The Making of America's First Leader
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Bancroft Prize winner Middlekauff (Emeritus, American History/Univ. of California; Benjamin Franklin and His Enemies, 1996, etc.) sets out to chart the evolution of George Washington's viewpoint during the crucible of the Revolutionary War.

"At its beginning, [Washington] was a provincial," writes the author, "and during its course he became an American. But he was a most unusual American by war's end: He was an established citizen of the world." Although an engaging concept, the author's thesis proves to be unsupported by the text. Washington certainly thought of himself primarily as a Virginian, but Middlekauff demonstrates that as early as 1775, he "wished in effect to erase state lines…to banish provincialism in favor of unity," at least within the army. While Washington recognized that French support was indispensable to American victory and thus made great efforts to flatter and cajole French commanders into serving his purposes, nothing appears to suggest that Washington was then considering the place of an independent America among the world's nations or was otherwise adopting a broadly internationalist viewpoint officially or personally. Middlekauff delivers a comprehensive if uncritical review of the war in the theaters in which Washington exercised day-to-day command. His ability to form and reform a perpetually dissolving army in the face of appalling privation made him indispensable to the cause, and the author emphasizes his consistent adherence to the principle of civilian control of the military, an attitude critical to the subsequent development of the republic. But Middlekauff offers few glimpses into the character of Washington as a fallible mortal with an evolving perspective; the image of him that predominates is the familiar one of the austere warrior, "a man set above all others, a unique being—not a god, but at the least a chosen instrument of Providence."

A capable Revolutionary War history that breaks no new ground.

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-101-87423-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2014


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