His Excellency: George Washington
Joseph J. Ellis
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To this landmark biography of our first president, Joseph J. Ellis brings the exacting scholarship, shrewd analysis, and lyric prose that have made him one of the premier historians of the Revolutionary era. Training his lens on a figure who sometimes seems as remote as his effigy on Mount Rushmore, Ellis assesses George Washington as a military and political leader and a man whose “statue-like solidity” concealed volcanic energies and emotions.
Here is the impetuous young officer whose miraculous survival in combat half-convinced him that he could not be killed. Here is the free-spending landowner whose debts to English merchants instilled him with a prickly resentment of imperial power. We see the general who lost more battles than he won and the reluctant president who tried to float above the partisan feuding of his cabinet. His Excellency is a magnificent work, indispensable to an understanding not only of its subject but also of the nation he brought into being.
unconquerable. He knew himself well enough to resist the illusion that he transcended his human nature. Unlike Julius Caesar and Oliver Cromwell before him, and Napoleon, Lenin, and Mao after him, he understood that the greater glory resided in posterity’s judgment. If you aspire to live forever in the memory of future generations, you must demonstrate the ultimate self-confidence to leave the final judgment to them. And he did. At the very least, the eulogies of Lee and Morris, composed when
the Washington Trail. In my judgment, and in part because of what they have already achieved, we do not need another epic painting, but rather a fresh portrait focused tightly on Washington’s character. In that sense, the predecessor who taught me the most was Marcus Cunliffe, whose Washington: Man and Monument, though nearly fifty years old, has aged remarkably well. Cunliffe deserves a separate and special salute. My second conviction concerned the historical scholarship on the revolutionary
engaged his time and Service to conduct and manage my Interest . . . and shall seek redress if you do not, just as soon from you as an entire stranger.13 Neither Jefferson nor most other members of Virginia’s planter elite could have written such words, for they convey an obsessive concern with his own economic interests that no proper gentleman was supposed to feel, much less express so directly. (Perhaps this is the underlying reason why Jefferson and so many other Virginia planters would die
great-grandfather, John Washington, nearly a century earlier. The persistence of that memory in Indian oral history was a dramatic reminder of the long-standing domination of the Iroquois Confederation over the region. They had planted no lead plates, knew nothing of some English king’s presumptive claims to own a continent. But they had been ruling over this land for about three hundred years.6 In the present circumstance, Tanacharison regarded the French as a greater threat to Indian
branches, for establishing a framework in which constitutional arrangements could evolve over the years, rather than providing clear answers at that time. If this has proved to be the genius of the document, Washington thought it was its major weakness. He wanted the ambiguities clarified and the sketches filled out, at least sufficiently so to assure the creation of a national government empowered to force the states and citizenry into a budding American empire.61 Chairing the convention