 
the situation. Jefferson supplied him with a list of no fewer 
than twenty-one charges against Hamilton, "the corrupt 
squadron of paper dealers" and Federalist tendencies in 
general ("The ultimate object of all this is to prepare the 
way for a change, from the present republican form of 
Government, to that of a monarchy; of which the British 
Constitution is to be the model"). Washington copied the 
items out and passed them on to Hamilton, without men- 
tion of Jefferson, implying that they were a summary of 


criticisms that had reached him from various sources. In 
due course Hamilton replied, angrily, eloquently and cir- 
cumstantially, denying every one of the charges. 

Washington persevered, urging both men in tactful lan- 
guage to sink their differences for the common good. Their 
answers were disappointingly truculent. Jefferson reiterated 
his previous charges and added fresh ones. Hamilton laid 
all the blame on Jefferson and would not undertake to drop 
his campaign against the Republicans. There was noth- 
ing much that Washington could do further, except renew 
his appeal for a spirit of mutual tolerance and persuade 
Jefferson not to retire from the Secretaryship of State. He 
did not wish to lose the services of either, for they were 
men of rare ability whose advice was almost indispensable 
to him. He may also have realized that out of office they 
would be equally active and more reckless. 

And perhaps it occurred to Washington that, in office, 
they balanced one another to some extent. A "cabinet" 
without Jefferson would encourage Hamilton to spread 
himself. It would give color to the argument that a mon- 
archy was in the making. Washington did not take this 
argument seriously. He had been a little shocked, and 
possibly bewildered, when a group of officers had hinted 
to him in 1783 that with their aid he could become King 
of the United States; there is little to suggest, though, 
that he believed such a scheme conceivable, in terms of 
himself or of any other American. Unlike Jefferson, he 
appears to have seen no harm in the fact that under the 
Constitution a President could in theory be re-elected 
several times. Yet if there were suspicions of monarchy, 
he was ready to allay them. As for a "cabinet" without 


Hamilton, this might encourage the Republicans to undo 
what Washington regarded as a Hamiltonian system of 
proven merit. Moreover, if a sectional and occupational 
bias could be attributed to Hamilton, the same could be 
said of Jefferson, who had declared his determination to 
uphold the South. 

In short, Washington must retain his executive chiefs, 
and he must remain President (it was quite obvious that 
the electors would choose him in 1792, unless he begged 
them not to). If he needed the two factions to cancel one 
another out, he might have derived an ironical satisfaction 
from the thought that they needed him. Both Jefferson 
and Hamilton (as well as Randolph, Madison and others 
close to him) implored Washington to do his duty by the 
nation. Once more he was committed, and John Adams 
with him, to four years of lonely grandeur one might 
almost say of penal servitude, so bleak was the prospect. 
He would uphold the Constitution at the expense of his 
own constitution. Must the road lead always away from 
Mount Vernon? 

Second Administration: 1793-1797 

WHETHER OR NOT Washington guessed it, his second 
administration was to expose him to more criticism than 
he had suffered in his entire life, He had already, as Presi- 
dent, been perturbed by faction in the country as a whole 
and faction within the government in particular. Now, as 
grave issues of foreign policy divided the nation, the dis- 
cord was to become strident. 

Not long after Washington's first inauguration in 1789, 


revolution broke out in France. In the autumn of 1792, 
while Washington was endeavoring to reconcile Hamilton 
and Jefferson, France proclaimed herself a republic. She 
had, in the eyes of sympathetic Americans, followed the 
example set by the United States though with certain 
regrettable excesses; France's Declaration of the Rights 
of Man was lineally descended from Jefferson's Declara- 
tion of Independence; America was no longer the only 
democratic republic in the world. But a few weeks before 
Washington's second inauguration in March 1793, the 
French sent their former king, Louis XVI, to the guillotine 
and added Britain to the list of countries with which they 
were at war. 

Here indeed was a crisis for infant America. She has 
never found neutrality easy to maintain; in fact, it has 
throughout her history proved almost impossible in the 
case of major European conflicts. In 1793 the situation 
was extraordinarily tense and delicate. On the one hand, 
France was America's late ally. Gratitude for Yorktown 
prompted the thought that the New World should rally 
to the republican cause in the Old. So did more precise 
obligations, since the United States was still bound to 
France by a treaty of alliance. Confronted by the spec- 
tacle of tyrannical Britain, her late enemy, at grips 
with egalitarian France, how could she fail to show 
her preference? 

On the other hand, America had even more intimate 
ties with Britain. Until the War of Independence, the 
colonies, like the mother country, regarded France as the 
hereditary enemy. The winning of independence did not 
mean the severing of all connections with Britain. To 


many Americans (Hamilton prominent among them) the 
land of George III and William Pitt was still, with all her 
faults, a near relation. The bulk of American overseas 
trade was with the British Empire; if it were suspended, 
Hamilton's revenue system would collapse. Again, repub- 
licanism in America was a different proposition from re- 
publicanism in Europe, where it was ushered in by bloody 
revolution. American Tories were merely tarred and feath- 
ered; French aristcs, like their king, perished on the scaf- 
fold. For a while Washington's dear friend Lafayette was 
among the leaders in France, until he fell into disgrace 
in 1792 and lay for four years in the dubious sanctuary 
of an Austrian jail. At that, he was luckier than most of 
his comrades. 

America's obvious course, as Washington saw it and as 
even his quarreling advisers agreed at the outset, was to 
remain neutral; and this was the policy he promptly an- 
nounced in a proclamation. As a polite concession to 
French opinion (and to Jefferson, who urged the point) he 
did not actually use the word "neutrality" in the docu- 
ment. He signified approval of the new French govern- 
ment by preparing to receive its minister, Citizen Genet. 
So much was clear and precise; then for a while every- 
thing in America appeared to be an angry chaos. For if 
America was officially neutral, individual Americans were 
not. They had tended to take sides from the very out- 
break of the French Revolution; now their enthusiasms 
were inflamed to an astonishing degree. "Gallomen" made 
Tom Paine's Rights of Man their Bible, damned aristoc- 
racy and hurrahed for liberty, formed themselves into 
Democratic clubs and gave Genet a tremendous welcome 


when he arrived on the scene. "Anglomen" watched in 
horror, and denounced their opponents as subversive 

Even at a distance of a century and a half it is hard for 
us to see these events in perspective, or properly estimate 
Washington's part in them. To all but the extreme Fed- 
eralists, he was both a hero and an emblem: the prestige 
of his name was their ultimate appeal in all argument. To 
all but moderate Republicans he became something of a 
tarnished warrior, the embodiment willingly or unwill- 
ingly of Federalist schemes and machinations. In 1793, 
for the first time in his long career, Washington was the 
target of sustained and open criticism. "God save great 
Washington/' Americans had sung in 1789 (to the tune of 
"God save our Gracious King"). In 1793 they were re- 
minding one another in Republican newspapers that he 
was no demigod, but a fallible mortal who had sur- 
rounded himself with "court satellites" and "mushroom 
lordlings." Two years later a Philadelphia journalist called 
Washington "a man in his political dotage" and "a super- 
cilious tyrant." "If ever a nation was debauched by a 
man," the same journalist remarked at the end of 1796, 
"the American Nation has been debauched by Washing- 

The bulk of contemporary comment was more respect- 
ful in tone. Yet these examples are a gauge of the passions 
of the era. The Republicans felt that the Chief Magistrate 
was being transformed into a party chieftain, and that un- 
der the guise of disinterested patriotism the Federalists 
were playing into the hands of the British. They admitted 
that France's conduct was puzzling, and even reprehen- 


sible; Genet, for example, behaved so wildly that Jefferson 
was forced to concur with Washington in demanding his 
withdrawal. But they nevertheless preferred France to 
Britain, as they preferred the future to the past. They saw 
America cold to her true friend and deferential to her real 
enemy. With rage they heard in 1794 that Washington 
was sending John Jay, a known Federalist and Anglophile, 
to London to negotiate a settlement of outstanding differ- 
ences. Their worst suspicions were confirmed in March 
i?95> when details of the treaty he had signed reached 

Instead of asserting America's rights, he seemed to have 
given way meekly. True, the British pledged themselves 
to evacuate the various western posts on American soil that 
they still held, and from which they were stirring up the 
Indians. But this was the only notable concession; and 
after all, the British were only undertaking to carry out a 
promise made more than ten years before. Otherwise the 
concessions seemed to be on the American side. And sev- 
eral vital matters were deferred for future negotiation. The 
Anglomen were selling America's birthright; Jay was a 
traitor (they burned him in effigy); Federalists were vil- 
lains; Washington was a "political hypocrite/' not the Fa- 
ther but the "Step-Father" of His Country. Wrangling over 
Jay's Treaty went on through 1795 and part of 1796, long 
after the Senate ratified and Washington signed the docu- 
ment. In vain the treaty came into effect and Jay was up- 
held. By contrast, the American envoy to France, James 
Monroe, a Virginian and a Republican, was recalled in 
disgrace by Washington in 1796, apparently for failure in 
the impossible task of convincing the French that Jay's 


Treaty was an American rather than a Federalist measure. 

Such was the Republican view of foreign policy in 
Washington's second administration. At home they de- 
tected other evidence of Federalist malice. Hamilton's 
"odious" excise law (as Jefferson called it) provoked so 
much indignation that in 1792 Washington tried to rein- 
force it in a severely worded proclamation. Two years 
later, persuaded by Hamilton that the "whiskey rebels" of 
western Pennsylvania were threatening the safety of the 
Union, he called out a large militia force and sent it to the 
scene of the trouble, after inspecting the troops at their 
rendezvous. There was no fighting because according to 
the Republicans there was no real rebellion, only a 
phantom conjured up by Hamilton for his own purposes. A 
hundred and fifty Pennsylvanians were arrested; two were 
condemned to death. Washington pardoned them, yet he 
seemed to be converted to Hamilton's views. The game, in 
Madison's opinion, was "to connect the Democratic Socie- 
ties with the odium of the insurrection to -connect the 
Republicans in Congress with those societies to put the 
President ostensibly at the head of the other party." Jeffer- 
son, a year earlier, had actually told the President that 
Hamilton's intention was "to dismount him from being the 
head of the nation and to make him the head of a party." 
When Washington went so far as to lay the blame for the 
rebellion on "certain self-created societies," in his annual 
address to Congress of November 1794, Madison thought 
he had made "perhaps the greatest error of his political 

So much for the Republican interpretation of events. 
What of Washington's standpoint? He was neither Anglo- 


man nor Galloman. This was a continuation of the war for 
independence, but must be fought without resort to war. 
The main threat to America's stability was external, for to 
a humiliating degree she still lacked an effective will of 
her own. America was not yet fully independent or ma- 
ture. Like the adolescent heroine of some melodrama, she 
was heiress to a fortune of which false guardians struggled 
to deprive her, either by forcing her into matrimony or 
if necessary by murder. 

Of the two self-appointed guardians France was the 
more dangerous. Britain was surly and contemptuous, 
flouting neutral rights in her typical style. But America 
could not afford to challenge Britain; the aim was to pre- 
serve trading relations and improve them, to get the red- 
coats out of the western forts, to avoid close commitments 
and in general to play for time. Though Washington was 
disappointed in Jay's performance, he recognized that 
America held too weak a hand to achieve miracles. 

As for France, the menace was more subtle, and harder 
to combat. Washington's emphasis was on neutrality; the 
French stress was on friendly neutrality. They did not 
choose to invoke the existing treaty of alliance, because 
they expected to profit from the ambiguities of their 
link with the United States. They would get supplies. 
More important, they could employ America as a base 
for privateers and perhaps for imperial adventures in the 
Caribbean and the American hinterland. Genet had both 
possibilities actively in mind, and like his successors, he 
assumed that he could depend on revolutionary senti- 
ment in America to bolster him. If Washington and the 
Federalists stood in the way, France would appeal beyond 


them to the American people. In fact, by 1796 French 
agents in America were doing their best to ensure a Re- 
publican victory at the polls. 

Washington's problems were complicated by partisan 
intrigue. Hamilton with deliberate indiscretion confided 
in British diplomatic representatives, while the Republi- 
cans (though Jefferson himself was less at fault) tended to 
treat the French as full allies. Though Jefferson resigned 
from office at the end of 1793 and Hamilton at the begin- 
ning of 1795, their influence on national affairs continued 
to be felt. Hamilton in particular maintained his hold 
partly, it must be admitted, at Washington's invitation. He 
contrived, while running a law practice in New York, to 
remain as a sort of invisible cabinet member. Jefferson's 
successor as Secretary of State, Edmund Randolph, had to 
be dismissed in 1795 in peculiar circumstances. Rightly or 
wrongly, Washington thought him guilty of conspiring 
with the French minister against Jay's Treaty. 

However, despite intrigues, blandishments and frank 
abuse, Washington stuck to his policy. We must conclude 
that in the light of subsequent history a light, of course, 
denied him he was right, and that the extreme Republi- 
cans, at any rate, who would have pulled America into the 
French orbit, were wrong, even if for worthy motives. He 
was wise, he was courageous; if he now and then lost his 
temper, he did not lose his grip. Nor was his diplomacy en- 
tirely negative in its results. The meager gains of Jay were 
handsomely offset in Thomas Pinckney's treaty with Spain 
in 1795, by which at long last America won acceptance of 
the claim to free navigation of the Mississippi (whose out- 
let was in Spanish territory) and of the recognition of the 


Mississippi as her western boundary. An Indian treaty of 
the same year, following a decisive victory won by Gen- 
eral Anthony Wayne in what is now Ohio, brought addi- 
tional security to the northwestern frontier. "With me," 
Washington was to reiterate in his Farewell Address, "a 
predominant motive has been, to endeavor to gain time to 
our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, 
and to progress without interruption to that degree of 
strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it hu- 
manly speaking, the command of its own fortunes." 

Given these conditions, the country could not fail to 
forge ahead. Washington saw proofs of growth and pros- 
perity all around him. By the end of his second administra- 
tion three new states Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee 
had joined the Union, and others would follow. Turn- 
pike roads were under construction; coal deposits had 
been found in Pennsylvania; though progress was slow, the 
Potomac Company was still alive, as were other improve- 
ment schemes; and the Federal City (in which Washing- 
ton took a keen interest)' was being laid out, in a mingled 
atmosphere of grandeur and pettiness that may have set 
the tone of the place for ever afterward. 

For these accomplishments Washington is entitled to 
take much of the credit although he did not claim 
it since a less consistent foreign policy would have 
jeopardized them all. With the passage of Jay's Treaty 
the French became increasingly hostile, until the tension 
at home and abroad was almost unendurable. The Vice- 
President's son, John Quincy Adams, writing from Hol- 
land (where he was American minister), said at the end 
of 1795 that "if our neutrality be still preserved, it will 


be due to the President alone. Nothing but his weight 
of character and reputation, combined with his firmness 
and political intrepidity, could have stood against the 
torrent that is still tumbling with a fury that resounds 
even across the Atlantic." 

If we grant that Washington revealed fine powers of 
leadership in these years of crisis, is it true that he did so 
as leader of a political party the Federalists rather 
than as a dispassionate Chief Magistrate? We have noted 
that, in common with most of his contemporaries, he con- 
sidered parties as undesirable phenomena; that he saw the 
President as above politics; and that above all he wished 
to establish law and order in the Union. The vigor of Re- 
publican opposition was an unpleasant surprise, though 
he felt able to hold the balance so long as Republican at- 
tacks were concentrated upon Hamilton. But during his sec- 
ond administration, as political controversy grew and as he 
himself came under fire, Washington's opinions gradually 
hardened. "I think," said Jefferson, "he feels those things 
more than any other person I ever met with." Washington 
burst out, at a cabinet meeting in 1793, that Freneau was a 
"rascal" who ought to be stopped. Freneau's newspaper 
did cease publication later in the year, but other Republi- 
can sheets kept up the offensive. Resenting criticism, as al- 
ways, and believing with some reason that the Republicans 
were irresponsible and malevolent, Washington came at 
length to share the Federalist view that their opponents 
were not the other party, but simply "party," or "faction"; 
not the "opposition" who might one day justly inherit the 
reins of government, but opposition as sedition, conspiracy, 
Gallomania. Hence his too sweeping condemnation of the 


Democratic societies, most of which were harmless politi- 
cal clubs; hence his indignant comment in a letter of 1798 
that "you could as soon scrub the blackamore white, as to 
change the principles of a profest Democrat/' and that 
such a man "will leave nothing unattempted to overturn 
the Government of this Country." His final cabinet was en- 
tirely Federalist in composition. 

From this it was only a step a step that, nevertheless, 
he probably took unconsciously to acknowledging that 
he himself was a Federalist. In 1799, the last year of his 
life, when he had been out of office for two years, Wash- 
ington was urged to stand as a candidate in the presiden- 
tial election of 1800, on the grounds that the Union was in 
grave danger. He refused, explaining that "principle, not 
men, is now, and will be, the object of contention." Even if 
he put himself forward, "I should not draw a single vote 
from the Anti-federal side; and of course, should stand 
upon no stronger ground than any other Federal well sup- 
ported." He was not quite ready to concede that the Re- 
publicans were a legitimate group; yet from his letter as a 
whole ("any other Federal") we see that he was beginning 
to grasp the altered basis of American politics. 

If he had still been in office, he might not have been will- 
ing to label himself a Federalist; he might have main- 
tained that the President must still strive to stand aloof. 
Certainly no serious blame attaches to him; but on this is- 
sue he did not achieve the lofty and prescient calm that 
some biographers have acclaimed in him. Only by seeing 
the decade entirely through Washington's or through 
Federalist eyes can we agree that he justly formulated the 
political equation* 


The Last Retirement 

THESE ARE speculative matters. Whatever else is doubt- 
ful, though, there can be no doubt that Washington was 
profoundly glad to relinquish the Presidency. Many ex- 
pected him to accept a third term, and everyone knew 
that he could be re-elected with ease. Despite some hostile 
comment, he was still by far the most admired of Ameri- 
cans. But he had had enough more than enough. His suc- 
cessor, John Adams, while flattered by the honor, was un- 
der no illusion as to what lay ahead. "A solemn scene it 
was indeed," Adams wrote to his wife, describing the in- 
auguration in March 1797, "and it was made affecting to 
me by the presence of the General, whose countenance 
was as serene and unclouded as the day. He seemed to en- 
joy a triumph over me. Methought I heard him say, *Ay! I 
am fairly out and you fairly inl See which of us will be 
the happiest!' . . . In the chamber of the House of Repre- 
sentatives was a multitude as great as the space would 
contain, and I believe scarcely a dry eye but Washing- 
ton's." Washington had been deeply moved on other great 
occasions as when he said good-by to his officers at 
Fraunces* Tavern in 1783. No tears now; all that he noted 
in his diary, under the inaugural date, was, "Much such a 
day as yesterday in all respects. Mercury at 41." 

It was not that he handed over office in a sulk, but that 
nothing and no one could now convince him that he was 
indispensable to America. He "had just celebrated his 
sixty-fifth birthday (or rather, it had just been celebrated 
for him, at an "elegant entertainment" where twelve hun- 


dred Philadelphians squeezed in to applaud him) and did 
not expect to enjoy many more. The few years that were 
left he meant to spend at Mount Vernon. His adult life 
had been splendid; yet the passage of time and the demand 
of public service had consumed too much. Most of his old 
friends were dead. One of the Fairfaxes had come back to 
Virginia, but Belvoir was a ruin and Sally Fairfax had 
never returned from England. Lafayette was free again 
(Washington had sent funds to his wife, with habitual 
generosity), but an ocean away. There remained Mount 
Vernon and the cheerful companionship of Martha and 
some of their young relatives. 

If biography could be made as shapely as a good play, 
we could ring the curtain gently down on Washington, 
leaving him in white-haired tranquillity. His existence, 
however, was not cast in such a pattern. The curtain was 
always jerking up again, the music awakening suddenly 
from some lulling coda. So it was to be again with him in 
1798. In a way, it was his own fault. He would have been 
left alone if he had seemed senile. Instead, he appeared 
as vigorous as ever, whether in superintending his farms, 
in offering hospitality, or in dealing with correspondence. 
His letters, in fact, seem more pungent perhaps because 
he now felt more at liberty to speak his mind, whereas 
hitherto official caution had hedged him in. At any rate, he 
was summoned back into uniform in 1798. French conduct 
had grown so outrageous that she was virtually at war with 
the United States. At naval war, that is. America had no 
army, except for the tiny nucleus of regulars that Washing- 
ton had struggled to retain. He was now required to raise 
an army and assume command. The prospect made him 


groan. When Hamilton predicted that another summons 
to action would reach him, Washington replied that he 
would go "with as much reluctance from my present 
peaceful abode, as I should do to the tomb of my ances- 
tors/' He was displeased when President Adams nomi- 
nated him as commander in chief without previous con- 
sultation. He was worried, as before in his career, that op- 
ponents might interpret his return to authority as a piece 
of ambition or in view of his Farewell Address hy- 
pocrisy. But the obligation was not to be evaded. Brisk, 
sensible, conscientious, he set about the task. As before, the 
ubiquitous Alexander Hamilton was promptly on hand, ar- 
ranging things behind the scenes, securing for himself an 
appointment that would make him Washington's second- 
in-command. It was a hectic time, especially for poor John 
Adams. In his place, Washington would probably have 
come in for similar vilification. But we can be fairly sure 
that Washington would have avoided some of Adams's 
tactical blunders in the business of administration. A de- 
tailed comparison of his Presidency with Washington's 
would do much to bring out the solid, sober merit of the 

However, there was no war in 1798 or in 1799. Wash- 
ington's life resumed its normal tempo. The months wheel 
by in the jog-trot entries of his diary. Hot days, cool days, 
rain, snow. Surveying, riding, visitors, dinners, a baby 
daughter born to his niece Betty Lewis. Then the diary 
stops on December 13, with a note that the thermometer 
has dropped to a slight frost. Then, indeed, the curtain 
conies down with a rush. Washington has caught a chill; 
he has a sore throat; the doctors bleed him, bleed him 


again, to no avail. At ten in the evening of December 14 he 
is dead, without a climax (save for that invented post- 
humously by Parson Weems), without a memorable final 
utterance; in pain, a sacrifice to the well-meaning but bar- 
barous medical treatment of his day. 

With less primitive care he could have survived a few 
more years. He could have witnessed the removal of the 
federal government to Federal City (christened Washing- 
ton, B.C.), which would have pleased him, or the in- 
auguration of Thomas Jefferson in 1801, following a Re- 
publican victoiy that would not have pleased him. He 
could have read of the Louisiana Purchase, and of Hamil- 
ton's death in a duel a medley of bright news and dark 
news. But would he have wanted much more? His cen- 
tury was over, and he with it. Spenser's quiet lines fit his 
end better than many of the sonorous phrases that orators 
and scribes (including Freneau) were soon declaiming 
throughout the enormous, ramshackle, thriving Union: 

Sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas, 

Ease after warre, death after life does greatly please. 



George Washington had thanks and nought beside 
Except the all-cloudless glory (which few men's is) 
To free his country. 

BYRON, Don Juan, Canto IX 


HAVING PORED over the record and set down their 
impressions, most biographers of George Washington 
are still left with the uneasy sense that something has es- 
caped them. It is not that the record is fragmentary or con- 
tradictory. We know what Washington was doing at every 
period of his life, once he emerged from childhood. We 
can estimate with fair certainty what he was thinking on 
almost any given occasion. Perhaps we should have a 
slightly more intimate insight if the correspondence with 
his wife Martha had been preserved, or if J. P. Morgan 
had not thirty years ago fed a batch of allegedly "smutty" 
letters to the furnace. But one doubts whether these would 
materially have altered the picture. Some episodes in 
Washington's career notably during his Presidency 
have not yet been properly analyzed. Even so, the material 


for a full-length portrait is there, both in his own words 
and in abundant comment about him. 

Why, then, the enigma, the confession that George 
Washington has eluded us? Why, when all the lineaments 
seem so sharp, is the portrait so strangely opaque? There 
are two main reasons: the nature of his personality, and 
the vast shadow thrown by the Washington legend the 
Washington Monument. His personality baffles because it 
presents the mystery of no mystery. In examining the ca- 
reers of the great, we are accustomed to look for- and to 
find disguised clues or evidences of frailty. We can 
discern in some the passionate ambition of the parvenu, or 
the truculence common in men of small physique (both of 
these factors help to explain the behavior of a Napoleon or 
an Alexander Hamilton). Others are possessed by an 
ideological demon; they have heard voices, whose peremp- 
tory summons they follow to the death, if need be. In 
some the will to action springs from deeply secret sources 
(as, for instance, in the hidden homosexuality of the Brit- 
ish hero General Gordon). In most, the splendor is offset 
by a blemish promiscuity, avarice, vanity. Yet what dues 
do we need or can we detect to uncover Washington 
tall, handsome gentleman of middling views, modest, ab- 
stemious, culprit in nothing except perhaps an early and 
circumspect longing for Sally Fairfax? Was he, then, a 
mediocrity? The monument inhibits an answer. Each 
would-be impartial historian must either, it appears, sur- 
render to conventional piety or else descend to petty fault 
finding. It is not much consolation to reflect that the same 
awkward choice, between adulation and vandalism, faced 
Washington's contemporaries. 


Grappling with the problem, some biographers have 
solved it by denying that it exists; by stressing, that is, the 
"human" qualities of the man. Thus, to Bradley T. John- 
son "Washington was a man all over a man with strong 
appetites, fierce temper, positive, belligerent, and aggres- 
sive*'; Rupert Hughes maintains that Washington was ac- 
tually "one of the most eager, versatile, human men that 
ever lived"; to Saul K. Padover he is a "passionate, sensi- 
tive, earthy, deeply feeling human being"; and to Howard 
Swiggett, in a book entitled The Great Man: George 
Washington as a Human Being (1953), its hero is a com- 
pound of "magnetism and grandeur, cold fury and biting 
wit, goodness and charity, troubles and woe . . . believ- 
ing in dignity and decorum but able to laugh at or discard 
them." This is the approach that dwells on his reckless cour- 
age; or upon his eloquent swearing at Monmouth Court 
House, that day of intolerable heat and vexation when he 
is supposed to have called Charles Lee a "damned pol- 
troon"; or upon his popularity with women, his fondness 
for dancing and so on. 

The emphasis is not without value. It provides a useful 
corrective to the genuflections of early biographers like 
Marshall, Weems and Sparks. We can do without the 
absurder items in the Washington legend the cherry 
tree, the prayer at Valley Forge and the rest. It is espe- 
cially important in going behind the Washington of the 
Stuart portrait to the younger and far less eminent man, 
the vulnerable adolescent, the energetic surveyor, the busy 
colonel of Virginia militia, the planter in love with his 
new estates. 

In this part of his life, as Douglas Southall Freeman 


has shown, we can separate the man from the monu- 
ment and trace the development of his character. We 
can note how his family, though respectable, did not take 
rank with the grandees of the colony (we might say face- 
tiously that Washington was born not with a silver but 
with a silver-plated spoon in his mouth, and was soon de- 
prived of that by his father's death); how he had to shift 
for himself, with a measure of assistance from his relatives 
and from the powerful Fairfaxes; how his ambitions (and 
he was ambitious) were thus formed, then heightened by 
the prospect of a military career, then thwarted by his fail- 
ure to secure the patronage of British regulars (Braddock's 
death at the Monongahela may have been a serious set- 
back for Washington, whatever subsequent glory he 
gained from his own conduct in the defeat), then mel- 
lowed by a prosperous marriage; how he hence became 
both a gentleman of standing and a decently libertarian 
product of the Enlightenment, who when required to 
choose for or against the mother country was able to reach 
a decision by logical degrees and without undue anguish. 
We can see how he profited by the mistakes of immaturity, 
growing gradually in dignity and self-control. 

In each o us there are numerous buried selves from 
our past. His Virginia experiences xvere buried within 
George Washington, and it does not seem fanciful to argue 
that there always remained alive in him a vestige of early 
fire. Another young Virginian who also became President, 
Woodrow Wilson, told his fiancee in 1884, "It isn't pleasant 
or convenient to have strong passions. I have the uncom- 
fortable feeling that I am carrying a volcano about with 
me." Similar words might have been applied to young 


Washington, though, as with Wilson, the mature roan 
presented an austere front to the world. 

However, there is a latent error in stressing the "hu- 
man" side of Washington. We are likely to substitute for a 
nineteenth-century copybook version of the man a twen- 
tieth-century version which is equally misleading as a de- 
scription of a figure who was, after all, of the eighteenth 
century. Let us admit that Washington had the tastes of a 
squire of the more refined sort; that he liked food, wine 
and company, a game of cards, the theater, a race meet- 
ing, fox hunting; that he had a sense of humor, if a little 
on the heavy side; and that he had emotions which now 
and then were touched to the point of tears. Concede all 
this, and it still does not follow that Washington was any- 
thing like our current popular, Hollywood-and-historical- 
novel conception of an American hero. 

He was brave, but he was not a wildcat. He knew the 
frontier, and the advantages of dressing like a frontiers- 
man in the appropriate circumstances, but he was no 
Davy Crockett. In British eyes he was a rebel, yet never in 
his own. Nor did he think of himself as a revolutionary. 
When Lafayette sent him the key of the Bastille, to sym- 
bolize the overthrow of despotism, Washington responded 
merely with a polite acknowledgment and a token gift in 

Not for the value of the thing, my dear Marquis, but 
as a memorial, and because they are the manufacture of 
this city, I send you herewith a pair of shoe-buckles. 

A pair of shoe-buckles what inspired flatness! 
Washington was in some respects a plain, unassuming 
man; visitors to Mount Vernon remarked with surprise on 


the simplicity of the dress he wore when out on the farms. 
But, they also remarked, he changed for dinner. He was 
not an intellectual, but he was not impatient of intellect in 
others. If sometimes inelegantly phrased, his conversation 
and his letters were by no means couched in the idiom of 
the coonskin democrat. If he swore, he did so without 
gusto (there is, incidentally, no reliable foundation for the 
story that he let loose his tongue on Lee at Monmouth), 
to judge from the rare reports that have come down to us. 

He could be genial, but he did not whoop it up. In all 
his life, so far as we can tell, he had no bosom friend of 
his own age. Washington opened his heart to Lafayette 
there is a rare sprightliness in his correspondence with 
the Frenchman and he had a particularly fond regard 
for his young Carolinian staff officer, John Laurens, who 
was killed in the Revolutionary War; yet his relations 
with both were paternal, or at any rate avuncular. 

In contrast with ours, Washington's was a reticent era. 
Compare him, though, even with his contemporaries and 
the difference in manner is striking. If Washington is "pas- 
sionate, sensitive, earthy/' then Franklin, Jefferson, Madi- 
son and Hamilton not to mention a Patrick Henry or an 
Aaron Burr are rip-roarers and hellions. Listen to the 
verdict of foreign observers. A Dutchman who came to 
Mount Vernon in 1784 "had the desire to appreciate him" 
but concluded, "I could never be on familiar terms with 
the General a man so cold, so cautious, so obsequious." 
Another European who met Washington four years later 
said of him, "There seemed to me to skulk somewhat of a 
repulsive coldness, not congenial with my mind, under a 
courteous demeanour." In part fhis was shyness; with close 


icquaintances he was more at ease. But we can hardly ao 
:ept the notion of Washington as a glad-hander at any 
period of his career. Perhaps it is unfair to cite as typical 
:he fact that at the end of his life he approved o the 
irastic Alien and Sedition Acts in this, going far beyond 
Alexander Hamilton in the severity of his conservatism. 
Still, at a much earlier age, when he was about to retire 
from Virginia soldiering, it is apparent that to the officers 
of his regiment (some older than he) their young colonel 
was admired from a distance. They looked up to him, not 
sideways at him. Washington was no one's buddy; he was 
not "just folks." 

In short, to humanize Washington is to run the risk of 
falsifying of losing the essential truth of his personality. 
That his human qualities were overlaid by the marmoreal 
process of becoming a monument is undeniable. But these 
qualities lent themselves to the process; the real man and 
his legend have important elements in common. 

The Classical Code 

THE BRIEFEST WAY of expressing this is to say that both 
are classical, or, more specifically, Roman, in shape. It 
bores us to learn again and again from the shelves of 
Washingtoniana that the Virginia planter was a second 
Cincinnatus. Yet there i$ still vitality in the clich. Indeed, 
the more one examines it, the more apt the parallel appears. 
The English gentleman of the eighteenth century, at home 
or in a colony like Virginia, held what we might call dual 
citizenship. He was an Englishman; he was also an hon- 
orary Roman, He even looked like one; the firm, beardless 


but masculine faces of the eighteenth-century portraits 
often bear a striking resemblance to Roman portrait busts, 
and conversely the memorial statuary of the period 
harks straight back to the ancient world. Consider, for in- 
stance, some of the monuments in Westminster Abbey. In 
one by Roubillac to General Wade (1748) "the Goddess 
of Fame is preventing Time from destroying the General's 
trophies." In another by the same sculptor to Admiral Sir 
Peter Warren (1752) "Hercules places the bust of the 
Admiral on a pedestal, while Navigation looks on with 
mournful admiration." In a third monument to Admiral 
Watson (1757), designed by Scheemakers, "the Admiral 
in a toga is sitting in the centre holding a palm branch. On 
the right the town of Calcutta, on her knees, presents a 
petition." Consciously or unconsciously, the gentleman of 
Washington's day drew much of his metaphor and his 
code of values from Rome. Not all, but enough for us to 
catch from the Roman ambience an illuminating glimpse 
of Washington and his background. 

It is no accident that he frequently quoted from Addi- 
son's Cato, or that, casting about for a sentiment to in- 
scribe in the Fairfax guestbook at Belvoir, his elder brother 
Lawrence put down, "Virtus omnia pericula vincit" (Cour- 
age overcomes all dangers). Cato was one of the century's 
favorite plays. It may well have been in the mind of the 
young Connecticut hero, Nathan Hale, whom the British 
executed as a spy in 1776. At any rate, Hale's last utterance, 
"I only regret that I have but one life to give for my coun- 
try," echoes Addison's 

What pity is it 
That we can die but once to save our country! 


And virtus was one of the famous Roman virtues (and, in 
practice, a Virginian one). Gravitas, pietas, simplicitas, in- 
tegritas and gloria were other valued Roman qualities. 

As the virtue, so the environment. Rome was a martial 
civilization, always aware of the unrest along the frontiers, 
the bringer of law and imposer of order. Roman culture 
was a trifle hard and unsubtle, or at any rate rooted in 
reality rather than raptly poetic; religious feeling was mod- 
erate in tone, excess being deplored. Rome was a slave- 
holding society in which (outside the capital and the pro- 
vincial centers) the unit of neighborhood was a farm 
estate. It was a society that relied upon the family as the 
cohesive force. Affection, respect, loyalty spread outward 
from the family, which was thus the state in microcosm. 
This was a society that bred solid, right-thinking citizens, 
at once civic and acquisitive, men of a noble narrowness, 
seeing further than their noses but not agitating them- 
selves with vain speculation. Such are the implications 
of words like gravitas (seriousness), pietas (regard for 
discipline and authority), simplicitas (lucidity). 

For "Rome" here, may we not read "Virginia"? And 
were Washington's old-style biographers, or the admirers 
of his own generation, so wildly wrong when they said he 
was set in the antique mold, Cincinnatus reborn?* The 
broad picture of him as soldier, landowner, statesman all 

* It was not merely empty rhetoric that led old Daniel Webster, invok- 
ing the memory of Washington in face of threatened disunion (July 4, 
1851), to close with a fragmentary quotation from Roman oratory: Duo 
modo haec opto: unum, ut moriens populum liberum relinquam; hoc mihi 
mains a diis immortalibus dari nihil potest; alterum, ut ita cidque eveniat, 
ut de republica quisque mereatur (I wish these things: one, that in dying I 
may leave a free people; nothing greater than this can be given me by the 
immortal gods; the second, that each man may prove worthy of the re- 


in one is Roman; Cincinnatus is among many Roman he- 
roes who combined these functions. So are the details Ro- 
man. There is something of Rome in Washington's family 
situation: his abiding attachment to Mount Vernon, his du- 
tiful, if unenthusiastic, concern for his mother, his uncom- 
plaining and constant attention to the welfare of the multi- 
farious brood of Washington brothers and sisters, cousins, 
nephews, nieces, stepchildren and other kinsmen. Generos- 
ity, yes (the very origin of the word is Latin, and takes us 
back to the genus, or clan); yet more than mere good na- 
ture a positive call to duty. 

Duty. Here is another Roman clue to Washington: duty 
seen as a cluster of obligations. Obligations, be it noted, 
rather than some more modern word such as "compul- 
sions"; for these are not individual but social necessities, 
and Washington was, if not a particularly sociable man, 
nevertheless emphatically a social being, a member though 
not a joiner. The personality that emerges from the pat- 
tern once mature is stoical to the point of frigidity, 
and yet complete, poised, even serene: this is the implica- 
tion of integritas- It may own some doubts, but no crip- 
pling ones; the rules of decent behavior will supply an 
answer to the toughest problems. Courage becomes auto- 
matic, death a fate without terrors. 

It is the duty then of a thinking man to be neither 
superficial, nor impatient, nor yet contemptuous in his 
attitude towards death, but to await it as one of the oper- 
ations of Nature which he will have to undergo. 

Marcus Aurelius said this; Washington could have, as he 
made his will, issued his Farewell Address to the Ameri- 


can people, and repaired the Mount Vernon vault in readi- 
ness for the inevitable. 

As for ambition gloria it is conceived as a civic im- 
pulse, not a private torment. Certainly this is true of Wash- 
ington once he had got over his young man's hunger for 
notice and preferment. Again, Washington's desire to be 
well thought of and to keep his reputation unsullied is a 
classical desire, not in the least akin to the populist, 
"other-directed" anxiousness that renders prominent men 
of the present day so susceptible to the idea of public 
opinion an oracle thought to be enshrined in polls, best- 
seller lists and the like. True, Washington while a soldier 
consulted his officers before fastening upon a plan; and as 
President he tried to keep in touch with the mood of the 
country. At critical moments, however, especially during 
the tumult over Jay's treaty, he acted in the manner of a 
high-minded Roman, unhesitating. He spoke of "the Peo- 
ple" without disdain, but with no Rousseauistic frisson. 

It would be idle to pretend that Washington's Virginia 
simply repeated the modes and experiences of the ancient 
world, or that all his contemporaries were as "markedly 
"classical" in temperament. The point is that his age dif- 
fered profoundly from ours; that in certain ways he is 
better understood within a classical framework than as a 
man of modern times; and that his planter Virginia was 
in a way more truly "Roman" than the mother country. 
The image of Rome sketched here is an ideal one. More 
precisely, it is an image of a society whose values were 
severely practical; and this is the impression we finally re- 
tain of Washington's character a type of character that 
is unfamiliar to our generation. In historical terms the 


parallel is at best approximate; in poetic terms it is re- 
markably close. Historically it does at least help us to 
grasp why men such as Washington believed that they 
could create a huge new nation on the republican model. 
Though initially they were loyal subjects of George 
III, the circumstances of their environment and their hab- 
its of thought led them by natural, if imperceptible, de- 
grees away from kings and courtiers, away from Europe 
to a new order that was in effect a restatement of their 
existing situation. The lessons of the classical past, when 
the world was young, as America felt itself to be young, 
suggested that such a republic was a working possibility, as 
well as providing a warning that things might go wrong. 
Theirs was revolution, therefore, by conservation; they did 
not so much invent as discover. 

While Rome was an object lesson, it was not a blueprint 
for the infant nation. Many things were needed to make 
the successful transition from monarchy to republicanism 
and from the loose congeries of ex-colonies to the strong 
Union that emerged in the 17905. Independence had to 
be fought for and then made real. It could be said that 
America became a nation legally before it was one emo- 
tionally. The word Americanization, which is now usually 
taken to refer to American influence over the rest of the 
world, was first coined (in Washington's day) to describe 
the defensive struggle of Americans to be something other 
than Europeanized. 

No wonder, then, that Washington was revered as much 
for what he was as for what he did. No wonder that he 
was turned into a monumental legend during his own 
lifetime. Within a few months of assuming command in 


1775, General Washington occupied a unique position, a 
position extended and consolidated as the war years 
dragged on. It was not merely that he was a good sol- 
dier or a competent administrator. No direct inspiration 
passed from him to his soldiers; his courage was edifying, 
yet lacked the contagious, electric quality of leadership 
possessed by some military figures. His orders of the day 
did not make men cry Ha, ha to the, sound of the trum- 
pets, though they often provided food for thought; the 
general orders of July 9, 1776, after announcing a parade 
at which the Declaration of Independence was to be 
read, "with an audible voice" to the "several brigades," 
closed with the reminder to every officer and enlisted 
man that "he is now in the service of a State, possessed of 
sufficient power to reward his merit, and advance him to 
the highest Honors of a free Country/' Was Washington 
remembering his own frustrations in the service of Vir- 
ginia? Perhaps. 

Were his words a little dull? Perhaps. That may be their 
significance, the solid underpinning to the eloquence of 
Jefferson's preamble. No one could feel that Washington 
was cheap; his gentlemanly restraint, his proven integrity, 
his whole record proclaimed otherwise. He looked and be- 
haved like a classical hero; on him hung the issue of 
America's posterity; and yet this figure who thus linked 
past and future linked them by occupying himself dog- 
gedly with the present, by being magnificently matter-of- 
fact. He symbolized America, but never was a symbol more 
real, more tangible, more explicit. Jefferson spoke of life, 
liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Washington of pay 
and promotion as a factor in patriotism. His very literal- 


ness brought actuality to the project of independence, 
dispelling the air of forlorn daydream that sometimes hung 
over the scene. He took for granted what even visionaries 
were unsure of: that a nation would emerge, and that it 
would prosper. And, paradoxically, the man who had his 
feet so firmly on the ground was gradually wafted into 
the clouds by his fellow countrymen. According to the 
Pennsylvania Journal, in 1777: 

If there are spots in his character, they are like the 
spots in the sun, only discernible by the magnifying 
powers of a telescope. Had he lived in the days of idola- 
try, he had been worshipped as a god. 


SOME AMERICANS thought that he was being worshiped. 

I have been distressed to see some members of this 
house disposed to idolize an image which their own 
hands have molten. I speak here of the superstitious ven- 
eration that is sometimes paid to General Washington. 
Altho' I honour him for his good qualities, yet in this 
house I feel myself his Superior. 

The writer was John Adams, also in 1777, when he was 
a member of the Continental Congress. 

This situation deserves to be examined more closely, 
for we can learn much about Washington from it In the 
first place, who were his most vocal critics? During the 
war, as we might expect, hostility came mainly from his 
military subordinates and from their friends in Congress. 
Then and after, a high proportion were men who could 


be described as intellectuals, or at any rate as quick-wit- 
ted men. It would be too strong to say that they detested 
or despised him; some had only mild reservations; yet 
such men as Joseph Reed, Edmund Randolph, Alexander 
Hamilton, Aaron Burr (all onetime secretaries or aides), 
Timothy Pickering (his adjutant general), Benjamin Rush 
and others commented at different stages on his shortcom- 
ings. What they tended to think is well summarized by 
James Parton, writing of Aaron Burr: 

He thought Washington ... a very honest and well- 
intentioned country gentleman; but no great soldier, and 
very far indeed from being a demi-god. Burr disliked a 
dull person next to a coward, and he thought General 
Washington a dull person. Hamilton and other young 
soldier-scholars of the Revolution were evidently of a sim- 
ilar opinion, but Hamilton thought that the popularity 
of the general was essential to the triumph of the cause, 
and, accordingly, he kept his opinion to himself. 

As a class, they were irked to realize that a man of so 
little intellectual distinction should have gained such re- 
nown. When he returned to public duty in 1787, some 
complained (perforce in. private letters) that it had be- 
come impossible to oppose him without incurring the ac- 
cusation of disloyalty to America. Others, including Hamil- 
ton, relied on this fact to win their arguments, sheltering 
behind the monument. John Adams contended (in 1785): 

Instead of adoring a Washington, mankind should ap- 
plaud the nation which educated him. ... I glory in the 
character of a Washington, because I know him to be 
only an exemplification of the American character. . . . 
In the days of Pompey, Washington would have been 


a Caesar; his officers and partisans would have stimulated 
him to it ... in the time of Charles, a Cromwell; in 
the days of Philip the second, a prince of Orange, and 
would have wished to be Count of Holland. But in Amer- 
ica he could have had ho other ambition than that of 

Reverence for Washington, then, was unjustified, silly 
and dangerous. Unless Americans kept a sense of propor- 
tion, they would vote themselves back into monarchy and 
its attendant ills. Most of Washington's critics admitted 
that the peril lay in the precedent; adulation could become 
habitual. Washington himself was not, they conceded, 
swollen with conceit and never would be. Nevertheless, 
as his reputation grew, he was acquiring a kind of civic 
glaze. He was receding from humankind; far too much 
protocol surrounded him as President. 

We may discount most of these assertions as the product 
of jealousy and party spirit. Not altogether, though. Adams 
was right, in his ungracious way, when he said that Wash- 
ington's abnegation was not so much a supreme act of 
disinterest as a proof that Americans were determined to 
enjoy a free republican form of government (not that 
Washington claimed any such credit). He was right, too, 
though again churlish, when he questioned Washington's 
refusal to accept any pay other than expenses while 
commander in chief. It seems evident that Washington did 
thereby lift himself somewhat above the role of public 
servant. Washington was actuated by the highest motives. 
He was scrupulous in deferring to the Continental Con- 
gress as his ultimate master. Even so, he differentiated 
himself from the other generals appointed under his com- 


mand. They were appointed, as he had been, by Congress; 
and like them, he could be removed by Congress (except 
during the special periods o emergency when Congress 
granted him exceptional powers). However, what was for 
him altruism could possibly have been interpreted other- 
wise; and at least some of the exasperation and so-called 
plotting of Gates, Conway and other generals arose from 
their conviction that Washington regarded himself as ir- 

In his own eyes, and those of most Americans, it was 
a matter of pure patriotism. He had merged his honor with 
that of America. Suppose, though, that he should make some 
disastrous blunder: could he really be dismissed? This was 
the sort of problem that engaged Adams and other mem- 
bers of the Continental Congress. Not that they had any 
serious intention of dismissing him; but they must have 
noticed that at no time in the war did he make even a 
gesture toward resigning. Why, they might wonder, did it 
not occur to him at the time of the Conway Cabal, in order 
to secure a vote of confidence, or, say, after Yorktown, 
when active warfare had ceased? 

The answer is that, given his high sense of duty, he 
could not. He was justified in believing that American re- 
sistance might collapse once his control was gone. Yet 
the longer he remained at the helm, the more irrevocably 
did he become involved in and symbolic of the common- 
wealth. Crudely speaking, General Washington disap- 
peared as a person to make way for a phenomenon, that of 
American Saint George. He was the victim of the process, 
but to some extent, we may think, he brought it on him- 
self, not merely by being so victorious, so calmly states- 


manlike in manner, so disinterestedly national in outlook, 
but also by deliberately and avowedly surrendering his 
private identity. Being the man he was, he could not have 
done anything else. But the consequences, however much 
he groaned and protested at the burden, were equally un- 
avoidable. Having once come to epitomize America, he 
was trapped in public life as a self-perpetuating candi- 
date. Nothing but death, illness or disgrace could save 
the commander in chief from re-emerging as the Presi- 

And once he was President, Washington the man was 
still more irrevocably lost in Washington the monument. 
Here again the comments of his critics are not entirely 
unjustified. It was embarrassing enough to have a demi- 
god in their midst; it was infuriating when the demigod 
became the property of the Federalists. As Republicans 
viewed affairs, a man who was unassailable was now the 
patron saint of a policy that was intolerable. While Wash- 
ington, in office, never admitted that he too was a Feder- 
alist, he did lend his formidable prestige to the Federalist 
cause, simply by assuming that there was no other ac- 
ceptable cause. After his death Republicans were to wit- 
ness the effort by Federalists to exploit the heroic legend 
by means of the Washington Benevolent Societies, which 
were political clubs disguised as hagiology (the societies' 
handbooks invariably included the text of Washington's 
Farewell Address). Americans were markedly reluctant 
to attack him the speeches of Republicans in Congress 
are full of nervous disclaimers and preliminary compli- 
ments but such attacks as they did deliver are not alto- 
gether attributable to spleen. They wished to sing his 


praises but were worried by the possible results. Behind 
his Federalist entourage, Washington did seem to harden, 
to grow less approachable and more disposed to resent out- 
spoken opposition. Was there not a painful irony in the 
Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, when half the 
men arrested under the President's edict came from a 
county named, in his honor, Washington? 

David Meade, a brother of Washington's aide Richard 
Meade, had once said of the commander in chief that, 
"of a saturnine temperament, he was . . . better endowed 
by nature and habit for an Eastern monarch, than a re- 
publican general." In times of Republican-Federalist con- 
troversy such a remark had still more application. Alex- 
ander Hamilton's Act for Establishing a Mint proposed in 
1792 that Washington's head should be stamped upon 
all coins of the United States. There is no evidence, or like- 
lihood, that Washington himself strongly favored the 
idea. But to the Republicans, who managed to defeat the 
proposal, it was typical of an ominous trend in hero wor- 


HOWEVER, Washington's critics were deficient in char- 
ity. They failed to realize or at any rate hated to allow 
that the trend was to be anticipated and on the whole 
to be encouraged. America needed a Saint George; every 
symbol of national unity was valuable, and Washington 
was not a mere Federalist puppet. He did genuinely em- 
body aspirations common to nearly all Americans. Even if 
he had been a weakling, a fool or a bore, which he was 


not, Washington's popularity would have been a factor of 
enormous weight. In muttering about it, radically minded 
Americans were complaining not at an evil but at a bless- 
ing that might become too much of a good thing. They 
were, in true American fashion, unfairly, irresponsibly, 
cruelly and healthily irreverent. 

In a deeper sense, Washington's contemporaries ignored 
the pathos which (perhaps especially to Europeans) is so 
conspicuous a feature of his achievement, and of Ameri- 
can history in general. 

Consider, for example, the wistful aspects of Washing* 
ton's personal situation. He derived satisfaction from doing 
his duty, and from being so widely admired for it. But 
unlike some men, he had no relish for public life. The 
classical code did not lay stress upon pleasure. In enabling 
other men to pursue happiness according to individual 
bent, Washington saw his own private existence turn into 
a hollow shell. The Father of the Nation was himself child- 
less; and however fitting this may be as an item in his 
historical legend, to the real man it must have been a 
lasting disappointment to leave no direct heirs. Even his 
stepson met an early death. As for Mount Vernon, which 
he had so long labored to improve, Washington was torn 
away from it for much of his later life. In April 1797, just 
retired from the Presidency, he found so many repairs 
necessary that he wrote, with a tired jocularity: 

I am already surrounded by Joiners, Masons, Paint- 
ers, &c.; and such is my anxiety to get out of their hands, 
that I have scarcely a room to put a friend into, or to sit 
in myself, without the music of hammers, or the odor- 
iferous smell of paint. 


jid the brief peace he gained there at the end was dis- 
irbed by threats of war. 

There is, of course, an element of pathos in every hu- 
lan scheme. At the last count, as Marcus Aurelius again 
istifies, nothing matters but mortality. 

Call to mind, say, the times of Vespasian. It is the same 
old spectacle marriage, and child-bearing, disease and 
death, \var and revelry, commerce and agriculture, toady- 
ism and obstinacy; one man praying that heaven may be 
pleased to take so-and-so, another grumbling at his lot, 
another in love or laying up treasure, others, again, lust- 
ing after consulships and kingdoms. 

All these have lived their life and their place knows 
them no more. So pass on to the reign of Trajan. All 
again is the same, and that life, too, is no more. 

But there is a particular pathos to Washington's career, 
i the disparity between its public and its private sides. 
ill that he touched on behalf of the state appeared to suc- 
eed triumphantly; what he did for himself seems oddly 
phemeral. His very birthplace, in Westmoreland County, 
r irginia, vanished in flames in 1779. Mount Vernon, 
tough a cherished estate, was an unprofitable one, for 
tie plight of the tidewater planters was not solved by the 
devolution or by any subsequent event. It was inherent 
a the poor soil and torrid weather that all Washington's 
are and thought were unable to vanquish. Drought, in- 
ects and disease were more implacable than human ene- 

The leaves of the locust Trees this year, as the last, 
began to fade, and many of them dye. The Black Gum 
Trees, which I had transplanted to my avenues or Ser- 


pentine Walks, and which put out leaf and looked well 
at first, are all dead; so are the Poplars, and most of the 
Mulberrys. The Crab apple trees also, which were trans- 
planted into the shrubberies, and the Papaws are also 
dead, as also the Sassafras in a great degree. The Pines 
wholly, and several o the Cedars, as also the Hemlock 
almost entirely. 

This diary extract of July 1785 records an exceptionally 
bad summer. Yet it is not an isolated example. In other 
seasons, holly hedges failed; so did a honey-locust hedge 
around the vineyard. Some golden pheasants he imported 
languished and gave up the ghost. He laid out a deer 
park; the deer continually escaped and gnawed his nearby 
saplings, until after a few years the park had to be aban- 
doned. The struggle was unremitting and disheartening, as 
if the Providence he sometimes invoked did not intend 
George Washington to fashion a permanent dwelling place. 
Granted even a capable heir, even with devoted (and ex- 
pensive) management, Mount Vernon could ultimately 
be nothing but a ruin set in second-growth wilderness 
or else an artificially tended shrine. 

America was moving away inland to the west. There 
too, however, Washington's touch lacked magic. He 
owned extensive tracts, but had decided several years be- 
fore his death that western lands were a source of more 
trouble than income. What of the Potomac Company, 
which had planned to make the river a navigable route to 
the trans-Allegheny west? Washington had lavished energy 
and optimism upon the project; the Virginia legislature 
believed that the results would be "durable monuments of 
his glory." Alas, the company was doing badly even be- 


fore he died, and went bankrupt thirty years later. Though 
the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal promoters absorbed the old 
Potomac Company, planning to link Washington, D.C., 
with Pittsburgh, they never got further than Cumberland, 
in 1850, at the foot of the Alleghenies. George Washing- 
ton had first gone there (when it was known as Wills 
Creek) as far back as 1753, on his earliest errand for 
Governor Dinwiddie. So much effort, and so little to show 
for it. 

The same could be said of other enterprises in which 
he embarked; not that they were ill conceived but that 
they were usually ill fated. Thus, Washington was sin- 
cerely and commendably interested in founding a national 
university, in the District of Columbia, to draw together 
youths from all parts of the Union. He allotted it fifty 
Potomac shares in his will; but for various reasons this 
clause of the will remained inoperative. 

As for his association with the Federalists an associa- 
tion that he finally acknowledged the party came down 
in resounding defeat shortly after his death, and never re- 
gained presidential office. Indeed, it disintegrated as a 
political force. His own reputation suffered for a few years 
through the wreck; the Washington Monument seemed 
almost to have been overthrown in the opening decade of 
the new century. 

All this, perhaps, his contemporaries were hardly in a 
position to appreciate (any more than they could assess 
the limitations of his supposedly large fortune). There is 
a profounder pathos that also has become more distinct 
with the passage of time. It lies in the role of the hero- 
leader,, particularly the President, in the United States. 


Whether or not the pattern could have been different if, 
for instance, his personality had been less "classical," or if 
some other man had been the first President Washing- 
ton did in fact unwittingly set it, as far as essentials were 
concerned. By the end of his second administration, the 
President was defined loosely, contradictorily, yet per- 
manently as something between monarch, prime minis- 
ter, party chief and father figure; as a transcendental yet 
a representative being, a timeless Delphic oracle whose 
words will endure forever and a fallible creature who is 
an immediate and tempting target for abuse (we find a 
poet like Philip Freneau treating Washington in both these 

In maintaining so much punctilio, Washington perhaps 
increased his difficulties. (His troubles would have been 
still worse if Congress had accepted his offer to serve 
once more without pay.) Perhaps by the close of his Presi- 
dency he had ceased to be fully representative of Amer- 
ica's future, however finely he symbolized her past and 
present. The nineteenth century would add other kinds 
of heroes to the roster. One of them, Andrew Jackson, was 
a raw congressman in 1796, who with 'eleven others a 
small, truculent minority, the cloud shaped like a man's 
hand, clenched voiced their disapproval of a warm vale- 
dictory address to be made by Congress to the retiring 
President. The era of the Jacksonian common man would 
prize somewhat different qualities from those we have as- 
cribed to Washington. 

Yet Washington was bound to make some tactical errors 
and to give offense here and there. No one can be all 
things to all men, as he was required to be. If he had be- 


haved more like a republican general and less like a so- 
called Eastern monarch, he would still have been dispar- 
aged; indeed, the outcome might have been disastrous for 
the United States. The role of the President, in short, is a 
strange, vulgar-lofty conception, at the very core of the 
American mystery. It demands solemnity and yet invites 
scurrility. He is almost like one of those primitive kings in 
Frazer's Golden Bough who reign in pomp until they are 
ritually put to death (except, maybe, that the American 
ruler undergoes slow torture long before his final extinc- 
tion). The urge to worship and the urge to denigrate 
seem complementary a uniquely uncomfortable circum- 
stance for Washington, since he entered office as more of 
a public hero than any other American statesman has 
been. During his administration Washington was no ex- 
ception the President is supposed to reveal miraculous 
wisdom and foresight, and also to be an ordinary man. He 
is left peculiarly vulnerable. Everything is expected of 
him, nothing tangible is given him, except on loan: no 
titles, houses, decorations. He is almost a living sacrifice 
to the state. 

John Adams's petulant comments on Washington are 
significant here. It was, he maintains, egotistical of Wash- 
ington to serve without salary, and equally wrong to seek 
retirement after eight years o military command (he 
wrote before Washington became President). 

In wiser and more virtuous times he would not have 
[done] that, for that is an ambition. He would still be 
content to be Governor of Virginia, President of Con- 
gress, a member of the Senate, or a House of Representa- 


The proper course, apparently, would have been to carry 
on in harness like some celestial work horse. The rewards 
of such virtue are honorific and largely posthumous. 5 * 

We are accustomed to think of the American outlook 
as pragmatic and down-to-earth. So it is, in part (and so, 
in fact, was Washington's mentality). But in comparison 
with the dense, shrewd, worldly British texture from which 
it derived, it is surprisingly thin, diffuse and romantic 
(and so was Washington as the impalpable hero of leg- 
end). Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson, C.B., rising from his 
dinner on the eve of the battle of Aboukir Bay, could 
wipe his mouth and predict, "Before this time tomorrow I 
shall have gained a peerage or Westminster Abbey." His 
estimate was exact, being based on the realities of British 
society. The battle was won, and the victor duly dubbed 
Baron Nelson of the Nile. More than that, Parliament 
gave him a pension of two thousand pounds a year, the East 
India Company a bonus of ten thousand pounds; the King 
of Naples conferred a dukedom with an annual income 
valued at three thousand pounds; and he acquired in 
Lady Hamilton a voluptuous mistress. After he was 
killed at Trafalgar, it is true that Nelson missed interment 
at Westminster; however, he was buried instead with 
equivalent glory in St. Paul's Cathedral. 

Contrast the lot of Washington, lonely and harassed in 
his soldierly endeavors, required to combine caution, au- 
dacity and humility in impossible proportions; lonely and 
harassed through the same causes while Chief Executive, 

* Though ex-Presidents are now to receive a pension. It has taken 
America more than a century and a half to yield this concession, though 
not quite as long to look after their widows. 


with all too few precedents to guide him (though exalted, 
as American leaders often are, by the inordinate severity 
of the task); a sort of splendid foundling at the head of a 
foundling nation, who survives the ordeal by meeting it 
with the maximum of cool dignity and the minimum of 
ideology or introspection. Nelson's recompense is hand- 
some and actual, Washington's mainly metaphorical. No 
glittering stars upon his breast many of his countrymen 
felt that it would be indiscreet, to say the least, to wear 
even the order of the Cincinnati. No majesty of address 
the one is Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronte; the other, 
plain Mr. President. He has a coat of arms painted on his 
coach, but that would be judged a ridiculous affectation 
in later Presidents. His head is not to appear on the coin- 
age until he is safely dead. No doubt these were wise 
prejudices, as Washington well comprehended, for a young 
republic to express. No doubt it was for the best that execu- 
tive office should be made as unattractive as possible, 
men being the greedy, ambitious creatures that they are. 
But how spare and ungenial it sounds. Or how niggardly; 
Congress took until 1860 to commission and unveil the 
equestrian statue voted him in 1783; and the giant monu- 
ment in Washington, D.C., was not finished and dedicated 
the culmination of decades of squabbling until 1885, 
nearly, fourscore and seven years after the demise of the 
man it commemorates.* 

Think of Mount Vernon sun cracking its tired soil, 
rain eating gullies in the fields around the mansion, hot 

* His mother's grave at Fredericksburg, where she died in 1789, was un- 
marked by any memorial until 1833. The fifty-foot obelisk then planned 
was not completed until 1894! 


wind withering the ornamental foliage, weeds encroach- 
ing.* Mount Vernon, descending through a nephew, and 
then the nephew of a nephew, worthy, impoverished men, 
rescued at last, not by Congress, but by the private efforts 
of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association and by the ora- 
torical spate of those who raise funds on its behalf. Does 
not the sagging drama recall the lines of Emerson's "Ham- 

Here is the land, 
Shaggy with wood, 
With its old valley, 
Mound and flood. 
But the heritors? 
Fled like the flood's foam. 
The lawyer, and the laws, 
And the kingdom, 
Clean swept herefrom. 


DOES IT, though? Not really. The kingdom is still there 
in Washington's case, although it happens to be a re- 
public. So are the heritors, although they are a whole na- 

Indeed, it would be quite wrong to end on a flat note. 

* It was in better shape, we should add, than Jefferson's Monticello as a 
visitor saw it in 1839, only thirteen years after the owner's death. "Around 
me I beheld nothing but ruin and change, rotting terraces, broken cabins, 
the lawn ploughed up and cattle wandering among Italian mouldering 
vases, and the place seemed the true representation of the fallen fortunes 
of the great man and his family. ... It was with difficulty I could re- 
strain my tears, and I could not but exclaim, what is human greatness.** 
(Margaret B. Smith, The First Forty Years of Washington Society, New 
York, 1906, pp. 388-83.) 


As perhaps in the career of any great man, there is a 
deeply sad flavor to the life of Washington. It is poignant 
to inspire awe rather than intimate affection, to have the 
warm flesh strike cold like marble, because one's tempera- 
ment was thus, and because America insisted on such 
frozen excellence. It is melancholy to be entrusted with 
vast responsibilities, as aware as Washington was of one's 
own shortcomings. It is grim to be plunged into an end- 
less sequence, of war, controversy and crisis, walking the 
knife edge of catastrophe. 

Yet Washington's is also a deeply satisfying rec- 
ord. Here was a man who did what he was asked to do, 
and whose very strength resided in a sobriety some took 
for fatal dullness; who in his own person proved the 
soundness of America. A good man, not a saint; a com- 
petent soldier, not a great one; an honest administrator, 
not a statesman of genius; a prudent conserver, not a bril- 
liant reformer. But in sum an exceptional figure. 

His private solace was to know at the last that his path 
had been straightforward and honorable, that he was dying 
in the house he liked better than anywhere else on earth, 
watched over by the wife to whom he had been faithful 
for forty years. His public achievement is the inverse meas- 
ure. He died knowing that America was intact, that he 
as much as any person had assisted in its formation, and 
that while his own sands ran out, time was still on the side 
of his country. It was an achievement of far more perma- 
nent effect than most in history. 

How much of the credit is due to him alone we cannot 
say; in the final analysis the question is irrelevant. He 
had become so merged with America that his is one of the 


names on the land, the presences in the air. Useless for 
his biographers to try to separate Washington from the 
myths and images surrounding him the visage on the 
postage stamp and on the dollar bill, so familiar that no 
one sees it, the horseman on the Confederate seal, An- 
drew Jackson running for the Presidency (oblivious of 
his early strictures) as the "second Washington," the cherry 
tree, Cincinnatus at the plow, the grinding ice in the Dela- 
ware, the imaginary Indian chief at the Monongahela 
who declared that no mortal bullet could dispatch George 
Washington. None can. The man is the monument; the 
monument is America. Si monumentum requiris > circum* 


I wish to thank: 

THE Oxford University Press, for permission to quote from 
its World's Classics edition of The Meditations of Marcus 
Aurelius; the Commonweal th Fund and Ford Foundation 
for enabling me to visit and revisit the United States; my 
wife, as always; Wallace E. Davies for a tour of Virginia ten 
years ago; Warner Moss for subsequent hospitality at Williams- 
burg; and Bill Kohlmann for taking me to Mount Vernon; 
Mrs. Dorothy Brothers for retyping a much-revised manu- 
script; Marc JaflEe for friendly editorial help; Fritz Stern for in- 
terrupting his labors to read and criticize portions of the proof; 
Irving Kristol for printing some of my comments on Washing- 
ton in Encounter; the staffs of various libraries, in particular 
those of the New-York Historical Society, the New York Public 
Library, and of my own university (Manchester); and my col- 
leagues Maldwyn Jones and Allen Potter, who have so often 
told me useful things. The mistakes in this book are, however, 
either original with me or else borrowed in good faith from the 
long line of earnest, honorable and humanly fallible biogra- 
phers of George Washington. 



THERE have been hundreds of biographies and interpreta- 
tions of Washington. No doubt there will be hundreds more. 
He has been presented as a businessman, as a man of letters, 
as a naval genius. Books have been written on topics as spe- 
cialized as Washington and Freemasonry, on his associations 
with the Irish, or on Washington and the town of Reading, 
Pennsylvania. There is even a charming life of Washington 
in Latin prose (by an Ohio schoolmaster, Francis Glass, pub- 
lished 1835) in which we are told of the great deeds of those 
latter-day Romans, Georgius Washingtonius, Thomas Jeffer- 
sonius, Thomas Pinckneyus and the rest. 

Most of this bulk of material is dull and repetitive. Some 
estimates, though for example, by Chateaubriand, Guizot, 
or Henry Tuckerman have held their value through a cen- 
tury or more. Others notably the account by Mason Weems, 
which is available in many editions are fascinating in their 
very unreliability. 

The indispensable modern biography is that in six volumes 
by Douglas Southall Freeman (New York, 1948-54), which 
had got as far as 1793 when its distinguished author died. A 
seventh and final volume, by his associates John Alexander 
Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth, George Washington: First 
in Peace, appeared in 1957, too late to be of use for the pres- 
ent work. Freeman is especially good on GW's youthful career 
(which he assesses admirably at the end of VoL 2); and there 
is an excellent estimate of GW's military talent at the end of 


Vol. 5. The best of the "debunking" lives, also incomplete, 
is by Rupert Hughes (3 vols., New York, 1926-30). Among the 
superior single-volume studies are Francis R. Bellamy, The 
Private Life of George Washington (New York, 1951); Shelby 
Little, George Washington (New York, 1929); and Esmond 
Wright, Washington and the American Revolution (London, 


Apart from these general accounts, the best approach to 
GW is, of course, through his own words and through those 
of his contemporaries. His Diaries (4 vols., Boston, 1925) were 
edited by John C. Fitzpatrick, who also ably edited GW's 
Writings (39 vols., Washington, 1931-44). There are con- 
venient one-volume selections compiled by Saxe Commins 
(New York, 1948) and by Saul K. Padover (New York, 1955). 
George Washington in the Ohio Valley (Pittsburgh, 1955), 
edited by Hugh Cleland, brings together GWs narratives of 
the seven journeys he made into the upper Ohio valley be- 
tween 1753 and 1794. As for GW's contemporaries, the two 
collections of most immediate relevance are compilations by 
Jared Sparks (Correspondence of the American Revolution, 
being Letters of Eminent Men to Washington, 177^78^ 
4 vols., Boston, 1853) anc * ^Y Stanislaus M. Hamilton (Letters 
to Washington and Accompanying Papers, 5 vols., Boston, 

Chapter One: The Washington Monument 

For this, see Dixon Wecter, The Hero in America (New 
York, 1941); Marshall Fishwick, American Heroes: Myth and 
Reality (Washington, 1954); William A. Bryan, George Wash- 
ington in American Literature, 1775-1865 (New York, 1952), 
a particularly useful work; W. S. Baker (ed.), Character Por- 
traits of Washington (Philadelphia, 1887); Gilbert Chinard 
(ed.), George Washington as the French Knew Him (Prince- 
ton, 1940); and Frances D. Whittemore, George Washington 
in Sculpture (Boston, 1933). Gerald W. Johnson, Mount Ver- 


non: the Story of a Shrine (New York, 1953), is an attractive 
"account of the rescue and rehabilitation of Washington's 
home by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association." The Wash- 
ingtoniana (Baltimore, 1800, and in various subsequent edi- 
tions) gives a striking view of GW's contemporary reputation. 
GW's most popular biographer is described in Harold Kellock, 
Parson Weems of the Cherry-Tree (New York, 1928). Latin- 
American sentiment is expressed in such publications as 
Homenaje de la Sociedad bolivariana del Ecuador a Jorge 
Washington, 4 de julio de 1932 (Quito, 1932). 

Chapter Two: George Washington, Esquire 

There is a helpful guide through genealogical mazes in an 
appendix, "The Washington Family," to Vol. XIV of Worth- 
ington C. Ford's edition of The Writings of George Washing- 
ton (New York, 1893), pp. 317-431. A delightful essay on "The 
Young Washington," by Samuel Eliot Morison, is reprinted 
in his By Land and by Sea: Essays and Addresses (New York, 
1953). This essay comments on GW's fondness for Addison's 
play Cato. Further light on this aspect of GW's tastes is shed 
by Paul L. Ford, Washington and the Theatre (New York, 
1899). P au l Van Dyke, George Washington: The Son of His 
Country, 1752-7775 (New York, 1931), is an agreeable and 
accurate study. 

On GW's Virginia background, see Thomas P. Abernethy, 
Western Lands and the American Revolution (New York, 
1937); Charles H. Ambler, George Washington and the West 
(Chapel Hill, 1936); and Louis K. Koontz, The Virginia 
Frontier, 1154-1763 (Baltimore, 1925), for analyses of trans- 
Allegheny problems. For conditions nearer home, see Carl 
Bridenbaugh, Myths and Realities: Societies of the Colonial 
South (Baton Rouge, 1952) and Seat of Empire: The Political 
Role of Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg (Williamsburg, 
1950), and Charles S. Sydnor, Gentlemen Freeholders: Polit- 
ical Practices in Washington's Virginia (Chapel Hill, 1952). 


The gathering crisis of 1763-1775 has been examined by 
scores of writers. J. C. Miller, Origins of the American Revo- 
lution (Boston, 1943), and Lawrence H. Gipson, The Coming 
of the Revolution (New York, 1954), are among the best ac- 
counts. The ideas underlying the conflict are well brought 
out in Max Beloff (ed.), The Debate on the American Revolu- 
tion, ij6i-ij8$ (London, 1949), and Clinton Rossi ter, Seed- 
time of the Republic (New York, 1953). GW's own contribu- 
tion is examined in Curtis P. Nettels, George Washington 
and American Independence (Boston, 1951). 

Chapter Three: General Washington 

John R. Alden, The American Revolution, 1775-1 783 (New 
York, 1954), is a valuable recent guide. Also to be recom- 
mended is John C. Miller, Triumph of Freedom (Boston, 
1948). The general military situation is ably recounted in 
Willard M. Wallace, Appeal to Arms: A Military History of 
the American Revolution (New York, 1951), and in some of 
the chapters of Eric Robson, The American Revolution in 
its Political and Military Aspects (London, 1955). ^or con " 
temporary comment, see the compilation by Frank Moore, 
Diary of the American Revolution from Newspapers and 
Original Documents (2 vols., New York, 1860). 

E. C. Burnett's edition of Letters of Members of the Con- 
tinental Congress (8 vols., Washington, 1921-38) is of great 
interest. The same author has provided a useful, though dull, 
commentary in The Continental Congress (New York, 1941). 

There are a number of indifferent studies of GW's military 
career. One of the better ones is Thomas G. Frothingham, 
Washington, Commander in Chief (Boston, 1930). An un- 
even but original and acute analysis, with particular reference 
to the so-called Conway Cabal, is Bernhard Knollenberg, 
Washington and the Revolution: A Reappraisal (New York, 
1941). Two sympathetic biographies of figures involved in 
the cabal are John R. Alden, General Charles Lee (Baton 


Rouge, 1951), and Samuel W. Patterson, Horatio Gates (New 
York, 1941). There is an abundance of material in the various 
volumes on Lafayette by Louis Gottschalk (Chicago, 1935-50), 
For the British side, see the long apologia by Sir Henry 
Clinton, The American Rebellion (ed. by William B. Will- 
cox, New Haven, 1954); Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774- 
1777 (London, 1925); and The American Journal of Ambrose 
Serle . . . 1776-1778 (ed. by Edward H. Tatum, Jr., San 
Marino, 1940). The confidential letters and journals of a 
Hessian officer, Major Baurmeister, 1776-1784, have been 
translated and edited by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf, Revolution 
in America (New Brunswick, 1957). One of the most touch- 
ing Loyalist stories is that of Samuel Curwen, Journal and 
Letters (Boston, 1842). 

Chapter Four: President Washington 

William S. Baker, Washington after the Revolution^ 1784- 
I 799 (Philadelphia, 1898), spans the period covered by this 
chapter. The first part is dealt with in Merrill Jensen, The 
New Nation: A History of the United States during the Con- 
federation, 1781-1789 (New York, 1950). For the troubles in 
Massachusetts associated with Daniel Shays, see Marion L. 
Starkey, A Little Rebellion (New York, 1955). The Consti- 
tutional Convention has been described by Max Farrand, 
Carl Van Doren, Charles Warren and others; and see espe- 
cially Max Farrand (ed.), Records of the Federal Convention 
of 1787 (4 vols., New Haven, 1911-37). 

On GW's Presidency, a full, readable and recent account 
is Nathan Schachner, The Founding Fathers (New York, 1954). 
The first steps are investigated in James Hart, The American 
Presidency in Action, 1789 (New York, 1948). Leonard D. 
White, The Federalists (New York, 1948), is an excellent 
administrative study; and see the same author's "George 
Washington as an Administrator" (1944), reprinted in Ed- 
ward N. Saveth (ed.), Understanding the American Past (Bos- 


ton, 1954), pp- 144-57- An old work that still has some value 
is The Republican Court, or American Society in the Days 
of Washington (New York, 1854), by Rufus W. Griswold 
(who wrote much more sympathetically on GW than he did 
on Edgar Allan Poe, for whom he served as literary execu- 
tioner rather than literary executor). 

With the Journal of William Maclay, edited by Edgar S. 
Maclay (New York, 1890), we plunge into controversy. We 
remain there, on the same side of the argument, with Charles 
Warren, Jacobin and Junto: or, Early American Politics as 
Viewed in the Diary of Dr. Nathaniel Ames, 1758-1822 (Cam- 
bridge, Mass., 1931). A modern Anti-Federalist tract is 
Stuart G. Brown, The First Republicans (Syracuse, 1954). 
On the Republican leaders, see Dumas Malone, Jefferson 
and the Rights of Man (Boston, 1951), the second volume 
running from 1784 to the end of 1792 of a major biog- 
raphy; and Irving Brant, James Madison, Father of the Con- 
stitution: 1787-1800 (Indianapolis, 1950), the third volume 
of a splendidly diligent biography. See also Lewis Leary, 
That Rascal Freneau (New Brunswick, 1941). Leland D. 
Baldwin, Whiskey Rebels (Pittsburgh, 1939), deals with the 
unrest in Pennsylvania. On the Federalist side, there is a 
contemporary defense in George Gibbs (ed.), Memoirs of the 
Administrations of Washington and Adams from the Papers 
of Oliver Wolcott (2 vols., New York, 1846); and see Nathan 
Schachner, Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1946). The stand- 
ard work on Jay's Treaty is by Samuel F. Bemis (New York, 
1923). And, of course, if the reader has enough leisure, he 
should refer to the collected writings of Washington, John 
Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Hamilton and the other 
principal figures of the era. Nearly all of them wrote remark- 
ably well; and often passion lent them an added eloquence. 


Chapter Five: The Whole Man 

There are two broadly interpretative essays worthy of men- 
tion: Harold W. Bradley, "The Political Thinking of George 
Washington" (Journal of Southern History, XI, 1945, pp. 
469-86), and Saul K. Padover, "George Washington Por- 
trait of a True Conservative" (Social Research, XXII, 1955, 
pp. 199-222). A perceptive earlier interpretation is in Henry T. 
Tuckerman, Essays, Biographical and Critical (Boston, 1857): 
"If we may borrow a metaphor from natural philosophy, it 
was not by magnetism, so much as by gravitation, that [GW's] 
moral authority was established." Francois Guizot's intelli- 
gent short book, Essay on the Character and Influence of 
Washington (Boston, 1851), was originally an introduction 
to a French edition of Jared Sparks on GW. 

On ideas of aristocracy and monarchy in GW's America, 
see William S. Thomas, The Society of the Cincinnati, 1*783- 
X 935 (New York, 1935); Wallace E. Davies, Patriotism on 
Parade: The Story of Veterans' and Hereditary Organizations 
in America, 1783-1900 (Cambridge, Mass., 1955); and Louise B. 
Dunbar, A Study of Monarchical Tendencies in the United 
States from 1^6 to 1801 (Urbana, 1923). 


George Washington is abbreviated GW 

ADAMS, JOHN (1735-1826), opposed 
to GW, 15, 16; contrast to GW, 
31; at First Continental Con- 
gress, 74, 75; choice of com- 
mander, 78; in Paris, 121; first 
Vice-President, 149; title for 
GW, 155; GW consults, 157; 
President, 180, 182; deplores 
GW's renown, 197-200, 208 
Adams, John Quincy (1767-1848), 


Adams, Samuel (1722-1803), 75, 78 
Albany, New York, 89, 100-102, 106 
Alexandria, Virginia, 40, 45, 63 
Alien and Sedition Acts, 190 
AUeghenies, 39, 43, 67, 97, 206 
Americanization, 195 
Ames, Fisher, 158 
Ames, Nathaniel, 158 
Andr, Major John, 116 
"Anglomen," 172, 174, 175 
Annapolis, Maryland, 66, 121, 140, 

143; convention, 137, 143 
Anti-Federalists, "mobocrats," 158, 


Appleby (school), England, 28-30 
Arnold, Colonel Benedict (1741- 
1801), 15, 81, 89, 102, 116, 128 
Articles of Confederation, 145 
AuT-elius, Marcus, quoted, 193, 204 

Banditti, 19, 125 
Barbados, 41, 60 

Bassett, Frances, 134 

Belhaven, Virginia. See Alexandria 

Belvoir, Virginia, 36-39, 181, 191 

Bennington, Vermont, 106 

Bill of Rights, 147, 152, 161 

Blue Ridge Mountains, 38-40 

Boston, Massachusetts, 32, 87, 100, 
111; GW in, 58, 66, 78, 84; Tea 
Party, 71; British occupy, 74, 
80-82; Artemas Ward in, 76; 
GW takes command, 80; evac- 
uation, 85 

Braddock, General Edward, arrives 
Virginia, 49; Fort Duquesne, 
49, 69, 80; death, 50, 73, 187 

Brandywine Creek, Pennsylvania, 
104, 112 

Breed's Hill, Boston, 80, 96, 125. See 
also Bunker Hill 

Britain, colonial empire, 43, 67, 107; 
wars with France, 43, 51, 56, 67, 
85, 108, 112; Canadian prov- 
inces, 67; trade with colonies, 
67, 71, 171; Stamp Act, 70; ties 
with colonies, 70, 170; war with 
Spain, 108, 112, 114; Holland 
hostile, 112; League of Armed 
Neutrality, 112. See also British 

British troops, Boston, 74; Lexing- 
ton and Concord, 75; Breed's 
Hill, 80; evacuated, 84; Brook- 
lyn Heights, 88; Fort Washing- 
ton, 89; Newport, 90, 116; Dela- 



British (continued) 

ware outposts, 91; New Bruns- 
wick, 91; Brandywine and Ger- 
mantown, 104, 105; Philadel- 
phia, 106, no; Bennington, 106; 
Saratoga, 107; Monmouth, 111; 
Savannah, 116; Charleston, 116; 
Camden, 117; Yorktown, 120; 
Western posts, 139. See also 

Brooklyn'ttejghts, New York, 88, 89, 

9 2 > 97 ~ _^ 

Bunker Hill, Boston, glfcMs, 84, 

95, 125. See also Breed's Hill 
Burgoyne, John (1722-1792), 96, 100- 

102, 106, 107, 109, no, 118, 123 
Burr, Aaron (1756-1836), 189, 198 
Butler, Jane, 28 
Byrd, Colonel William, 32, 34, 6tj 

CABINET, evolution of, 157, 165, 168 

California, 33, 38 

Camden, South Carolina, 117 

Canadian provinces, 67, 75, 81, 85, 
98, 100, 102; extent, 67; failure 
of invasion and withdrawal, 84, 

Carter, Robert, 33 

Gary, Colonel Wilson, 37 

Goto, play by Joseph Addison, 
quoted, 16, 76, 80, 191 

Charles II, 26, 39 

Charleston, South Carolina, 84, 87, 
98, 103; fall, 116 

Cherry tree anecdote, 9, 10, 186, 213 

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, 206. 
See also Potomac River Com- 

Chesapeake Bay, 103, 118, 119 

Cincinnati, Society of the, 130, 133, 
138, 143, 210 

Cincinnatus, Lucius Quinctius, com- 
pared to GW, 16, 17, 130, 140, 

Circular to the States, 139 

Civil War (English), 26, 27 

Clinton, George (1739-1812), 146 

Clinton, General Henry (1738?- 

*795)> 95 96 no, 114, 115, 118; 
Charleston, 84, 87; Newport, 
90; knighted, 98; proposal to 
kidnap, 99; New York, 102, 107, 
117, 120; Monmouth, 111; and 
Benedict Arnold, 116 

Common Sense, 68, 83 

Concord, Massachusetts, 75 

Confederation, Articles of, 99 

Connecticut, 78, 82, 116 

Constitution, 158, 161, 169 

Constitutional Convention, 137, 142, 

y, "78, 81, 103, 124 
Continental Congress, First, 73, 74, 

!97> i99> 200 

Continental Congress, Second, 74, 
75-79, 81, 86, 92-94, 98, 109, 114, 
117, 120, 207; medal for GW, 
85; moves to Baltimore, 90; 
offers bounties, 102; moves to 
Lancaster and York, 105; rati- 
fies treaty, 121; Annapolis and 
Trenton, 140; New York, 140, 

i 4 8 

Conway, Thomas (1735-1800?), 109, 
200; Cabal, 108-110, 200 

Cornwallis, Lord (1738-1805), New 
Jersey, 89; nearly traps GW, 91, 
93; ability as soldier, 96, 118, 
126; attempts at GW, 101; 
Brandywine, 104; Georgia and 
South Carolina, 117; Yorktown, 
118-120; surrender, 120, 123 

Cresswell, Nicholas, 83, 91 

Culpeper County, Virginia, 40 

Cumberland, Maryland, 206. See 
also Wills Creek 

Currency, Continental, 93, 106 

Curwen, Samuel, 77 

Deane, Silas (1737-1789), 107 
Debts, America's, 162 
Declaration of Independence, 86, 

170* 196 

Declaration of the Rights of Man 
(France), 170 



Delaware (state), 145 

Delaware River, 89-91 

Democratic-Republicans, 164. See 
also Republicans 

Dinwiddie, Robert (1693-1770), lieu- 
tenant governor of Virginia, 43, 
55; ultimatum, 43, 55; account 
of GW's trip, 44; Ohio expedi- 
tion, 45; receives GW's resig- 
nation, 53; relations with GW, 
53* 54> 58, 73; replaced, 57; 
warned by GW, 119 

Dismal Swamp, 66, 135; Company, 

Dorchester Heights, Boston, 84, 88 

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, quoted, 5, 


Eskridge, George, 28 
Esopus, New York. See Kingston 
Estaing, Comte d', 112-114 
Excise bill, 164 


Fairfax, Colonel George William, 

37* 72 
Fairfax, Sarah Gary, 37, 59-61, 80, 

181, 185 

Fairfax, Thomas Lord, 39 
Fairfax, Colonel William, 36, 59 
Fauntleroy, Betsy, 36, 41 
Fauquier, Francis (i7O4?-i768), 57 
Federal City, 163, 177; christened, 


Federalists, definition, 144; their 
champion, 158; "prigarchy," 
158; "monocrats," 158; position 
of, 172, 174; attitude toward 
France, 175; GW's connection, 
178, 179, 201, 202, 206; in cab- 
inet, 179, 202 

Fenno, John (1751-1798), 165 

Ferry Farm, Virginia, 29, 30, 41, 42 

Florida (Spanish), 121 

Forbes, Brigadier General John, 51, 
52* 57 58 

Fort Cumberland, Maryland, 49, 61 
Fort Duquesne, Pennsylvania, 46, 

49 5 1 * 73 J ^ flames, 52. See 

also Fort Pitt 
Fort Le Boeuf, Pennsylvania, 43, 44, 

J 37 

Fort Logstown, Pennsylvania, 43, 44 
Fort Necessity, Pennsylvania, 47, 48, 

65, 80, 81 
Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania, 52, 66. See 

also Fort Duquesne 
Fort Presque Isle, Pennsylvania, 43 
Fort Ticonderoga, New York, 75, 

84, 95, 106 

Fort Venango, Pennsylvania, 43, 44 
Fort Washington, New York, 89, 92 
France, wars with Britain, 43, 51, 
56, 67, 85, 108, 112; aid to colo- 
nies, 103, 107, 108, 114; recog- 
nizes United States as nation, 
108; alliance, 113, menace, 173, 
175, 176; naval war, 181. See 
also French troops 
Franklin, Benjamin (1706-1790), 16, 
$Q, 148, /33,-ji89; in Paris, 107, 
108, 121 ^ -^ 
Fraunces' Tavern, New York, 121, 

Fredericksburg, Virginia, 30, 42, 66, 

2 ion. 

Freemasonry, 19, 42 
French fleet, no, 112, 114, 118 
French Revolution, 169, 171 
French troops, in West, 33; stub- 
bornness, 44; Trent ousted by, 
45; Duquesne, 46-50, 52, 73; 
GW eager to oust, 53; ultima- 
tum to, 55; removal of threat, 
67; war continued, 73. See also 

Freneau, Philip (1752-1832), 165, 
166, 178, 183, 207 

GAGE, GENERAL THOMAS (1721-1787), 
107; Breed's Hill (Bunker Hill), 
80-82, 95, 96; Duquesne, 80 

"Gallomania," "Gallomen," 171, 175, 



Gates, Horatio (1728-1806), 76, 89, 
117; adjutant general, 78; north- 
ern army, 107; Conway Cabal, 
108-110, 200 

Gazette of the United States, 165 
Genet, Citizen (1763-1834), 171, 173* 


George II, 13^,47 
George III, statue replaced by GW's, 
13; subjects, 69, 195; loyalty to, 
81; independence from, 83; 
"Royal Brute/' 83; villain, 85; 
opposition to, 94; not a mon- 
ster, 95; connection not severed, 

Georgia, 66, 117 
Germain, Lord George, 83, 96, 100- 


German troops. See Hessians 
Germantown, Pennsylvania, 105,112 
Gist, Christopher, 43-46, 60 
Gladstone, William E., 22 
Gordon, General, 185 
Grasse, Admiral de, 117-119 
Great Lakes, 43, 98, 121, 136 
Great Meadows, Pennsylvania, 46, 


Greene, General Nathanael (1742- 
1786), 92, 104, 105, 115, 117, 128 

Guilford Court House, North Caro- 
lina, 117 

Halifax, Nova Scotia, 84, 87 
Hamilton, Alexander (1755?- 1804), 
159, 160, 176, 178, 182, 185, 189, 
190, 198; warns of Conway 
Cabal, 110; urges ratification in 
New York, 147; Secretary of 
Treasury, 154; GW relies on, 
157; feud with Jefferson, 161- 
170; revenue system, 171, 174; 
resigns, 176; death, 183; Act for 
Establishing a Mint, 202 
Hampton, Virginia, 32 
Hancock, John (i737' 1 793) 84, 147 
Hanover County, Virginia, 75 
Harlem Heights, New York, 89 

Head of Elk, Maryland, 103 

Henry, Patrick (1736-1799), 70, 72, 
75> 79> "5. l8 9> delegate, 74; 
disgruntled, 147 

Hessians, 85, 90, 91, 120, 144 

Holland, 112, 177 

Houdon (French sculptor), 14, 134 

House of Representatives, 163, 180; 
authorize monument, 3; forma- 
tion, 145 

Howe, Admiral Lord (1726-1799), 
87, 89, 96, 103 

Howe, General William (1729-1814), 
90, 92, 95, 97, 98, 100, 106, 110, 
118; commander in chief, 84; 
Boston, 84, 87; Staten Island, 
87; Long Island, 88, 96; Brook- 
lyn Heights, 88; New York, 89; 
New Brunswick, 91; knighted, 
95; peace commissioner, 95, 96; 
Newport, 97; opposes Clinton, 
98; Philadelphia, 100-105, 1O 7 
Brandywine, 104, 105; German- 
town, 105, 112; resigns, 106 

Hudson River, New York, 107, 117, 

"Humble Address," 52 

Humphreys, David, 153 

Hunting Creek property, Virginia, 

INDEPENDENCE, American, 83, 121 
Indians, 33, 44, 46, 47, 53, 67, 167, 

*73> 213; bounty for scalps, 34; 

treaties with, 39, 177; Wills 

Creek, 45; Duquesne, 49, 50; 

Boston Tea Party, 71 

JACKSON, ANDREW (1767-1845), 207, 

Jackson, William, 153 

James River, 136 

James River Company, 136 

Jamestown, Virginia, 26 

Jay, John (1745-1829), no; com- 
missioner to Paris, issi; letters 
from GW, 139, 142; Foreign 
Secretary, 139; move for new 



government, 140; advice to GW, 
141; Chief Justice, 154; GW 
consults, 157; Federalist, 167; 
treaty with England, 173-176, 


Jefferson, Thomas (1743-1826), 70, 
133, 171, 173, 174, 176, 178, 
189; education compared to 
GW's, 31, 32; too ill to be nom- 
inated, 73; author of Declara- 
tion of Independence, 86, 196; 
governor of Virginia, 118; nearly 
captured, 118; recommends Po- 
tomac plan, 140; American min- 
ister to Paris, 141; appointed to 
Department of State, 154; feud 
with Hamilton, 161-170; Monti- 
cello, 167, 211; resigned, 176; 
inaugurated President, 183 

Jones, John Paul (1747-1792), 116 

Judiciary Act, 152 

Jumonville, M. de, 46-48, 90 

KALE, BARON DE (1721-1780), 108, 


Kanawha valley, 69, 132 
Kentucky, joins Union, 177 
Kingston (formerly Esopus), New 

York, 107 
Knox, General Henry (1750-1806), 

Boston, 84; letter from GW, 

149; Secretary of War, 153; with 

Hamilton, 165 
Kosciusko, Thaddeus (1746-1817), 

18, 108 

18, 117; mason, 19; key to Bas- 
tille, 19; value to American 
cause, 108; Conway Cabal, 109; 
leads American forces in Vir- 
ginia, 118; Yorktown, 119; in- 
vites GW to France, 130; GW's 
bosom friend, 142, 189; urges 
GW to accept Presidency, 148; 
leader in France, 171; free 
again, 181 

Lake Erie, 43, 44, 75 
Laurel Mountain, Pennsylvania, 46 
Laurens, Henry (1724-1792), 121 
Laurens, John (1754-1782), 189 
League of Armed Neutrality, 112 
Lear, Tobias, 153 

Lee, Charles (1731-1782), military 
experience, 76, 78, 82; New 
York, 89; taken prisoner, 90, 99, 
115; released, 111; conduct at 
Monmouth, 111, 186, 189; court- 
martial, in; relegated to in- 
significance, 117, 128 
Lee, Henry (1756-1818), n, 12, 140 
Lee, Richard Henry (1732-1794), 


Lee, Robert E., 13, 122 
Leeward Islands, 56 
Lewis, Betty (1765-1829), 182 
Lexington, Massachusetts, 75 
Lincoln, Abraham, 13 
Little Hunting Creek tract, 28 
London, England, 45, 47, 48, 61, 62, 

London Magazine, 47 
Long Island, New York, 88, 95, 96, 


Loudoun, Lord, 57 
Louisburg, Nova Scotia, 69 
Louisiana Purchase, 183 


122, 123 

Mackay, Captain, 55 
Maclay, William (1734-1804), 151, 

i55> 156 

Madison, James (1751-1836), 161, 
164, 165, 167, 169, 174, 189; edu- 
cation compared to GW's, 31, 
32; Annapolis and Philadelphia 
conventions, 137; leader for 
new government, 140; in House 
of Representatives, 154; close 
ties with GW, 157; falling-out 
with GW, 157 

Manhattan, New York, 88, 89, 91 

Marye, Reverend James, 30 

Maryland, 33, 39, 75, 136 


Mason, George (1725-1792), 70-73, 


Masons. See Freemasonry 

Massachusetts, 32, 66, 71, 75, 76, 78, 
82, 142, 144; approves Constitu- 
tion, 147 

Meade, David, 202 

Meade, Richard (1746-1805), 202 

Mifflin, General Thomas (1744-1800), 
90, 109 

Militia, 125; Virginia, 46; New Eng- 
land, 76; Pennsylvania, 104; 
New Jersey, 112 

Mint, Act for Establishing a, 202 

Mississippi Company, 63 

Mississippi River, 39, 43, 63, 67, 121, 
136, 176 

Mohawk River, New York, 106 

Monrnouth, New Jersey, 111, 113, 
186, 189 

Monongahela River, 43-46, 187, 213 

Monroe, James (1758-1831), 173 

Monticello, Virginia, 167 

Morgan, J. P., 14, 184 

Morristown, New Jersey, 91 

Mount Vernon, Virginia, 64, 68, 69, 
121, 132-136, 146, 166, 181, 193, 
203-205, 210, 211; tourists, 4, 
66, 188; death of GW, 6; in- 
herited from brother, 10; rep- 
lica in Texas, 21 n.; named for 
Admiral Vernon, 36; used by 
Lawrence's widow, 41; GW ac- 
quires, 42; GW ill at, 51; re- 
furnished, 59, 62; headquarters 
of Washington dan, 62; GW's 
particular pride, 129, 131; bur- 
ial of GW, 194; rescued by 
Ladies' Association, 211 


122, 185 

National Gazette, 164 
Navy, American, 87 
Nelson, Admiral Viscount Horatio, 

21,22,96, 209,210 
New Brunswick, New Jersey, 91, 103 

New England, 78, 82, 98, 101, 128 
New Hampshire, 82, 88; ratifies 

Constitution, 147 
New Jersey, 89, no, 145 
New Orleans, Louisiana, 43 
New York (city), 87, 100, 107; Howe, 

98, 101, 103; Clinton, 102, in, 

117, 120; GW, 113, 114, 118, 

121, 152; Congress, 140, 148 
New York (colony and state), 78, 

85, 95; delegates, 77, 86 
Newport, Rhode Island, 90, 97, 116, 

"Non-importation," "non-exporta- 

tion," 72 

North, Lord, 83, 107 
North Carolina, 55; fails to ratify 

Constitution, 147; enters Union, 


Nortn Castle, New York, 89 
Northern Department, 106 
Northern Neck, Virginia, 26, 28, 39 

OHIO (state), 177 

Ohio Company, 39, 43-45, 53, 69 

Ohio River, 39, 43, 52, 53, 66, 67, 

69, 132, 135, 136 
Osgood, Samuel (1748-1813), 154 

PAINE, TOM (1737-1809), 19, 68, 83, 
84,86, 122, 158, 171 

Paris, France, 48, 107, 121 

Parke, Daniel, 56, 60 

Parliament, 71, 94, 209 

Party system, 157 

Peale, Charles Willson (1741-1827), 
13, 63, 64, 66, 123 

Pennsylvania, 33, 69, 151, 174, 177 

Pennsylvania Journal, 197 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 74, 75, 
77, 90, 98, 100, 101, 103, 107, 
146, 163; First Continental Con- 
gress, 73, 76, 78; Clinton aban- 
dons, no, in 

Pickering, Timothy (1745-1829), 198 

Pinckney, Thomas (1750-1828), 176 

Pitt, William (1759-1806), 160, 171 


Portraits of GW, Gilbert Stuart, 7; 
Brumidi, 13; Peale, 13 n., 63, 64, 
66; Copley, 64 n.; Houdon, 134 

Potomac River, 43, 45, 68, 130, 135, 

Potomac River Company, 136, 137, 

177, 205. See also Chesapeake 

and Ohio Canal 
Prince William County, Virginia, 

Princeton, New Jersey, 13, 91, 93; 

GW portrait at college, 13 n. 
Privy Council, London, 39 
Proclamation of 1763, 67 
Putnam, General (1718-1790), 14, 

78, 82, 88, 90 

QUEBEC, CANADA, 60, 69, 116; Amer- 
ican failure at, 81, 84 
Quebec Act of 1774, 67 

RANDOLPH, EDMUND (1753-1813), 147, 
165, 169, 198; Attorney General, 
154; Secretary of State, 176; dis- 
missed, 176 

Randolph, John (1727?-! 784), Attor- 
ney General of Virginia, 72 

Raystown, Pennsylvania, 51, 58 

Reed, Joseph (1741-1785), 198 

Republicans, 168, 172, 174, 176, 178, 
179, 201, 202; definition, 164; 
victory in 1801, 183 

Rhode Island, 90, 97, 100, 114, 145, 
146; refuses to ratify Constitu- 
tion, 147; enters Union, 152 

Rights of Man, 171 

Rochambeau, Comte de (1725-1807), 

Roman Empire, 191-193 

Royal Gift, 134 

Rules of Civility, 31 n. 

Rush, Benjamin (1745-1813), 198 

Russia, 112 

SATNT GEORGE, American, 200, 202 
Saint Lawrence River, 43 
Salaries, commander in chief, 79; 
President, 154, 155; Secretary 


of State, 155; Secretary of the 

Treasury, 155 
Sandwich, Lord, 83, 95 
Sandy Hook, New York, in 
Saratoga, New York, 107, 108, 116, 

119, 120, 123 

Sauvigny, Billardon de, 18 
Savannah, Georgia, 116 
Schuyler, Philip (1733-1804), 78, 89, 

107, 128 

Schuylkill River, Pennsylvania, 106 

Senate, 145, 156, 157, 173 

Serle, Ambrose, 127 

"Sgnik Sdneirf" (Tories), 83, 85 

Shannopin's Town, Pennsylvania, 44 

Shays, Daniel (1747-1825), 148; Re- 
bellion, 142 

Shenandoah Valley, 38-40, 42 

Simcoe's Rangers, 1 15 

i6th Light Dragoons, 115 

Slaves, 29, 32, 82, 132, 150 

"Sleber" (rebels), 83 

South Carolina, 117 

Spain, 103; war with England, 108, 
112; King of, 134; treaty with 
United States 1795, 176 

Spanish America, 20 

Sparks, Jared, 14, 21, 186 

Speculation, 34, 70 

Stamp Act, 70 

Staten Island, New York, 87 

Steuben, "Baron" von (1730-1794), 

108, 117, 118, 123 
Stuart, Gilbert, 7 
Sulgrave, England, 27 

Sullivan, Major General John (1740- 

Supreme Court, 145 

TARLETON, BANASTRE (1754-1833), 

117, 118 

Taxes, to Britain, 67 
Tea Party, Boston, 71 
Tennessee, joins Union, 177 
Thackeray, William M., 14. 
Title for President, 155 
Tories, 85, 115, 171. See also "Sgnik 



Townshend Acts, 70, 71 

Treaty (alliance) with France, 108, 

112, 113 

Trent, William, 45 
Trenton, New Jersey, go, 93, 112, 

140, 144 
Truro Parish, Virginia, 63, 130 


106, 108, 111-113, 115, 144* l8 *> 

Van Braam, Captain, 43, 45, 47, 48, 


Vasington ou la Libert^ du Nou- 
veau Monde, 18 

Vermont, joins Union, 177 

Vernon, Admiral, 35, 36 

Virginia, first Washingtons in, 26, 
27; wealth in acres, 33; treaty 
with Maryland and Indians, 
39; dishonors GWs pledge, 48; 
GW's loyalty to, 58; unstable 
economy, 68, 69; challenge to 
governor, 75; colonial power, 
78; mood in 1778, 115; and 
Maryland, 136; influential in 
Congress, 145; ratifies Constitu- 
tion, 147; compared to Rome, 

Virginia General Assembly, 36, 44, 

45> 53' 54> 72 

Virginia Provincial Convention, 73 
Virginians, The, 14 

WAKEFIELD (Pope's Creek, Bridges' 
Creek), VIRGINIA, 29 

Walpole Grant, 69 

Ward, Artemas (1727-1800), 76, 78, 
82, 96, 128 

Washington, Anne Fairfax (sister- 
in-law), 36, 41 

Washington, Augustine (father) 
(1694-1743), 28 

Washington, Augustine (half broth- 
er), 29, 37 

Washington, Charles (brother) (1738- 
i799) 29 

Washington, Elizabeth (sister) (1733- 
1797), 29 


Washington, George (1732-1799) 
YOUTH, family motto, 12; birth, 
29; early schooling, 30; educa- 
tion, 31 35; adolescence, 35; in- 
fluence of brother Lawrence, 
36; social influence, 36; and 
Betsy Fauntleroy, 36; military 
influence, 36; early years at 
Mount Vernon, 36, 37; and 
Sally Gary Fairfax, 37; sur- 
veyor, 40-42; voyage to Barba- 
dos, 41; becomes Freemason, 42 
MANHOOD, church affiliations, 11, 
63, 65, 130; refuses invitation to 
France, 31; amusements, 36, 135; 
ailments, 41, 49, 51, 65, 129, 143, 
166, 182; leases, owns Mount 
Vernon, 42; elected to House of 
Burgesses, 52; engaged, 52; mar- 
ried, 52, 60, 61; Dismal Swamp 
Company venture, 63; county 
magistrate, 63; trustee of Alex- 
andria, 63; Mississippi Company 
venture, 63; agrees not to im- 
port from Britain, 70, 72; at- 
tends Virginia Provincial Con- 
vention, 73; delegate to First 
Continental Congress, 73; dele- 
gate to Second Continental Con- 
gress, 74; disapproval of duel- 
ing, 79; president of Potomac 
River Company, 136; elected 
president of Constitutional Con- 
vention, 143 

tant of militia, 42; major, 42; 
trip through Pennsylvania, 43, 
44; lieutenant colonel, 45; vic- 
tory at Laurel Mountain, 46; 
colonel, 46, 186; defeat at Fort 
Necessity, 47; resignation of 
commission, 48; Braddock's 
aide-de-camp, 49; commander 
in chief of Virginia's soldiery, 
51; military administrator of 
Virginia, 54; trip to frontier, 66; 
decision against polite equivoca- 
tion, 85 


GENERAL, Valley Forge, 10, 106, 
108, 111, 186; crosses Delaware, 

19, 90, 213; general of colonies, 
66; elected to command all con- 
tinental forces, 75; takes com- 
mand of patriot army, 80; fail- 
ure of Quebec invasion, 81, 84; 
New York City, 87; defeat at 
Brooklyn Heights, 88; Harlem 
Heights, 89; retreat through 
New Jersey, 89; coup at Tren- 
ton, 90; success at Princeton, 
91; errors of judgment, 91, 92; 
traits of character, 92, 93, 188- 
190; treatment by Congress, 94; 

dictatorial powers, 94; plot to 
kill, 99; defeat at Brandywine, 
104, 105; defeat at German town, 
105; Conway Cabal to oust, 
108-110; Monmouth, in; pri- 
macy unquestioned, 112; White 
Plains, 113; administrative cri- 
ses, 114; hangs Major Andr, 
116; Yorktown, 119, 120; re- 
linquishes commander in chief's 
commission, 121; details aide to 
notify Congress, 123; compari- 
son to General George B. Mc- 
Clellan, 123; reputation in 
England and France, 124, 127; 
resemblance to Cornwallis, 126; 
possible equals, 128; suggested 
as King of United States, 168 

PRESIDENT, Farewell Address, 13, 

20, 157, 159, 177, 182, 193, 201; 
significance in France, 18; pre- 
sented with key to Bastille, 19, 
188; President, 137, 149; father 
of his country, 137; Circular to 
the States, 139; trip to New 
York, 149; inaugural address, 
151; first cabinet, 153; salary, 
155; scale of living, 155; titles, 
155; relationship with Congress, 
156; and Madison, 157; feud be- 
tween Hamilton and Jefferson, 
161-170; persuades Jefferson not 
to retire, 168; second admin- 

istration, 169; neutrality in 
French Revolution, 171, 175, 
177; credit for growth and 
prosperity, 177; Federalist sym- 
pathy, 179; relinquishes Presi- 
dency, 180 

LATER YEARS, portrait by Gilbert 
Stuart, 7, 1 86; portrait by Bru- 
midi, 13; portrait by Peale, 
13 n., 63, 66, 123; statue and 
portrait by Houdon, 14, 134; 
statue by Greenough, 17; wish 
to retire, 130; three enthusiasms, 
130, 131; president-general of 
Society of Cincinnati, 130, 133; 
life as farmer, 131, 132; trip 
across Alleghenies, 132; rejects 
allowance from Congress, 132; 
gifts, 134, 135; adoption of two 
grandchildren, 135; back in uni- 
form, 181; commander in chief 
again, 182; death, 183; "smut- 
ty" letters, 184; comparison to 
Cincinnatus, 190-193; compari- 
son to Romans, 190-195; criti- 
cisms of, 197, 201; as "Ameri- 
can Saint George," 200; pathos, 
202-211; "Father of the Nation/' 
203; birthplace burned, 204; 
triumph, 211 

Washington, George Augustine 
(nephew) (? -1793), 134 

Washington, John (great-grand- 
father) (1631?- 1677), 27 

Washington, John Augustine (broth- 
er) (1736-1787), 29, 86, 87 

Washington, John Parke Custis 
(stepson) (1754-1781), 38, 62, 135, 
203; marries, 64; death, 120 

Washington, Lawrence (great-great- 
grandfather) (1602?- 1653), 27 

Washington, Lawrence (grandfather) 
(1659-1698), 27 

Washington, Lawrence (half broth- 
er) (1718-1752), 28, 35, 37, 40, 
41, 191; death, 41 

Washington, Lund (distant cousin), 
86, 113, 134 


Washington, Martha Dandridge 
Custis (wife) (1731-1802), 10, 
60, 80, 113, 121, 134, 135, 181, 
184, 212; marries GW, 61 

Washington, Martha Parke Custis 
(stepdaughter) (1756-1773), 6*; 
death, 64 

Washington, Mary Ball (mother) 
(1707-1789), 193; marries Augus- 
tine Washington, 28; death, 
210 n.; grave, 210 n. 

Washington, Mildred (sister) (1739- 
1740), death, 29 

Washington, Samuel (brother) (1734- 
1781), 29 

Washington, D.C., 183, 206. See also 
Federal City 

Washington Benevolent Societies, 

Wayne, General Anthony (1745- 
1796), 177 

Webster, Daniel, 9, 192 

Weems, "Parson/' 9-12, 21, 25, 30, 

65, 183, 186 

Wellington, Duke of, 21, 23 
West Indies, 35, 112, 114 
West Point, New York, 116 
Westminster Abbey, 191,209 
Whiskey Rebellion, Pennsylvania, 


White Plains, New York, 89, 113 
Williamsburg, Virginia, 32, 33, 44, 

47 53^ 62, 66, 73, 119, 152 
Wills Creek, Maryland, 45, 206 
Wilmington, Delaware, 104 
Wilson, Woodrow, 187, 188 
Wolfe, General James, 60 

Yorktown, Virginia, 32, 118-120, 127, 

161, 170, 200 
Youghiogheny River, 44 
Young, Arthur, 132