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Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency
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PRESIDENTIAL SERIES > 6. BLOOD OF TYRANTS ~ September 16th ~ September 22nd ~~ CHAPTERS 17 - 20 ~ (140 -176) No-Spoilers

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Bryan Craig Chapter Overviews and Summaries

Chapter Seventeen: Reevaluation


Congress had a difficult time getting a quorum as they scattered to get distance from the British. Washington demanded more supplies from the states and asked Congress to create a much-needed artillery corp.

Washington went ahead and created three artillery battalions and even cast cannons, telling Congress after the fact. However, Congress was giving Washington more authority as a commander in the field by allowing him to raise 16 infantry battalions and appoint his officers (with the exception of brigadier general and above). It was a gamble and some people were calling Washington a dictator. Washington told members of Congress that his intention was to preserve liberty.

Chapter Eighteen: Victory of Death

Enlistment was about up and morale was low in the Continental Army. Washington was ready to move against the British and crossed the Delaware River in bad weather. On December 26, his army attacked Trenton that surprised the German Hessians. Because of this victory, more men stayed on beyond their original enlistment. General Howe sent General Cornwallis to Trenton with 8,000 men, while Washington sent sharpshooters to harass Cornwallis.

In the battle of Assunpink Creek, Washington delayed the British in crossing the water, then hit the British at Princeton until Washington's army moved to Morristown.

Chapter Nineteen: Idolatry

Due to these victories, Howe pulled out of New Jersey, and Congress did not question Washington's military opinion. Washington told Congress to plug any leaks and get states to help supply his army.

Howe issued a directive that said he would pardon anyone who swore allegiance to the Crown. In response, Washington asked people to take a oath, pledging themselves to the U.S. or be considered the enemy. John Adams supported this controversial measure amidst some dissent.

Washington realized he had to continue to focus on his army's survival and said to Congress that he could not guarantee the safety of Philadelphia. Congress was shocked and people in the city began to flee.

Chapter Twenty: Dictator Perpetuo

Washington followed the strategy of Quintus Fabius Maximus where his army weak, he engaged in small battles to wear the enemy down. Howe hoped to take Philadelphia to finally break the rebels. In a series of engagements (Brandywine and Germantown), Washington fought, then retreated. Howe took the capital, but not the Continental Army.

Many in Congress feared Washington's growing popularity, but Washington still emphasized that he was under civilian command. He allowed Congress to establish hospitals and was diplomatic in getting states to send troops. In return, Congress gave Washington authority to deal with prisoner exchange, captured enemy combatants, and command the war outside of U.S. borders.


Bryan Craig Chapter 17 is interesting, so we will take a little time with this one.

GW reached past Congress to create battalions and told Congress afterwards.

Do you see this as a risky move? Do you think GW grew too aggressive? Or not enough?


Todd (todsisson) | 18 comments It definitely seems like it was warranted. It seems like anyone who had an accurate perception of Washington's forces would've seen they were dangling on the precipice.

I'm sure hindsight is shaping a lot of my opinions with this. But it seems like (for the most part) Washington had a measured aggressiveness. One of the things that stood out to me in these chapters was his willingness to be bold in military decisions, but remain deferential in regards to the political side of things.


Bryan Craig And a smart way of doing it, too, Todd. People could say GW was a dictator, but if he had to make a argument, he seem to have sided on the Congressional side on very important matters.


Tomi | 161 comments I think the fact that it was George Washington who did this makes a huge difference. I can't imagine any other man from this time period that Congress would have listened to. GW just had such presence, and was so respected, that people in general, let alone Congress, were more willing to give in to him.


Bryan Craig Good point, Tomi. I think you are right.


David (nusandman) | 111 comments It certainly seems that Washington's initiative and aggressiveness was one of the main keys to the US not losing the war to Great Britain. A more conservative approach in terms of strategies or troop pay could have easily resulted in a much different outcome. Not to mention, Congress's obsession with the invasion of Canada seemed pretty ill conceived as well. Great chapters, really enjoyed this section.


Teri (teriboop) It may have seemed risky at the time, but I think GW, at that time, was running on instinct and it paid off. I think that's when you start seeing true commanders and heroes, when they are able to act upon instinct and building upon all that they've learned during their tenure.


Mark Mortensen Bryan wrote: "GW reached past Congress to create battalions and told Congress afterwards. Do you see this as a risky move?..."

Washington was certainly visionary and once he was lofted to his position of command he did not shy away from making decisions. His move with battalions was a bit risky but he had great intuition and with the mounting cause I believe he figured “chips in”.

Was it too aggressive? It accomplished the objective.


Bryan Craig David wrote: "It certainly seems that Washington's initiative and aggressiveness was one of the main keys to the US not losing the war to Great Britain. A more conservative approach in terms of strategies or tr..."

I agree, David, GW had to think "outside the box" to beat the British. Canada was a mess.


Bryan Craig Teri wrote: "It may have seemed risky at the time, but I think GW, at that time, was running on instinct and it paid off. I think that's when you start seeing true commanders and heroes, when they are able to ..."

Instinct, I like it. Yeah, he seemed to be well schooled, but had good instincts.

He also seemed to go into the line of fire. We are lucky that smooth-bore muskets were not accurate at a distance.


Bryan Craig Yes, Mark, his aggressiveness seem to be a good trait for this war.

Congress didn't seem to mind to a point of removing him when he did make decisions. As Logan points out, the delegates knew Roman history and Cincinnatus. Yet civilian authority remained.

Here is an interesting quote:

"But by making Washington a military dictator, Congress established the precedent of a strong commander in chief who possessed broad military authority to defend the United States without congressional meddling during wartime." (p. 148)

This precedent started a separation of power argument that exists today (Syria as our most recent example.)


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Todd (todsisson) | 18 comments That's an interesting point to bring up Bryan. I wonder how much speed of communication played in the decision of congress you grant the Commander in Chief that authority.

Obviously, some members of congress had some bad military notions, but it feels like the biggest hindrance would have been the amount of time it'd take to consult congress, get a decision, and then act. The result would almost have to result in an indecisive, slow to act army.

Today, speed of communication isn't as much of an issue. It seems like it should be easier to collaborate on the big picture military decisions.


Bryan Craig Right back at you, Todd, thanks.

I think GW had to make many decision without Congress, in part, due to the slow communications. War can't wait for a messenger.


message 15: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Mortensen Bryan wrote: "But by making Washington a military dictator, Congress established the precedent of a strong commander in chief who possessed broad military authority to defend the United States without congressional meddling during wartime." (p. 148)

This precedent started a separation of power argument that exists today (Syria as our most recent example.)
..."


A declaration of war directly involves Congressional participation through the voting process. If war is declared the Commander-in-Chief then assumes the ultimate responsibility and power to set the rules of engagement.


message 16: by Peter (last edited Sep 17, 2013 05:30PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peter Flom Mark wrote: "Bryan wrote: "But by making Washington a military dictator, Congress established the precedent of a strong commander in chief who possessed broad military authority to defend the United States with..."

Yes, but the last time Congress declared war was in 1942 (against Rumania, Hungrary and Bulgaria), yet America has been involved in a few wars since then.

Source: http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/hist...


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Mark Mortensen Peter wrote: "Yes, but the last time Congress declared war was in 1942 (against Rumania, Hungrary and Bulgaria), yet America has been involved in a few wars since then."

Yes, I find it very sad that several generations of Americans have lost comprehension regarding the process for Congress to formally declare war.


message 18: by Bryan (last edited Sep 18, 2013 06:38AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bryan Craig Indeed Mark and Peter. The War Powers situation is a mess. The framers did this to strip the powers away from King George III situation. Two camps do emerge and I hope I get this right:

1. Commander in Chief - The framers wanted to put the power of CINC in the hands of the president who can quickly respond. I think this is Logan's story about the influence of GW. Also, they believe the power to declare war does not include the power to decide whether to go to war, but Congress can recognize that a state of war exists.

2. Congress - Congress can declare war and only then, the president may act as CINC. Congress also has certain powers to reign the president in: the purse, impeachment, and define military objectives (probably through resolutions).

Anyway, I think you are correct Mark, once war is declared the president can act as CINC. It gets muddier in areas where national security is threatened and the president uses military force, and again, becomes CINC.

Overall, even today, civilians are in control, something GW supported 100%.


Peter Flom Libby wrote: "Chapter 17, pp. 140-141:

"At the time, Baltimore was a rough, dirty boomtown that was known more as a smelly haven for pirates than as a political center" (pg. 141).

This perception exists in..."


Off topic but Pittsburgh was once described as "Hell with the lid taken off". Nowadays, it's a pretty nice town.


Bryan Craig What are your thoughts on GW demanding a loyalty oath?


Peter Flom Bryan wrote: "What are your thoughts on GW demanding a loyalty oath?"

In general, I think loyalty oaths are kind of silly - a traitor would certainly take one. I mean, if a person is willing to be a traitor to his/her country, why wouldn't he be willing to lie about it?

But in this particular case they made a little sense, since they may have increased a sense of patriotism. After all, we weren't even a country yet.


Bryan Craig Yeah, on the surface, I guess all revolutionaries take one to shake things out, but really, I don't see much sense in it.


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Tomi | 161 comments Public relations, maybe?


Bryan Craig Tomi wrote: "Public relations, maybe?"

Maybe, Tomi, I don't know if it quite succeeded. Logan says it was controversial, but some PR campaigns are that way.


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Tomi | 161 comments It may have given the individual soldiers a boost - "I am a sworn patriot" sort of thing....just a thought. I don't like the idea but GW has shown himself to have good reasons for most of what he has done.


Donna (drspoon) It was something GW felt he had to do to counter Howe's amnesty proposal, along the lines of "desperate times call for desperate measures". Of course, it was an over reach by GW and it back-fired on him.


Robyn (rplouse) | 73 comments I think the loyalty oath was more about forcing people to make a decision since he talked about consequences.

To change the subject a little, is anyone noticing how warfare is changing? Howe doesn't want to fight in the winter, so he settles in, European style, but Washington goes on the offensive and reaps several victories. Generally, capitols have been protected, but Washington knows he can't win, so he doesn't try. It seems like his style during this time is winning the battles he thinks he can win versus the battles that tradition dictates should be fought. I think it served him well in providing a swell of popular support as well as respect from the other side of the conflict. We also get to see him take control and beg forgiveness versus waiting for permission to be granted; another tactic that was very successful for him. I remember reading somewhere that the American Revolution changed the style of warfare forever, and it's very interesting to see it evolve in this book!


message 28: by Logan (last edited Sep 20, 2013 09:54PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Logan Beirne | 140 comments Bryan wrote: "Indeed Mark and Peter. The War Powers situation is a mess. The framers did this to strip the powers away from King George III situation. Two camps do emerge and I hope I get this right:

1. Com..."


Bryan, I think Jefferson summed up the concurrent war powers well when he described Congress's power to declare war as, "effectual check to the dog of war by transferring the power of letting him loose."

The history suggests that the power to initially authorize war resides with Congress. Washington explained: "The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure." This provides a narrow exception to Congressional authorization since the President may still take defensive action (the Founders recognized that the president might have to respond to attack, and therefore chose “declare war” over “make war" in Article I). But otherwise, the President was obligated to obtain Congressional authorization.

Then, once war is declared or hostilities are otherwise Congressionally authorized via something less than a formal declaration, the Commander in Chief has broad discretion over how to wage it (against foreign nationals - as we will see in coming chapters, American citizens are a very different story).

I love how timely these discussions are with Syria. Bentley, Bryan and all, you could not have planned these readings better!


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Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
It is true - everything dovetails nicely (smile)


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G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Washington put his classical education to good use: from loyalty oaths (which Julius Ceasar used to knit his troops) and sacramental oaths (which were/are used to bind one to a religion) to the Fabian Strategy and to the civic duty of Lucius Cincinnatus, for example. But I think this is wonderfully shown with the 'public relations parade', a home field advantage strategy that warrior leaders have used forever.

Today, I think our 'classical education' politically is based on what Washington did, with a lttle tweaking. Going to Congress for approval or disapproval of a military strategy predates the actual Constitution ('tho it obviously was incorporated into the final document - if Washington had acted differently who knows what would have happened) and is certainly 'early' Washington.


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Mark Mortensen Very well stated Logan.


Bryan Craig DonnaR wrote: "It was something GW felt he had to do to counter Howe's amnesty proposal, along the lines of "desperate times call for desperate measures". Of course, it was an over reach by GW and it back-fired ..."

I agree, Donna, you feel the oaths were done out of a response from Howe. You can understand where he is coming from.


message 33: by Bryan (last edited Sep 20, 2013 07:00AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bryan Craig Logan wrote: "The history suggests that the power to initially authorize war resides with Congress. Washington explained: "The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure." This provides a narrow exception to Congressional authorization since the President may still take defensive action (the Founders recognized that the president might have to respond to attack, and therefore chose “declare” over “make" in Article I). But otherwise, the President was obligated to obtain Congressional authorization. ..."

Thanks so much for your analysis, Logan. It is very interesting that GW is specific on this, however, the constitution is not. I am not sure GW's thoughts became a precedent as we see history unfold. However, as I think about it, many presidents have said we are doing this military operation because we need to defend our citizens or our interests. So, we can stretch the meaning behind "defense." And we also see the power of the presidency grow in ways GW and the framers would not have foreseen.

I suspect GW would say no to action in Syria.


message 34: by Bryan (last edited Sep 20, 2013 07:06AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bryan Craig Robyn wrote: "I think the loyalty oath was more about forcing people to make a decision since he talked about consequences.

To change the subject a little, is anyone noticing how warfare is changing? Howe does..."


Awesome, Robyn, thank you. You bring up some great points.

So, GW follows Maximus in strategy where his army is weak, so he engages in small battles and retreats.

This changes war and many have followed and I am thinking about two generals only because I'm reading about them now: Mao and Vietnam's Vo Nguyen Giap (during first French War 1946-1954 and early U.S. war). Mao wrote a whole treaties that Giap used.

On Guerrilla Warfare by Mao Tse-tung by Mao Tse-tung Mao Tse-tung

Vo Nguyen Giap Vo Nguyen Giap


message 35: by Mark (last edited Sep 20, 2013 09:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Mortensen Bryan wrote: "However, as I think about it, many presidents have said we are doing this military operation because we need to defend our citizens or our interests. So, we can stretch the meaning behind "defense."

Thanks to Logan and the moderators for initiating the great discussion that dovetails into many interesting posts. Without getting too far off topic my mind drifts back the Vietnam War that was never formally declared a war and in my mind it’s a stretch to classify the “Domino Theory” as immediate national defense.


Bryan Craig Indeed, Mark, the War Powers Act of 1973 came directly from Vietnam.


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Mark (mwl1) It is interesting reading the interaction and respect for power between Congress and Washington as the Commander in Chief. It definitely had a rocky start, but Washington seemed to put up with congress well. Then things changed when Congress gave Washington added war powers and it was Congress putting up with Washington. That said, Washington seemed good to not push the line when it wasn't needed. It seems that both sides developed a good sense of what their roles were, and respecting the balance of power.

It seems that some of that respect for the balance of power has diminished today. Washington showed great restraint with the establishment of military hospitals (page 171) and with AWOL Soldiers (page 172). I am not sure such restraint would be shown today.


message 38: by Logan (last edited Sep 21, 2013 07:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Logan Beirne | 140 comments Bryan wrote: "Logan wrote: "The history suggests that the power to initially authorize war resides with Congress. Washington explained: "The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore..."

Hi Bryan, I agree - Presidential power over initiating hostilities has broadened over time. I wrote a piece for the Constitutional Sources Project last year that might be of interest: http://blog.consource.org/post/323366....

Washington was not afraid to ask "what's in it for the US?" Unless we find that Syria poses a direct threat to us, Washington would likely steer clear of the conflict (but of course, that is speculation since it is so difficult to really predict).


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Nathan Luna | 4 comments It would be difficult to say what GW would think about our modern foreign policy. Logan's writing makes me think that GW was not worried about making the world a better place, but more concerned about taking action to protect his people. However, it would be interesting to see GW's reaction to the 24/7 news cycle and the ability to "tweet" everything in real time.

America's self-proclamation as a global leader during the Cold War Era essentially required us to protect those that are weaker out of a sense of duty. I believe a Russian official described this recently in a "tweet" as "American Exceptionalism." He said it like it was a bad thing!


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Bryan wrote: "Chapter 17 is interesting, so we will take a little time with this one.

GW reached past Congress to create battalions and told Congress afterwards.

Do you see this as a risky move? Do you think ..."


I have faith in GW as I am sure others did as well. I truly believe he analyzed and strategized a million times before he reached the end result.

I see it as borderline risky but more succussful strategizing on GW's part. If I were GW I would have done the same.


message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

Bryan wrote: "What are your thoughts on GW demanding a loyalty oath?"

Maybe meant to reinforce duty, honor. Serious matter and not to be taken lightly, perhaps to wake up a few underachievers/slackers.


Bryan Craig Thanks Mark. You get the impression they were doing something new.


Bryan Craig Some good point Logan and Nathan.


Bryan Craig Thanks Mal, haven't thought of the less motivated.


Logan Beirne | 140 comments Mal wrote: "Bryan wrote: "Chapter 17 is interesting, so we will take a little time with this one.

GW reached past Congress to create battalions and told Congress afterwards.

Do you see this as a risky move? ..."


I agree, Mal. From everything I have learned about Washington, he strikes me as the type of person who agonizes over everything. While someone like Ethan Allen shot from the hip, Washington was the opposite - he recognized the magnitude of his decisions and bore the weight of them.

I really think he believed that people like us would someday study him and he was committed to providing an inspiring example.


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Logan wrote: "Mal wrote: "Bryan wrote: "Chapter 17 is interesting, so we will take a little time with this one.

GW reached past Congress to create battalions and told Congress afterwards.

Do you see this as a ..."


I agree with your point Logan. I am a HUGE GW fan, until proven otherwise GW has my loyalty - no oath required. GW had integrity which is a rarity to find these days so with that alone - he would of had my utmost confidence in every thing he did, no questions asked. A leader is only as strong as his followers, and their belief in him.


Bryan Craig Thanks Logan and Mal. I think many of the founders knew they were making history, kept their papers, and organized them (or their families did after death), because they knew.

It is interesting to be a part of history.


message 48: by Katy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) Interesting how the myth of Washington was happening as he was commanding.

The American Cincinnatus (pages 147 & 167)
Impervious to bullets (page 158)

I had just assumed that the myths were invented long after he was commander in chief and president. He must truly have been an awe inspiring man to have that kind of impact on his peers.


Logan Beirne | 140 comments Kathy wrote: "Interesting how the myth of Washington was happening as he was commanding.

The American Cincinnatus (pages 147 & 167)
Impervious to bullets (page 158)

I had just assumed that the myths were inve..."


It is remarkable how he was a legend in his own time. I cannot think of anyone today who holds that kind of adoration. Can you?


message 50: by Katy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) Logan, that is exactly what I was thinking. I tried to come up with someone that was a legend in our times. No one comes to mind.


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