The fourth and concluding volume of James Flexner's life of Washington, a project begun in 1960. As a set this stands as one...


GEORGE WASHINGTON: Anguish and Farewell

The fourth and concluding volume of James Flexner's life of Washington, a project begun in 1960. As a set this stands as one of the sturdiest accomplishments in historical biography within recent memory. Flexner has given us a new George Washington--a Washington stripped of that cloying Parson-Weemsery which did more to traduce the legitimate American hero than any acknowledged failing could possibly have done, a Washington who expertly managed the thankless business of moderating the passionate antagonisms between Jefferson and Hamilton (Flexnet certifies Washington's full understanding of the adversaries and his manipulation of these two competing currents which shot through the young republic and still rend the American sensibility), a Washington who chafed at and eventually succumbed to hostile contemporary criticism, a Washington often unsure and undeliberate, a Washington ""not always understanding, not always kind,"" a Washington shackled by the contradictions of national purpose and self interest, a Washington who was more than ""a shadow thrown by Hamilton,"" a flesh-and-blood George Washington. Flexner has at once demythed this Father of His Country, giving him back to us false teeth and fibs and all, while at the same time making a convincing claim for Washington as ""one of the greatest men in all history."" This final volume begins with the second presidential term and continues through the bitter retirement and his death. As before, Flexnet writes appreciatively of Washington without sparing the rod of disapproving judgment. The President's decision not to seek a third term, his rejection of an American aristocracy, his stance against internal factionalism, his strict foreign neutrality (historians who accuse Washington of pro-British sentiments are ""dead wrong""), his private denunciation of slavery, his Farewell, are all summoned as evidence of Washington's enduring achievement whereas his handling of the Whiskey Rebellion and actions against the Democratic Societies are condemned as ""divisive"" political blunders. More will be written about George Washington -- this biography is not definitive -- but Flexner's scholarly acuity sets a very high standard.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1972


Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1972