# Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Founding Fathers of the United States hold a special place in my country's history. Centuries after they lived, people still speak with reverence of men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. Yet one man of this era stands above even these giants. George Washington cemented his place in history by leading the American army that defeated the British in the Revolution War; then, serving as the first President of the United States.

Ron Chernow's biography Washington: A Life details the General/President's rise and how handled the power he was given.

Washington was born into an upper-middle class family; but rose to become one of the landed gentry by a series of fortuitous events: his widowed mother married a wealthy farmer and George inherited the large estate at Mount Vernon by outliving all other possible heirs; then, George married wealthy widow Martha Custis.

When the American Revolution began, Washington led a poorly-equipped, ill-trained army to victory over one of the great powers in the world. He did so despite infighting among his officers and the young country's lawmakers.

After the war, Washington was the most popular man in America and the logical choice to serve as its first leader. He won the Presidency unanimously and served two terms despite his desire to return to his Virginia estate and manage the farms there.

In his first term, George Washington attempted to unite the factions of the young country - surrounding himself with people of varying opinions. His cabinet and advisors included Northerners and southerners; slaveholders and abolitionists; those who favored a centralized government and those suspicious of concentrated power. Fierce debates arose as to whether the US should align itself more closely with England or France - two countries at war with one another. By his second term, Washington had tired of the infighting among his advisors and those that criticized him publicly. Quarrels between Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and Madison left him weary and disillusioned, so he retained a more homogeneous cabinet for his final four years in office.

As with Chernow's earlier biography of Alexander Hamilton, "Washington: A Life" goes beyond the historical facts and gives the reader a taste for Washington's character and personality. Washington was arrogant, stoic, and aloof; he was not given to long speeches, but he was eloquent in his writing; he rejected the idea of a British-style monarchy for America and was hurt that some thought he had ambitions of becoming king; he desperately wanted to leave public life and return to managing Mount Vernon (during the War, he corresponded frequently with the managers of his estate); he was unwavering in his honesty and integrity; he was highly conscious of his public image; he enjoyed the luxuries that came with wealth; he had a difficult relationship with his overly-demanding mother.

In this book, we see a complex man, who held together a nation during arguably its most vulnerable time. Few people had the universal respect to pull off this miracle.

Washington had a strong sense of duty that drove him to server in public office, despite his cash flow problems, which could have been better addressed by staying home and managing his estate. Ultimately, he was the unifying force that the young republic needed. His actions strengthened the central government and the country and defined the office of presidency.

But Washington had his faults.

As a general, he was not a great strategist - he lost more battles than he won - but held together a ragtag, underfunded army for years until the British forces committed a blunder he could exploit.

The most controversial aspect of Washington's life is his status as a slave owner. : or note that he appeared to treat his slaves better than his peers (Washington forbade beatings and refused to separate families).

Arguably the most conflicted aspect Washington was his dealings with slavery and Chernow covers this topic considerably. Washington and his wife owned hundreds of slaves and made almost no public effort to promote abolition. Yet he spoke privately of his desire to end slavery and thought the practice would eventually die out on its own. He showed less cruelty to his slaves than most other Virginia farmers, establishing rules against physical beatings and separating families; but he sometimes broke these rules when he felt it was necessary. One can take into account that nearly every wealthy Virginia landowner owned slaves and one can note that he freed his slaves in his will. But he remained publicly silent on the political hot topic, despite being in a position of great influence. Washington's position on slavery evolved throughout his lifetime, but he seems to have never fully grasped the inhumanity and cruelty inherent in one human being owning another

These are the kinds of things that Chernow presents to the reader to show the humanity and complexity of or first President. He praises Washington's achievements, while stripping away his legendary status, showing him as a great, but flawed human, not a demi-god or saint

If you are looking for a comprehensive biography of one of the most influential men in American history - a book that covers his entire life, this one is for you.

Saturday, December 19, 2020 5:08:28 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)