Monday, April 12, 2010

His Excellency

First in war, First in Peace, First in the hearts of our country and last in terms of really knowing anything about the man.

Following our trip to Washington D.C. on Spring Break, I decided it was time to read some history, and where better to start than with George Washington himself. Thinking back on what I'd learned about him in school (that cherry tree story was a lie by the way) I determined I knew basically nothing about him -- Not how he got to be the leader of the Continental Army (that's where the title His Excellency comes from), not how he got drafted into being President, not why he decided to stop after two terms, not even how he ended up at Mount Vernon. But I do now.

Ellis' book does a very good job of blending the historical record, primarily many letters written by and about Washington, with a readable narrative. Washington was a man of good fortune, often in the right place at the right time and with the good sense to keep his mouth shut more than open. He had an amazing ability to surround himself with the best and brightest, and despite his lack of formal education used incredible judgement to sort through competing points of view. Especially interesting was the break between Washington (and Hamilton) from Jefferson and Madison. It's very reminiscent of the extreme partisanship we are once again experiencing today. And that gives me hope. If a group of people who against all odds could preserve the union in the nascent stages, hopefully we will be able to as well.

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