Winner of the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Excellence in American History Book AwardWinner of the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize“Cogent, lucid, and concise…An indispensable guide to the creation of the cabinet…Groundbreaking…we can now have a much greater appreciation of this essential American institution, one of the major legacies of George Washington’s enlightened statecraft.”—Ron ChernowOn November 26, 1791, George Washington convened his department secretaries—Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, and Edmund Randolph—for the first cabinet meeting. Why did he wait two and a half years into his presidency to call his cabinet? Because the US Constitution did not create or provide for such a body. Faced with diplomatic crises, domestic insurrection, and constitutional challenges—and finding congressional help distinctly lacking—he decided he needed a group of advisors he could turn to for guidance.Authoritative and compulsively readable, The Cabinet reveals the far-reaching consequences of this decision. To Washington’s dismay, the tensions between Hamilton and Jefferson sharpened partisan divides, contributing to the development of the first party system. As he faced an increasingly recalcitrant Congress, he came to treat the cabinet as a private advisory body, greatly expanding the role of the executive branch and indelibly transforming the presidency.“Important and illuminating…an original angle of vision on the foundations and development of something we all take for granted.”—Jon Meacham“Fantastic…A compelling story.”—New Criterion“Helps us understand pivotal moments in the 1790s and the creation of an independent, effective executive.”—Wall Street Journal
"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
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.
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.
George Washington is remembered for leading the Continental Army to victory, presiding over the Constitution, and forging a new nation, but few know the story of his involvement in the establishment of a capital city and how it nearly tore the United States apart.
In George Washington’s Final Battle, Robert P. Watson brings this tale to life, telling how the country's first president tirelessly advocated for a capital on the shores of the Potomac. Washington envisioned and had a direct role in planning many aspects of the city that would house the young republic. In doing so, he created a landmark that gave the fledgling democracy credibility, united a fractious country, and created a sense of American identity.
Although Washington died just months before the federal government's official relocation, his vision and influence live on in the city that bears his name.
This little-known story of founding intrigue throws George Washington’s political acumen into sharp relief and provides a historical lesson in leadership and consensus-building that remains relevant today. This book will fascinate anyone interested in the founding period, the American presidency, and the history of Washington, DC.
An unprecedented collection of African American writings on Lincoln
Though not blind to Abraham Lincoln's imperfections, Black Americans long ago laid a heartfelt claim to his legacy. At the same time, they have consciously reshaped the sixteenth president's image for their own social and political ends. Frederick Hord and Matthew D. Norman's anthology explores the complex nature of views on Lincoln through the writings and thought of Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, Gwendolyn Brooks, Barbara Jeanne Fields, Barack Obama, and dozens of others. The selections move from speeches to letters to book excerpts, mapping the changing contours of the bond--emotional and intellectual--between Lincoln and Black Americans over the span of one hundred and fifty years.
A comprehensive and valuable reader, Knowing Him by Heart examines Lincoln’s still-evolving place in Black American thought.
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.
The first full account of the relationship between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, countering the legend of their enmity while drawing vital historical lessons from the differences that arose between them.Martha Washington’s worst memory was the death of her husband. Her second worst was Thomas Jefferson’s awkward visit to pay his respects subsequently. Indeed, by the time George Washington had died in 1799, the two founders were estranged. But that estrangement has obscured the fact that for most of their thirty-year acquaintance they enjoyed a productive relationship. Precisely because they shared so much, their disagreements have something important to teach us.In constitutional design, for instance: Whereas Washington believed in the rule of traditional elites like the Virginia gentry, Jefferson preferred what we would call a meritocratic approach, by which elites would be elected on the basis of education and skills. And while Washington emphasized a need for strong central government, Jefferson favored diffusion of power across the states. Still, as Francis Cogliano argues, common convictions equally defined their relationship: a passion for American independence and republican government, as well as a commitment to westward expansion and the power of commerce. They also both evolved a skeptical view of slavery, eventually growing to question the institution, even as they took only limited steps to abolish it.What remains fascinating is that the differences between the two statesmen mirrored key political fissures of the early United States, as the unity of revolutionary zeal gave way to competing visions for the new nation. A Revolutionary Friendship brilliantly captures the dramatic, challenging, and poignant reality that there was no single founding ideal—only compromise between friends and sometime rivals.
Winner of the George Washington PrizeA fresh, original look at George Washington as an innovative land manager whose singular passion for farming would unexpectedly lead him to reject slavery.George Washington spent more of his working life farming than he did at war or in political office. For over forty years, he devoted himself to the improvement of agriculture, which he saw as the means by which the American people would attain the “respectability & importance which we ought to hold in the world.”Washington at the Plow depicts the “first farmer of America” as a leading practitioner of the New Husbandry, a transatlantic movement that spearheaded advancements in crop rotation. A tireless experimentalist, Washington pulled up his tobacco and switched to wheat production, leading the way for the rest of the country. He filled his library with the latest agricultural treatises and pioneered land-management techniques that he hoped would guide small farmers, strengthen agrarian society, and ensure the prosperity of the nation.Slavery was a key part of Washington’s pursuits. He saw enslaved field workers and artisans as means of agricultural development and tried repeatedly to adapt slave labor to new kinds of farming. To this end, he devised an original and exacting system of slave supervision. But Washington eventually found that forced labor could not achieve the productivity he desired. His inability to reconcile ideals of scientific farming and rural order with race-based slavery led him to reconsider the traditional foundations of the Virginia plantation. As Bruce Ragsdale shows, it was the inefficacy of chattel slavery, as much as moral revulsion at the practice, that informed Washington’s famous decision to free his slaves after his death.
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.
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