Marcus Cunliffe

George Washington

Man and Monument

Copyright 1958, 1982

Publishing Co. NAL Penguin Inc.

For years George Washington has been one of the most revered men in history. No man s life has been more carefully documented than the life of Washington. Yet he still is hidden behind a fa ade of legends and folklore. Let us take a look into the man that is known to us as the Father of our Country.

Cunliffe points out that Washington grew up as a somewhat of awkward young man. He was born on February 11, of 1732 to Augustine Washington and Mary Ball Washington. Cunliffe does a good job in informing us that the calendar was revised in 1752 and eleven days were added to the new calendar. To the contrary of what many believe he did not cut down a cherry tree or do many of the things that the pamphleteer Parson Weems wrote of him. These were all stories that were thought to be able to win the writer and the publishing company popularity and money.

Cunliffe writes of five other brothers and sisters, but falls short to tell us much about them. He does tell us of Lawrence Washington. This is George s half brother. George and Lawrence were good friends with each other despite the age difference of thirteen years. Cunliffe expresses that being good friends with Lawrence brought excellent fortune to George. George got his first job from Lawrence as a surveyor and became quit successful in his job.

Through Lawrence, George profited by gaining many highly respected acquaintances. One of which friends was Anne Fairfax. Anne was the wife of Lawrence. Later, Anne s oldest brother George William married Sally Cary. Cunliffe raises an interesting question in which many biographers have written about. Through Washington s journals and letters he has written of Sally, and to Sally of his infatuation and maybe even love of her. This brings out the human side of George Washington some people do not know about.

As time went on Cunliffe points out that George grew out of his shell in his older years and became a man of interest and respect. He became a leader in the military and was somewhat successful. After too much time in this his life was becoming hard and stressful. Therefore Washington took a break from the military and settled down and found a lady.

His bride to be was Martha Dandrige Custis. Cunliffe brings up the question of George and Martha s marriage of being totally romantic. For both of them it was a cautious engagement. Through the interpretation of the author it is believed that the two liked each other but may have not had a passionate love for each other.

By the time Washington was forty, he was a substantial figure in Virginia, yet he was not in the small circle of the most powerful men in the colony. One reason Washington was becoming a more substantial figure was because of the content state that he was in during this time period in his life (1770 1775).

Yet now in the early summer of 1775 he headed to Boston. The once loyal Virginia gentlemen was now General Washington; the rebel leader of not just Virginia, but of all thirteen colonies. It surprises the reader to see that Cunliffe does not go into more detail on the subject of how Washington may have obtained this position. He does give us the three main reasons of the colonial s narrow-mindedness in starting up the rebellion.

First off was the French threat was gone. By 1763 France had given up all their North American possessions. Second of all after gaining all of the Canadian provinces and appearing to have inherited the French country. There was the attempt of Britain to reorganize the colonies. In these changes they also had to pay taxes to Britain; that harshly defined the mercantilist pattern, in which the colonies supplied raw materials to Britain and provided a market for Britain s manufacturers. The third and probably the most hated reason was that it seemed Britain was treating the colonies as if they were not parts of Britain put possessions of Britain. It is quite interesting in the narrow mindedness that the colonists had. They could not see the reasoning behind some of the Mother Countries good intentions.

To follow in time there were many revolts and boycotts against such things as the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act. Many of these situations brought unrest to the colonies and no one was sure of what the outcome would be. The Continental Congress was ready to answer the British actions with force if need be. Therefore if they were to have an army they needed someone to lead it. On June 15, 1775, it was decided that George Washington was to be the Commander and General of the Army. From the election of George Washington to General the revolution was started.

The first action that the rebels took was the successful evacuation of Boston in which no one was hurt. By May 1776 Washington had decided that there would be no more polite fiddling. Thomas Jefferson drafted, with some assistance, The Declaration of Independence and Congress approved it on July 4, 1776. Culiffe gives a good assumption that there was no turning back now for the patriots.

For the first few months things did not start out so well. Yet in the end Washington came up with a brilliant plan to attack the British on Christmas night. The plan worked and it was a crushing defeat to the British. It is exceptional that Washington had such a great generalship with not that much experience in the field compared to that of the British. The colonial s lost battles and won battles and in the end won it all. The patriots with the aid of the French surrounded Yorktown and the Revolutionary war was over. The famed General Cornwallis was beaten and surrendered.

Cunliffe raises a thought provoking question in why after the war did Washington want to go back to his home and become a farmer instead of being more involved in political aspects. Well, as we know it the idea of George becoming just a farmer did not happen. In 1789 all of the Electoral College votes went to Washington and he was elected as our first President of the United States of America. Through all the criticism that Washington received in his first term he held strong to the Constitution at the expense of his own constitution.

Although Washington received quite a bit of criticism in his first term, he received the most criticism he had every experienced in his life during his second term as President. Washington decided to stay neutral while France was at war trying to claim Independence. This brought harsh judgment by some but in the end, points out Cunliffe, was probably the best thing we could have done. Washington was in no way sorry that he gave up the Presidency for a third term. He had had enough and was ready to pass it on to John Adams.

Cunliffe speaks of the thought that many would think of Washington to retire and have a slow end of days. Yet these were some of the best times of Washington s life. President Adams even summoned Washington to command a naval fleet against France. This of which Washington was not too happy, but as it turned out there was no war and Washington returned to his wonderful home Mount Vernon. He spent his time by surveying, riding, having dinners and spending time with his baby daughter born to his niece Betty Lewis. The life of George Washington came to a very quick end though. On December 13, 1799 he came down with a chill and cough. The doctors tried bleeding him to no benefit. He died the day after, in pain, December 14, 1799.

Through the many secondary sources that this popularly style book was written Cunliffe brings out the great points of George Washington s life. He is not just a man hidden behind a fa ade of legends and folklore. He is a man of dignity and respect. He is The Father of our Country.

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