On January 13, I wrote a post on Edward Lengel’s book “Inventing George Washington”. Lengel, a Washington scholar, did not give his interpretation of our first president, but spoke about how writings on Washington have changed over the years, reflecting more the spirit of the country at the time of the writing than an actual reflection of Washington. An interesting take.
Now, I decided to read a contemporary book about Washington, to see how a recent scholar describes the Father of our Country. I chose John Ferling’s “The Ascent of George Washington”. Another interesting book, Ferling describes a gifted George Washington (physically and intellectually), a very ambitious George Washington (both financially and in respect to his social standing), a resolute George Washington (who else could have withstood leading the troops during a winter at Valley Forge, for example). But he also describes someone who is consistently lifted to positions for which he is not really qualified by education or experience, who does not like listening to others for advice, and who makes mistake after mistake (particularly with regard to military strategy) but somehow has the luck of the Irish (I know he was not Irish) with him and always (but not always quickly) winds up on his own two feet.
Of course, so much of what Washington did, no one else had the responsibility to do before. He was the first commander of a rather rag-tag American army fighting a centuries old British force. As president, virtually everything he did was destined to be precedent setting. This included his attempt to remain aloof from European disputes (as long as he could) and the consummation of the discussions leading to the Jay Treaty, setting forth Anglo-American agreements in spite of much anti-English feeling in America, and going along with Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists in creating a centralized economic system for the new country.
All in all, a very interesting book.