Chris's Reviews > Washington: A Life
Washington: A Life
by Ron Chernow
by Ron Chernow
Jan 18, 11
Read in January, 2011
Obviously this is a book about George Washington and it's a good one, but it is so much more than that. Here's a chance to see America at a critical time in our history from roughly 1750 to 1800 through the eyes of a man at the center of it all. As a member of the Virginia aristocracy, Washington gradually came to appreciate the northern, free state perspective coming out of his Revolutionary War experience and this ability to appreciate the entire country became a defining characteristic. Of particular interest was watching the birth of the two political party system during his two terms. While Washington believed only a strong federal government could keep American free from foreign influence or invasion, his preferred leadership style was to listen to all views and try to reach a compromise decision. With Hamilton running Treasury and Jefferson running State, that became increasingly impossible. Jefferson definitely dropped several notches in my estimation and comes across as a pretty smarty character -- supporting Washington to his face while writing anonymous public attacks. While the two partys certainly differed over states rights versus federal rights, support for France and the French Revolution played a huge part with Washington fearing the mob mentality and Jefferson consistently supporting the overthrow of the monarchy. Also, the Jeffersonian's supported the supremacy of the legislative branch over the executive believing in the wisdom of the 'common man' while Washington tended to be much more skeptical. Slavery plays a huge part in the formation of our country -- somehow I thought it was a 19th century conflict but deep roots leading to the Civil War are already in place by 1800. Until 1830 every southern president brought slaves to the White House. Washington used to send his back to Virginia every six months because Pennsylvania (Philadelphia was the first national capital) had a law that any slave in the state for six continuous months was automatically free. Several random images to end: 1. After the decisive American victory at Yorktown, Washington and British leader Cornwallis dine together and even tour the battlefield to discuss strategy. 2. Washington using his connections as president to persuade federal employees in northern states to find and return his runaway slaves. 3. A group of ministers after Washington's death starting a movement to get his farewell address added to the end of the Bible. 4. The rock star quality Washington both enjoyed and suffered through -- riding a carriage between towns and mounting his white horse at the entrance to every community where streets were always full of admirers wanting to catch a glimpse of him. 5. During the war, Washington keeping a dozen or more scribes busy every day writing his correspondence. So -- a great book about a great man and the founding of a great country. Just make sure you plan enough time to digest it; at over 800 pages it takes some time.
Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Washington.sign in »