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Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation Hardcover – February 15, 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
The triumph of George Washington's presidency (1789-1796), according to biographer Smith ( Thomas E. Dewey and His Times ), was Washington's success in holding the new nation together, despite warring political factions, because he held an objective view in foreign affairs and refused to let himself be corrupted by power. Relying heavily on the Donald Jackson-Dorothy Twohig edition of Washington's diaries, as well as on other primary sources, Smith describes the political intrigues of Washington's Cabinet--which included Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson; the foreign policy crisis that arose in 1793 during the war between France and England; and the domestic upheaval precipitated by the 1794 Whisky Rebellion. This is a lively, well-written study of Washington's presidency and subsequent retirement to Mount Vernon; the first U.S. president emerges as a dedicated and politically astute manager who had a tart sense of humor--and who could swear a blue streak, on occasion. BOMC main selection.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
George Washington's ascent to the presidency of the new republic was at once a personal triumph and a great gamble with something he held most dear--his reputation. Smith (director, Hoover Library) captures well the bittersweet presidential years, when Washington used the vast capital of his personal prestige to cement the bands of a shaky union. With wonderful use of detail and anecdote, Smith argues that Washington was not the mere figurehead that other historians have portrayed but a canny politician who mastered and controlled his brilliant subordinates, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. In a lively and engaging style, the author describes Washington's world in New York, Philadelphia, and Mt. Vernon and the major policy issues of the 1790s, especially the vituperative politics of the era. If Norton is not always careful with detail and his chronology is sometimes confusing, this is, nonetheless, history painted in broad strokes with vivid characterization, sure to attract a general readership. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/92.
- David B. Mattern, Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
In addition to politics, we get pieces that tell us how Washington felt about First People, slavery, and the building of what would become Washington D.C. The narrative is sometimes interrupted by small stories; for example, who dined with Washington one evening and who argued with whom. I learned to regard these breaks as information about who was in his larger circle and what was considered fair dinner conversation in his company.
I feel that the author drives to two conclusions. One is in the first half of chapter 13, "An Honorable Discharge." Here the author explains the significance of Washington's Farewell Address in terms of the man, the country he fought to create, and the Constitution he helped create and to which he yielded as President. This is worth all the reading that came before. The second conclusion is the Epilogue in which the author tries to redress the common myth of Washington as the cold icon on the dollar bill.
By the end, the author convinced me of Washington's greatness as the man who led the new republic into fairly using its new Constitution. (I think we should be thankful he considered farming Mount Vernon more rewarding than political leadership.) Washington was the rarest of military heroes -- he chose to be a visionary guardian of the new country instead of riding his reputation into a dictatorship. Young America was very fortunate.
What I was looking for was a book that (1) shed light on Washington as the man who presided over the creation of a new nation and (2) did not go over the head of someone who didn't take any American History class at the college level. It sorta met these criteria, but I think it would be more appreciated by someone who were familiar with the historical context and wanted to add to it. I felt like I read a lot of snippets which shed some light during this period in his life, but I didn't get a good feel of the significance or the context of his achievements.
Biographies (which this really isn't, because it only covered his life in the 1790's) are difficult to write because you have to present the facts but make it appealing as a fictional story (narrative trajectory, character development, etc...). I felt that the author has an elegant style of writing, but I kept saying "So what?" to myself at the end of the chapters. The book describes many instances where Washington maintained the delicate balance between the "Hamilton" style vs. the "Jefferson" philosophies of the federal government, along with many other political maneuverings and actions which occurred, but my impressions are that this book is better suited for complementing someone's existing knowledge of his achievements than a layperson like me who is several years removed from AP History.