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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.
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By Jean on 10-21-14
A readable history
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.
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