The US Constitution says nothing about a presidential cabinet, yet this institution has grown powerful. Lindsay M. Chervinsky tells the story of George Washington’s cabinet, an ad hoc panel that responded to emergencies of the day. It is supposed to be the Senate’s job to advise the president, but the first cabinet changed that expectation forever.
Perhaps no other person could ever achieve the preeminent position in American history and culture occupied by George Washington. Born in 1732, Washington’s life–long commitment to self-improvement and discipline helped him become a legend in his own lifetime. Whether as a statesman, military man, or America’s first president, Washington created a legacy that has scarcely diminished in over two centuries. Yet the passage of time and the superlatives reserved for Washington have knit together and made it difficult to find the real man. Historian and editor John P. Kaminski has amassed an extraordinary body of quotations by and about George Washington that brings us closer to the essence of this great leader. This collection paints an intricate picture of the man who Henry 'Lighthorse' Lee of Virginia eulogized as: "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."
"I never mean (unless some particular circumstance should compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure and imperceptible degrees."—George Washington, September 9, 1786
No history of racism in America can be considered complete without taking into account the role that George Washington—the principal founding father—played in helping to mold the racist cast of the new nation. Because General Washington—the universally acknowledged hero of the Revolutionary War—in the postwar period uniquely combined the moral authority, personal prestige, and political power to influence significantly the course and the outcome of the slavery debate, his opinions on the subject of slaves and slavery are of crucial importance to understanding how racism succeeded in becoming an integral and official part of the national fabric during its formative stages.
The successful end of the War for Independence in 1783 brought George Washington face-to-face with a fundamental dilemma: how to reconcile the proclaimed ideals of the revolution with the established institution of slavery. So long as black human beings in America could legally be considered the chattel property of whites, the rhetoric of equality and individual freedom was hollow. Progressive voices urged immediate emancipation as the only way to resolve the contradiction; the Southern slave owners, of course, stood firm for the status quo. Washington was caught squarely in the middle.
As a Virginia plantation proprietor and a lifelong slaveholder, Washington had a substantial private stake in the economic slave system of the South. However, in his role as the acknowledged political leader of the country, his overriding concern was the preservation of the Union. If Washington publicly supported emancipation, he would almost certainly have to set an example and take steps to dispose of his Mount Vernon slaves. If he spoke out on the side of slavery, how could he legitimately and conscientiously expect to uphold and defend the humanistic goals and moral imperatives of the new nation as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? His was a balancing act that became more and more difficult to sustain with the passing years.
Relying primarily on Washington's own words—his correspondence, diaries, and other written records—supplemented by letters, comments, and eyewitness reports of family members, friends, employees, aides, correspondents, colleagues, and visitors to Mount Vernon, together with contemporary newspaper clippings and official documents pertaining to Washington's relationships with African Americans, Fritz Hirschfeld traces Washington's transition from a conventional slaveholder to a lukewarm abolitionist. George Washington and Slavery will be an essential addition to the historiography of eighteenth-century America and of Washington himself.
George Washington’s childhood is famously the most elusive part of his life story. For centuries biographers have struggled with a lack of period documentation and an absence of late-in-life reflection in trying to imagine Washington’s formative years.
In George Washington Written upon the Land, Philip Levy explores this most famous of American childhoods through its relationship to the Virginia farm where much of it took place. Using approaches from biography, archaeology, folklore, and studies of landscape and material culture, Levy focuses on how different ideas about Washington’s childhood functioned—what sorts of lessons they sought to teach and how different epochs and writers understood the man and the past itself.
In a suggestive and far-reaching final chapter, Levy argues that Washington was present at the onset of the Anthropocene—the geologic era when human activity began to have a significant impact on world ecosystems. Interpreting Washington’s childhood farm through the lens of “big” history, he encourages scholars to break down boundaries between science and social science and between human and nonhuman.
CULLED FROM the six volumes of The Diaries of George Washington completed in 1979, this selection of entries chosen by retired Washington Papers editor Dorothy Twohig reveals the lifelong preoccupations of the public and private man.
Washington was rarely isolated from the world during his eventful life. His diary for 1751-52 relates a voyage to Barbados when he was nineteen. The next two accounts concern the early phases of the French and Indian War, in which Washington commanded a Virginia regiment. By the 1760s when Washington's diaries resume, he considered himself retired from public life, but George III was on the British throne and in the American colonies the process of unrest was beginning that would ultimately place Washington in command of a revolutionary army.
Even as he traveled to Philadelphia in 1787 to chair the Constitutional Convention, however, and later as president, Washington's first love remained his plantation, Mount Vernon. In his diary, he religiously recorded the changing methods of farming he employed there and the pleasures of riding and hunting. Rich in material from this private sphere, George Washington's Diaries: An Abridgment offers historians and anyone interested in Washington a closer view of the first president in this bicentennial year of his death.
"In March 1785 Washington referred to his work at Mount Vernon as his singular 'amusement,' which is what Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig continue to provide readers of Washington's diaries. These volumes stand in welcome contrast to the growing colorlessness that has become the hallmark of too many documentary editions."
--American Historical Review
"The editors have turned the diaries and almanac notes . . . into sources that when placed in their context give us real insight into this most inscrutable of the Founding Fathers."
--Virginia Quarterly Review
"An invaluable guide for historians and, surprisingly, the casual reader interested in Washington, his observations on several trips and . . . comments on some of the military and political affairs of the day. . . . Large sections of the diary. . . give the general reader a fascinating insight to the man."
--Will Molineux in Newport News Daily Press
Dorothy Twohig recently retired as Editor in Chief of The Papers of George Washington after more than thirty years with the project.
A well-disciplined army was vital to win American independence, but policing soldiers during the Revolution presented challenges. George Washington’s Enforcers: Policing the Continental Army examines how justice was left to the overlapping duties of special army personnel and how an improvised police force imposed rules and regulations on the common soldier. Historian Harry M. Ward describes these methods of police enforcement, emphasizing the brutality experienced by the enlisted men who were punished severely for even light transgressions. This volume explores the influences that shaped army practice and the quality of the soldiery, the enforcement of military justice, the use of guards as military police, and the application of punishment.
Washington’s army, which adopted the organization and justice code of the British army, labored under the direction of ill-trained and arrogant officers. Ward relates how the enlisted men, who had a propensity for troublemaking and desertion, not only were victims of the double standard that existed between officers and regular troops but also lacked legal protection in the army. The enforcement of military justice afforded the accused with little due process support.
Ward discusses the duties of the various personnel responsible for training and enforcing the standards of behavior, including duty officers, adjutants, brigade majors, inspectors, and sergeant majors. He includes the roles of life guards, camp guards, quarter guards, picket men, and safe guards, whose responsibilities ranged from escorting the commander in chief, intercepting spies and stragglers, and protecting farmers from marauding soldiers to searching for deserters, rounding up unauthorized personnel, and looking for delinquents in local towns and taverns.
George Washington’s Enforcers, which includes sixteen illustrations, also addresses the executions of the period, as both ritual and spectacle, and the deterrent value of capital punishment. Ward explains how Washington himself mixed clemency with severity and examines how army policies tested the mettle of this chief disciplinarian, who operated by the dictates of military necessity as perceived at the time.
Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was an eighteenth-century French inventor, famed playwright, and upstart near-aristocrat in the court of King Louis XVI. In 1776, he conceived an audacious plan to send aid to the American rebels. What’s more, he convinced the king to bankroll the project, and singlehandedly carried it out. By war’s end, he had supplied Washington’s army with most of its weapons and powder, though he was never paid or acknowledged by the United States. To some, he was a dashing hero—a towering intellect who saved the American Revolution. To others, he was pure rogue—a double-dealing adventurer who stopped at nothing to advance his fame and fortune. In fact, he was both, and more: an advisor to kings, an arms dealer, and author of some of the most enduring works of the stage, including The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville.
On the morning of November 20, 1776, General Charles Cornwallis overran patriot positions at Fort Lee, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. The attack threw George Washington's army into turmoil. Thus began an American retreat across the state, which ended only after the battered rebels crossed the Delaware river at Trenton on December 7. It was a three-week campaign that marked the most dramatic and desperate period of the War for Independence. In The Long Retreat, Arthur Lefkowitz has written the first book-length study of this critical campaign. He adds compelling new detail to the narrative, and offers the most comprehensive account in the literature of the American retreat to the Delaware and of the British pursuit. What emerges is a history misconceptions about the movements of the armies, the intentions of their leaders, and the choices available to rebel commanders and their British counterparts. Lefkowitz presents a patriot military pounded into desperate straights by the forces of the Crown, but in the end more resilient and wily than most previous scholarship has allowed. If brought low over November and December of 1776, Washington's battalions were still a force to reckon with as they pulled away from the advancing British. Despite serious losses in material and personnel, Washington managed to keep his units operational; and even while making mistakes, he sought to consolidate patriot regiments and longed for a chance to counterattack. The Christmas night riposte at Trenton, a dramatic reversal of fortune in any case, stemmed from measures the rebel Commander-in-Chief had initiated even as he completed his retrogade across New Jersey. How all of this came about emerges and crisp narrative of The Long Retreat. It is the definitive book on a crucial chapter in the history of American Arms.
The Potomac Canal: George Washington and the Waterway West is a history of a new nation’s first effort to link the rich western agricultural lands with the coastal port cities of the east. The Potomac Canal Company was founded in 1785, and was active until it was overtaken by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company in 1828. During its operation, the canal system was used to ship flour from mills in the foothills of Appalachia to the tidewater of the Chesapeake, where the flour was shipped to the Caribbean as trade for sugar and other goods. This trade soon became the basis of agricultural wealth in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle and throughout the Appalachian Piedmont. Coal was also shipped via the canal system from the upper reaches of the Potomac River to workshops at Harpers Ferry and beyond. This industrial trade route laid the foundation for what would eventually become the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
At the age of sixteen, our first president began his professional life as a surveyor, going on to lead several expeditions to measure and map the American interior. The early surveyors, whether determining a colonial border, setting a boundary for a tract of land, accurately recording a sale, or making a map, had significant practical and political impact on the expanding country. Landed property created personal wealth for individuals and governments, and stability for the developing nation.
In Surveying Early America: The Point of Beginning, An Illustrated History, award-winning photographer Dan Patterson and American historian Clinton Terry vividly examine the profession of surveying in the eighteenth century. Retracing the steps Washington and other surveyors took to map the Ohio River Valley, readers are immersed in historically accurate details of early surveying techniques and practices. Terry’s narrative describes the practice of land and survey measurement—methods that did not substantially change until the invention of GPS technology 200 years later. Over 100 full color photographs exclusively shot for the book depict authentic and historically accurate reproductions of tools along with early American reenactors to provide an interpretive look at surveying as a primary means to building the American nation. Working with the Department of the Geographer, Patterson restages actual expeditions, brilliantly displaying the techniques and instruments Washington would have employed 260 years ago. Through the lens of Patterson’s camera and Terry’s accompanying narrative, readers see what Washington saw as he learned his trade, explored the vast American wilderness, and occasionally laid personal claim to great expanses of land along the way.
The 2002 revelation that George Washington kept slaves in his executive mansion at Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park in the 1790s prompted an eight-year controversy about the role of slavery in America's commemorative landscape. When the President's House installation opened in 2010, it became the first federal property to feature a slave memorial.
In Upon the Ruins of Liberty, Roger Aden offers a compelling account that explores the development of this important historic site and how history, space, and public memory intersected with contemporary racial politics. Aden constructs this engrossing tale by drawing on archival material and interviews with principal figures in the controversy-including historian Ed Lawler, site activist Michael Coard, and site designer Emanuel Kelly.
Upon the Ruins of Liberty chronicles the politically-charged efforts to create a fitting tribute to the place where George Washington (and later, John Adams) shaped the presidency while denying freedom to the nine enslaved Africans in his household. From design to execution, the plans prompted advocates to embrace stories informed by race, and address difficulties that included how to handle the results of the site excavation. As such, this landmark project raised concerns and provided lessons about the role of public memory and how places are made to shape the nation's identity.
While Attacking the Irish at Stony Point and Paulus Hook, George Washington Prepared a Bold Plan to End the War in New York City
Despite great limits of money and manpower, George Washington sought to wage an aggressive war in 1779. He launched the Sullivan–Clinton campaign against Britain’s Iroquois allies in upstate New York, and in response to British attacks up the Hudson River and against coastal Connecticut, he authorized raids on British outposts at Stony Point and Paulus Hook. But given power by Congress to plan and execute operations with the French on a continental scale, Washington planned his boldest campaign. When it appeared that the French would bring a fleet and an army to America, and supported by intelligence from his famed “Culper” spy network, the American commander proposed a joint Franco-American attack on the bastion of British power in North America—New York City—to capture its garrison. Such a blow, he hoped, would end the war in 1779.
Based on extensive primary source material, Washington’s War 1779, by historian Benjamin Lee Huggins, describes Washington’s highly detailed plans and extensive preparations for his potentially decisive Franco-American campaign to defeat the British at New York in the fall of 1779. With an emphasis on Washington's generalship in that year—from strategic and operational planning to logistics to diplomacy—and how it had evolved since the early years of the war, the book also details the other offensive operations in 1779, including the attacks in upstate New York, Stony Point, and Paulus Hook. Although the American and French defeat at Savannah, Georgia, prevented Washington from carrying out his New York offensive, Washington gained valuable experience in planning for joint operations that would help him win at Yorktown two years later.
Winner of the 2005 Thomas Fleming Award for the Best Book in American Revolutionary War History
Finalist for the Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award
After two years of fighting, Great Britain felt confident that the American rebellion would be crushed in 1777, the "Year of the Hangman." Britain devised a bold new strategy. Turning its attention to the colonial frontiers, especially those of western New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, Britain enlisted its provincial rangers, Tories, and allied warriors, principally from the Iroquois Confederacy, to wage a brutal backwoods war in support of General John Burgoyne's offensive as it swept southward from Canada in an attempt to cut the colonies in half, divert the Continental Army, and weaken its presence around British-occupied New York City and Philadelphia.
Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga sent shock waves through the British command. But the efforts along the frontier under the direction of Sir John Johnson, Colonel John Butler, and the charismatic Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant, appeared to be impairing the American ability to conduct the war. Destroying Patriot settlements and farms across hundreds of miles of frontier, the British and Indian forces threatened to reduce Continental army enlistment, and more importantly, precious food supplies. Following the massacres at the well-established colonial settlements of Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and Cherry Valley, New York, the Continental Congress persuaded General George Washington to conduct a decisive offensive to end the threat once and for all. Brewing for years, the conflict between the Iroquois and colonists would now reach its deadly climax.
Charging his troops "to not merely overrun, but destroy," Washington devised a two-prong attack to exact American revenge. The largest coordinated American military action against American Indians in the war, the campaign shifted the power in the east, ending the political and military influence of the Iroquois, forcing large numbers of loyalist to flee to Canada, and sealing Britain's fateful decision to seek victory in the south. In Year of the Hangman: George Washington's Campaign Against the Iroquois, historian Glenn F. Williams recreates the riveting events surrounding the action, including the checkered story of European and Indian alliances, the bitter frontier wars, and the bloody battles of Oriskany and Newtown.