Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edward J. Larson recovers a crucially important - yet almost always overlooked - chapter of George Washington's life, revealing how Washington saved the United States by coming out of retirement to lead the Constitutional Convention and serve as our first president.
After leading the Continental Army to victory in the Revolutionary War, George Washington shocked the world: he retired. In December 1783, General Washington, the most powerful man in the country, stepped down as Commander in Chief and returned to private life at Mount Vernon. Yet as Washington contentedly grew his estate, the fledgling American experiment floundered. Under the Articles of Confederation, the weak central government was unable to raise revenue to pay its debts or reach a consensus on national policy. The states bickered and grew apart. When a Constitutional Convention was established to address these problems, its chances of success were slim. Jefferson, Madison, and the other Founding Fathers realized that only one man could unite the fractious states: George Washington. Reluctant, but duty-bound, Washington rode to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 to preside over the Convention.
Although Washington is often overlooked in most accounts of the period, this masterful new history from Pulitzer Prize winner Edward J. Larson brilliantly uncovers Washington's vital role in shaping the Convention - and shows how it was only with Washington’s support and his willingness to serve as President that the states were brought together and ratified the Constitution, thereby saving the country.
©2014 Edward J. Larson (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers
I am an avid eclectic reader.
This book covers the span of years between the end of the War and Washington’s presidency. This period is hardly mentioned by biographers or just called the wilderness years. The author said he felt these years helped Washington understand the weakness and problems facing the emerging country that helped him later as President. Larson writes about the Virginia planters putting his estate in order. When Washington traveled to check his frontier tracts in Pennsylvania and western Virginia he became worried. He found the inhabitants increasingly fractious and only sketchily loyal to the new nation. He worried that the western settlers may turn to Spain who controlled the mouth of the Mississippi river and the Western lands beyond.
The author said Washington believed that only a common interest supported by a vigorous central government and nourished commercial ties, could prevent the fragmentation of the large country. He recommends the building of canals which would benefit both private investors and the Nation as a whole. Larson reveals Washington writing to Henry Knox saying “Good God! There are combustibles in every State, which a spark may set fire to!”
When Congress called the Constitutional Convention in 1787 they wanted Washington to come and give stature to the proceedings. Washington was initially ambivalent about returning to politics. Washington sensed that division among the States threatened national liberty caused him to join the Constitutional convention in 1787. I really enjoyed Larson’s account by John Adams “John Adams groused, all anybody was likely to remember about the Revolution was “that Dr. Franklin’s electric rod smote the earth and out sprang George Washington. That Franklin electrified him and thence forward those two conducted all the policy, negotiations, legislation and War”
Larson describes Washington’s medical and dental problems and the pressure for Washington to be the president. The author brings to life the founders daily struggles to draw up a document that would preserve individual liberty while ensuring the new government’s supreme power and sovereignty. Larson identifies Washington’s three goals—“respect abroad, prosperity at home and development westward.” Larson did a lot of research and then wrote a readable history of a little discussed period of Washington’s life.
Edward J. Larson is a historian and legal scholar at Pepperdine University. He received the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for history for his book “Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion.” Mark Bramhall did a good job narrating the book.
Having secured victory and surrendered power, Washington looked to returning to his beloved home at Mount Vernon. Yet, the new nation was not finished with him -- nor he with it. Edward Larson magnificently tells the story of Washington's central role in creating a new government and ensuring it's establishment, a role that has too often been overlooked and under appreciated. Mark Bramhall's narration is perfect in every way, making this a great audiobok. Highly recommended!
Classics, history, historical fiction, marketing, Napoleonic stuff and of course 'Boys own Adventure'. This is my bent. Occasional self help as well.
The more I read about George, the more I am impressed by him. In many ways he made the USA.
thoughtful and balanced review of often overlooked but critical period in our country's formation focused on our first great leader. ....
Wow I didn't know about the six years before Washington's retirement after being General of the Colonial Army too President of this great nation.
The more we knew about history the more we can make this nation the USA a better Country. We the people, the Republic. What we need for this nation is a new Gorge Washington with the same believes as his.
If you want a good handle on the whys and wherefores of the politics of today, study how it was all stewed in a cauldron 225 years ago. The Return of George Washington by Edward Larson brings forth the thinking, hidden motivations, and back room dealings of the few dozens of people always led by the personification of leadership, George Washington, during this all important incubation period.
Mark Bramhall does an excellent job narrating the text. His voice is medium in tone and wears well upon the ear. He develops voice shifts to identify when he is speaking in Washington’s and others voices. He also handles the meter and rhyme of overly florid and allegorical poetic quotations from period poetry praising Washington. The author explains the obscure Roman and Greek references embedded in the poet’s text. In short he is a joy to listen to. Mr. Bramhall artistic talents—acting and writing—began in high school, under the tutelage of an English teacher. Many of his first performances were of Shakespeare. From there he went on to college and acting in the theater. He acted in London and returned to the US for a long and varied acting career.
The first chapter recaps well known events of Washington’s farewell to his troops, the staunching of a potential rebellion by the army over pay, and his glorious progression to Philadelphia where he surrendered his commission to Congress. That event immortalized by John Turnbull in a grand painting in congress. Google “General George Washington Resigning His Commission” and bring up the painting as you listen to the author’s description. It is really quite a wonderful allegory genre painting and is as described in chapter one.
It is at this point almost 100% of the books on Washington all agree he retired to his farm/plantation and engaged in the pursued of horticulture, animal husbandry. This book breaks unplowed territory in saying that Washington was far from politically inactive. When we look at what he did during these years (1783 to1789) we can see that he spent a 12 to 18 months politically idling on his farm before his toes were back in the political water. During that period he reflected on the shortcoming of the Articles of Confederation (AOC), foresaw that inaction would result in the loss of the western territories to either Indian tribes or Spain; that states would put local interests over national interest; and that this has led to one rebellion in Massachusetts by Daniel Shays that threatened a disaster of disunion of the states and possible reabsorbing of the un-united states back into the British Empire. These events set Washington’s mind on viewing the AOC as a political body without a head flailing about haplessly needing radical revision into a strong federal body or fail utterly.
The Confederation Congress itself agreed some revision was needed and called for a convention to fix the problems. Washington began correspondences and conferences with Madison and others federal leaning political lights to stack the agenda of the upcoming convention to revise the AOC, into a wholesale discarding of them in favor of a new Constitution of the United States. Once the agenda was favorably stacked he allowed himself to be called to the convention as a delegate from Virginia then to serve as president of the convention to keep it on track toward federalism.
Having accomplished a new proposed Constitution he then lent his prestige to the federal factions in the various states to ensure that the new Constitution was ratified with Virginia to be the ninth and deciding state to put the new Constitution over the top. Alas due to opposition by Patrick Henry, New Hampshire stole that honor by days and Virginia became the 10 state to ratify. Washington then supported Hamilton to bring on board a reluctant New York whose voluntary joinder was essential, from an economic standpoint, for success. Opposing Hamilton was New York’s Governor Clinton, and anti-federalist.
Having failed to stop the new Constitution itself the anti-federalist forces under Governor Clinton in New York and Patrick Henry in Virginia sought to pack the new house and senate with anti-federalist men and thus gum up, delay, and derail the federalist’s goals. Washington and his team again rise to this occasion by persuading the electorate to support their unanimous choice, Washington, for the first president with federally leaning representatives and support his vision. With the resounding success of 4/5 of the new Congress being federalist, the anti-federalist forces accepted their role as loyal opposition during the course of Washington’s administration.
With Hamilton removed by dual with Aaron Burr this left the post Washington period to the fractious and offensive John Adams to carry the federalist banner forward. The anti-federalist clustered around Thomas Jefferson and later to Andrew Jackson for leadership. Washington himself retired to Mt. Vernon where he began profitably manufacturing whisky which placed the farms on financially sound footing for the duration of his life. This removed the threat of ever having to borrow money at interest again due to crop failures.
The push and pull of federalist and anti-federalist forces has resounded down through American history to this very day. However, the struggle all began here with Washington and we should all know our roots. It is clear the seed of a strong federalist government was planted and nurtured by Washington. He sheltered the young government and pulled up the weeds of anti-federalism wherever it threatened the unity, harmony, and falsity of the common good of the people. For the most part the anti-federalist, recognized they were in a fight they could not win; sought to offer constructive ideas to selective prune overgrowth of government to promote vigor and health in the plant. Today we have a federal government with its Congress largely populated by ant-federalist (low tax & small government) forces. Some say they want government small enough to drown it in a bathtub. Were they to achieve their goal, it would also render it incapable of providing for the common defense. Where this will lead to without another man the stature of a Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt who can foretell? For that reason I recommend this book highly.
Reviewers note: For greater detail on the ins and outs of the ratification process please see the book “Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution 1787 - 1788” by Pauline Maier. It is an excellent insider’s story of how the job of selling the new Constitution; as it was packaged, shaped, and sold to the differing regions and interests of the country to gain ratification. “The Return of Washington. . . ”is an excellent background against which historical political geeks can place the minutia of “Ratification. . .”. The two books work very well together. Buy and enjoy both together.
Is this a serious question?
Mr. Larson is writing minutia. When I start skipping, it is a very bad sign for the book. I do not make a conscious decision to skip. It just happens, and that is the point at which I am aware that I am bored to tears. The content, the way it is told, the narrator, whatever. I'm 30 minutes into this book and I am already skipping. I'm done with Mr. Larson. Never another book by him.
Not on your life. To me, he sounds like an amateur. Trying to "act" the parts rather than skillfully narrating the content.
Frustration. I have recently finished John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and was looking forward to Washington, specifically for the period between his resigning his military commission and assuming the Presidency.
Thank you for your policy of replacing books that are not appealing.
this portrayal of Washington was both poignant and thrilling from the political standpoint of Washington it was really interesting to find out what was behind as a motivation the decisions that were made in the Constitution as well as how well f***** these positions of state Ford developed
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