George Washington's Journey: The President Forges a New Nation
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“An absorbing portrait...Breen’s superb chronicle offers glimpses into Washington’s love of his country and its people, and his willingness to meet them on their own terms to secure the unity of the new republic.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This is George Washington in the surprising role of political strategist.
T.H. Breen introduces us to a George Washington we rarely meet. During his first term as president, he decided that the only way to fulfill the Revolution was to take the new federal government directly to the people. He organized an extraordinary journey carrying him to all thirteen states. It transformed American political culture.
For Washington, the stakes were high. If the nation fragmented, as it had almost done after the war, it could never become the strong, independent nation for which he had fought. In scores of communities, he communicated a powerful and enduring message—that America was now a nation, not a loose collection of states. And the people responded to his invitation in ways that he could never have predicted.
for almost two centuries: they took the matter to a public town meeting. It was a crowded gathering. The members of a special committee charged with drafting a welcoming speech for Washington had just finished their work. The only detail that remained was filling in the blank space where an appropriate title for the visitor would appear. If John Adams and other Bostonians who favored grand titles for national leaders expected a heated exchange, they were in for a surprise. At the start of the
In an autobiography published in 1855, Caldwell recaptured the excited preparations for the visit. The members of the local honors guard, called cadets, selected Caldwell to deliver a short address to the general as soon as he appeared on the road running north to Charlotte. He worked hard on his presentation. “In a short time,” he recounted, “my address was mentally composed, not indeed to paper, but to my memory.” Like an actor practicing for a leading role, he repeated the words. Indeed,
“exhibited on the bandeau of her hat, the G. W. and the Eagle set in brilliants, on a black velvet ground.”77 Women throughout the United States fashioned themselves in similar ways. They probably learned how other women greeted the president from reading accounts in the major journals. In any case, the specially designed sashes appeared in almost every major city. From Boston, for example, it was reported that “THE LADIES in honor of THE PRESIDENT, have agreed . . . to wear the following DEVICE
long she will be able to stand in that forlorn condition,” he observed, “must depend upon the duration of that infatuation and evil policy of which she appears to have been guided.”87 Washington invited a small group of political figures to travel with him. The composition of the party suggested that he was trying to persuade influential people to work together in the future. Although the divisions would in fact prove too deep to repair, Washington thought that a relaxing journey that took the
expected that the journey would “have the same happy effect” on the union as had the New England trip. Like Washington, Lear knew that “something of a soothing nature is much wanted in the Southern States.” The members of Congress representing the region had complained not only about “an additional duty on distilled Spirits,” but also about Hamilton’s plans to establish the Bank of the United States. They claimed that the federal government had assumed too much power. It was Washington’s burden