From the Publisher
“A slim, slicing analysis of some pivotal issues in the presidency of George Washington…A sad reminder of what we have lost: O’Brien’s penetrating intelligence and earnest voice.”
Waterline, the newspaper of Navy District Washington
“An extraordinary concise work on the political relationship between Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.”
Don't let the title deceive you: this short book is primarily a critique of Thomas Jefferson. Public intellectual, Irish politician, and diplomat O'Brien, who died in December 2008, makes the case that President Washington correctly sided with Alexander Hamilton (and others) over Jefferson, his secretary of state, when handling relations with Great Britain and France. These relations were of vital importance to the new nation as it struggled to find its footing in the world. Would America support the French Revolution, as Jefferson advocated, or take the more neutral and pragmatic approach advocated by Hamilton—thus not alienating Great Britain, a critical trading partner? O'Brien demonstrates that Jefferson's zeal for the French Revolution was not only impractical but dangerous to the interests of the new country. Relying heavily on new interpretations of Washington's correspondence, he argues that Washington showed a lack of confidence in his secretary of state and instead depended on Hamilton, his treasury secretary, for input and advice. O'Brien presents this as evidence of Washington's excellent judgment and political savvy, even as he seeks to expose Jefferson as a back-biting, duplicitous operator who worked continually to sabotage Washington's presidency. VERDICT A short, interesting, and biased look at the Washington-Jefferson controversy; definitely recommended to stir debate among avid history buffs of the period.—Robert Flatley, Kutztown Univ. Lib., PA\
A slim, slicing analysis of some pivotal issues in the presidency of George Washington, who sought to finesse England and France and to deal simultaneously with political foes and two-faced friends at home. Irish scholar O'Brien (God Land: Reflections on Religion and Nationalism, 2001, etc.) died in 2008, but he left this coda to his 1996 biography of Thomas Jefferson, The Long Affair. Here he shifts focus to Washington, who recognized early on some key and apparently intractable challenges facing his administration and his new country: (1) restore trade relations with England; (2) distance the United States from the excesses of the French Revolution; (3) establish neutrality as England and France puffed chests at each other and stepped ever closer to ruinous war. Washington's agenda alienated portions of the population, many officials in Washington, D.C., and the opposition press. The most contentious of the newspapers, as O'Brien shows, was Philip Freneau's National Gazette, which blasted Washington with glee-and with little regard for facts-and which was also receiving surreptitious support from a surprising source, Washington's Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. O'Brien depicts a slippery Jefferson, who, with his principal ally, James Madison, engaged in an ultimately losing effort to swing public and foreign policy away from Washington and his ally, Alexander Hamilton. The author offers fresh interpretations of the Whiskey Rebellion-connecting it to the Jay Treaty, which re-established trade with England-and of the tenure of French representative Edmond-Charles Genet, who underestimated Washington, thereby disappointing his revolutionary patrons in France, who invited him back fora visit to the National Razor. A compassionate Washington instead allowed him to remain in the United States for the rest of his life. O'Brien also assesses Washington's sly move of sending James Monroe to France, appeasing American supporters of the French Revolution. A sad reminder of what we have lost: O'Brien's penetrating intelligence and earnest voice.