George Washington and the story of a leader

George Washington

George Washington. Image courtesy of The Brass Glass, Morguefile.

It’s surprising sometimes, how a leader emerges to guide an entire country.

I’ve just finished reading Washington’s Revolution: The Making of America’s First Leader by Robert Middlekauff. It’s a wonderful book, especially if you’re into military history or American history — or if you just wonder how Washington came to be the first leader of the United States.

The book yielded some interesting facts. I’d always assumed that George Washington built Mount Vernon, but it was actually built by his brother Lawrence, who died from tuberculosis. George later rented Mount Vernon from Lawrence’s widow Ann and would inherit it from her in 1761.

There’s also some info on how George and Martha met. Martha was a young widow with two kids. She was pretty rather than beautiful and was a gentle, thoughtful and unpretentious person. I often wonder how the heck she coped with George’s fame and being the first of the First Ladies. It couldn’t have been easy raising two kids while your husband’s off fighting a war, either.

George seems to have been an equally thoughtful, methodical person. Middlekauff shows Washington to be someone who rose to attention through his military skills and personality.

George faced huge barriers to winning the Revolutionary War. Some men in his army would just desert their posts and go home, so keeping people in the army was a constant issue. He kept trying to get financial help from Congress, and his men went without food, blankets, tents, pay and clothing. Morale suffered. In addition, the Continental Army was outnumbered and fighting against better trained, professional forces. After reading this book, it’s amazing we even won the war at all here in the colonies.

Washington also had to become a diplomat and convince people to do what he needed them to do. That included French leaders — whose help could be iffy at times — and his own men to keep them motivated.

I really like what Middlekauff said about the Comte de Rochambeau. George had asked Congress’s financial official, Robert Morris, to come up with enough money to give a month’s pay for each man, but Robert Morris didn’t quite manage it. Rochambeau made up the difference with his own money and did a lot to raise American morale. Now there’s a classy man.

If you ever wonder about the experiences and forces that shaped Washington as a leader, I recommend this book. It’s very readable and a fun way to learn your American history.

 

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “George Washington and the story of a leader

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. Washington can be given short shrift by some, just acknowledging that he was the first president – but in many historian’s opinion, he was one of the three great presidents.

  2. Details of ordinary life of the times gives a better picture of historical figures, doesn’t it?
    Seems like few women back then were “shy hothouse violets”
    So many died of tuberculosis back then.
    Sounds interesting

  3. Oh my, ever since I viewed George sitting in his abbed splendor at the Smithsonian American History museum I can’t quite think of him as the father of our country–he looks more like a beach volleyball player with that marbled physique.

  4. I’ve read a bunch of books about George Washington. He was an interesting guy. Lots of contradictions. He was humble, but not really. He had a hell of an ego, so maybe the only woman he could have stayed with would have had to be willing to take a back seat to him. He expected to be in charge and, for example, he really disliked the whole Massachusetts militia because they didn’t take orders and refused to be disciplined.

    • Some of that can be explained. He was a traditional Army man and a good soldier, so I can understand why it irritated him when soldiers wouldn’t follow orders when there was so much at stake.

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