Illuminating history of an overlooked period in the life of our first president.
During the years between the end of the American Revolution and the commencement of his first term as the first president, George Washington remained a busy farmer, slave owner, behind-the-scenes political figure and national hero. Pulitzer Prize–winning author Larson (Law and History/Pepperdine Univ.; An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science, 2011, etc.) returns with a focused look at some years that many other historians have eschewed in favor of covering the more fiery Revolution and the more storied presidency. Larson shows us a Washington who craved being home, a man who only reluctantly allowed politics or necessity to draw him away. Larson begins with Washington’s resignation of his command and his journey home to Mount Vernon from New York (it took him two weeks—with much cheering and celebration along the route). He then traveled west to inspect some of his holdings and had to decide whether to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Of course, he did choose to go, and he chaired the proceedings. In the central chapters, the author deals with the Convention, with Washington’s quiet though essential role, and with the battles and compromises between federalists and antifederalists that the document demanded—and very nearly did not achieve. Larson also reminds us of Washington’s medical and dental problems and his decision to have some implants using the teeth of slaves (who were paid for the privilege). Following ratification (which did not happen immediately or easily), pressure grew for Washington to stand for president—which, of course, he did, despite his numerous protests. Larson identifies Washington’s three goals—“respect abroad, prosperity at home, and development westward”—and includes an account of an inaugural dish that makes turducken seem unambitious.
Profound, even affectionate, scholarship infuses every graceful sentence.