George Washington: The Founding Father (Eminent Lives Series)

Overview

By far the most important figure in the history of the United States, George Washington liberated the thirteen colonies from the superior forces of the British Empire against all military odds, and presided over the production and ratification of a constitution that (suitably amended) has lasted for more than two hundred years. Yet today Washington remains a distant figure to many Americans—a failing that acclaimed author Paul Johnson sets out to rectify with this brilliantly vivid, sharply etched portrait of the...

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George Washington: The Founding Father (Eminent Lives Series)

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Overview

By far the most important figure in the history of the United States, George Washington liberated the thirteen colonies from the superior forces of the British Empire against all military odds, and presided over the production and ratification of a constitution that (suitably amended) has lasted for more than two hundred years. Yet today Washington remains a distant figure to many Americans—a failing that acclaimed author Paul Johnson sets out to rectify with this brilliantly vivid, sharply etched portrait of the great hero as a young warrior, masterly commander in chief, patient lawmaker, and exceptionally wise president.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Paul Johnson is famed for his Modern Times and his biography of Napoleon, but his bestselling book has been his mammoth History of the American People. In this compact, 192-page biography of George Washington, the British historian offers a stimulating reassessment of this pivotal figure in American history. A brisk read with lasting insights.
Publishers Weekly
In this masterful addition to the Eminent Lives series, acclaimed historian Johnson (A History of the Jews; Art: A New History) concisely yet vividly portrays the life and legacy of our first president. Johnson traces Washington's life from his early manhood as a surveyor falling in love with the uncharted territory west of Virginia to his later, cunning military exploits. More than anything, according to Johnson, Washington loved property and sought to expand the boundaries not only of the colonies but also of his own land holdings. Washington's skills as a surveyor and a manager established him as a military leader in the French and Indian Wars and the Revolution, and helped him establish a strong executive office and an enduring constitution for the new republic. Johnson points out that Washington's deep moral conviction about the rightness of the war helped him to defeat King George III, who lacked any moral passion about the lands he was supposed to protect. While books like Joseph Ellis's His Excellency offer more detail, Johnson captures the key images of Washington's life and work in this sharply focused snapshot. (June 2) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Forbes Magazine
Historian and FORBES columnist Paul Johnson has just penned, as part of HarperCollins' Eminent Lives series, an excellent, brief biography of America's first Commander-in-Chief. This wee volume quickly makes us appreciate again what an extraordinary man George Washington was. He had amazing self-discipline. He mastered surveying and geography, critical subjects for living in the frontier country that America was then. "Like Bonaparte, he became an expert map reader, an accomplishment few senior officers in any country possessed." Washington honed his military skills early in his career, fighting with the British against the French and their Indian allies. In fact, he helped precipitate the Seven Years War (1756-63) when he attacked an armed French camp near modern-day Pittsburgh. (17 Oct 2005)
—Steve Forbes
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This biography, written from the vantage point of a respected, conservative British historian, provides a new and fascinating picture of the first U.S. President. Johnson doesn't have Americans' natural inclination to deify Washington, but he does have a great deal of respect for his subject, delineating the man's merits and deficiencies. The author also brings the situation in Britain at the time-the backdrop against which Washington reached the heights of his fame-into perspective. These well-written and well-thought-out interpretations will benefit anyone interested in the man or his times.-Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A slender, interpretation-laden biography of the first president. George Washington poses certain contradictions for a historian, as the prolific Johnson (Art: A New History, 2003, etc.) very gamely allows. For one thing, though he kept virtually every scrap of paper that came under his eye, carting a sizable archive with him even in the thick of the Revolutionary War, and was as careful a self-chronicler as any subsequent chief executive, Washington was also famously guarded about what he revealed of himself. An august and confident leader, he was also responsible for a disastrous episode that led directly to the worldwide Seven Years War. He despised slavery but did not press the point while he was in a position to do so. Some of his contemporaries-his vice president, John Adams, among them-thought him thick and unpresidential, to which Johnson responds that Washington was a fine actor: he knew how to by-God a lieutenant into submission, and "he liked to play the Old Man card when needed." He professed a little false modesty, lived a little better than he could afford to and was perhaps a little too wedded to his time's what's-in-for-me ethic. But, Johnson writes, Washington was also indisputably if not entirely selflessly devoted to the cause of an independent American nation. Johnson is sometimes unconvincing when he confronts contradiction head-on and attempts to reconcile it; he notes, for instance, that Washington was a deist, disinclined to pay much attention to matters of God ("In his twenty volumes of correspondence there is not a single mention of Christ"), yet asserts, in keeping with his conservative bent, that "the notion that the First Amendment would be twisted into aninstrument to prohibit the traditional practices of Christianity would have horrified him"-though probably not to the point, given what we know of him, that Washington would have inserted an "under God" clause into the national pledge. Slight, sometimes debatable but thoroughly well written: a good starting point for those who want to brush up on why Washington matters all these years later.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060753672
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/5/2009
  • Series: Eminent Lives Series
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 386,223
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Johnson is a historian whose work ranges over the millennia and the whole gamut of human activities. He regularly writes book reviews for several UK magazines and newspapers, such as the Literary Review and The Spectator, and he lectures around the world. He lives in London, England.

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Read an Excerpt

George Washington

Chapter One

A Young Gentleman's Youth in Virginia

As the central actor in the American Revolution, George Washington was one of the most important figures in world history. As America's commander in chief throughout the eight-year struggle against Britain he effectively liberated the thirteen colonies from imperial rule. He then presided over the process whereby the new nation drafted, ratified, and enacted its federal Constitution. Finally, for eight years he directed the administration that put the Constitution to work, with such success that, suitably updated and amended, it has lasted for nearly a quarter of a millennium.

The Revolution he thus led to success was the first of a series that created the modern world in which we live. Its spirit was animated by the same love of representative government and respect for the rule of law that had produced England's unwritten constitution over many centuries. Thanks to Washington's genius, that spirit was successfully transferred to the new American nation. Subsequent revolutions, in France in the 1790s, and in Latin America during the following quarter century, were marred by tragedies of violence and ambition that led to lasting instability, in which the rule of law could not take root. This pattern was repeated, all too often, in the revolutions of the twentieth century, whereby the peoples of Asia and Africa became independent. Throughout this whole period, however, the United States clung to the principles for which Washington fought, and followed during his administrations. They enabled it to survive a near-fatal civil war, to become the world's largest economy, totake in the poor of the planet and turn them into the richest people in history, and finally, at the end of the twentieth century, to emerge as the sole superpower. At the beginning of the twenty- first century, the United States seems set to play the leading part in making the earth secure and democratic. In this immense process, then, Washington played, and still plays, a unique role, both as founding father and exemplar of moderation and wisdom.

What sort of man was Washington, and how did he achieve so much? There ought to be no difficulty in answering this question if documentation alone could supply an answer. For more than a third of his life he worked in the service of his country, and all that he did officially is recorded in the National Archives on a scale no European state could then equal. The American nation-state was born, in public, as it were, and minutely recorded. In addition, from the age of about fourteen,Washington deliberately preserved every scrap of paper belonging to him, including diaries, letters sent and received, accounts, and other day-to-day transactions. As he grew older, he arranged these papers in chronological order, and by name and subject. He seems to have known from an early stage in his career that he would be a figure in history, and he therefore wanted the record to be preserved accurately with the particular object of demonstrating that the offices he held were undertaken from duty, not pride. His overwhelming ambition was to be thought unambitious. His obsession with his papers was thus a strange combination of modesty and self-awareness. He took his archive with him when he went to war, and his personal guard was under strict instructions to protect it with their lives and hustle it to a secret place of safety if the headquarters came under threat. After the war it went to his house, Mount Vernon, and was later hugely augmented by his papers as a president, preserved and sorted by a private secretary and archivist. When Washington died, his assistant Jared Sparks took the entire archive to Boston whence, in 1832, it was delivered to the Library of Congress, which had bought it from the heirs. Mounted, one document per page, hinged at left, and bound in leather, the papers occupy 163 linear feet of shelving, and are sold on 124 reels of microfilm, now on disc.Taken together, they constitute the most complete record of a life in the entire eighteenth century, exceeding by far the vast quantities of memorabilia left behind by James Boswell, for instance, or Horace Walpole.

Despite this, and despite the innumerable accounts of him by contemporaries, and the mountainous literature compiled by historians, so vast that probably no one person can read and digest it, Washington remains a remote and mysterious figure. He puzzled those who knew and worked with him, and who often disagreed violently about his merits and abilities. He puzzles us.No man's mind is so hard to enter and dwell within. Everyone agreed, and agrees, he was a paragon. But a rich or an empty one? A titan of flesh and blood or a clockwork figure programmed to do wisely? Let us inquire.

The first important fact is that Washington was of impeccable English ancestry and came from the class he admired the most: the independent gentry who owned land. All his life he aspired to behave like a gentleman and to own as much land as he could farm. These gentlemen farmers came from Northampton in the heart of England and were hugely loyal to the monarchy, though Northampton the city, a haunt of shoemakers, is also notorious for producing rebels. In 1657 John Washington, second officer on the ketch Sea Horse, of London, sailing to Virginia to pick up a cargo of tobacco, was wrecked on a Potomac shoal, near where Washington the city stands. He decided to settle in Westmoreland County, married Anne Pope, daughter of a substantial man serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and so acquired seven hundred acres at Bridges Creek, plus the capital to begin farming. He became vestryman, burgess, magistrate, and militia colonel, helped to suppress Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, and died owning more than eight thousand acres, including an estate at Hunting Creek, higher up the Potomac, said to be twenty-five hundred acres ...

George Washington. Copyright © by Paul Johnson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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First Chapter

George Washington
The Founding Father

Chapter One

A Young Gentleman's Youth
in Virginia

As the central actor in the American Revolution, George Washington was one of the most important figures in world history. As America's commander in chief throughout the eight-year struggle against Britain he effectively liberated the thirteen colonies from imperial rule. He then presided over the process whereby the new nation drafted, ratified, and enacted its federal Constitution. Finally, for eight years he directed the administration that put the Constitution to work, with such success that, suitably updated and amended, it has lasted for nearly a quarter of a millennium.

The Revolution he thus led to success was the first of a series that created the modern world in which we live. Its spirit was animated by the same love of representative government and respect for the rule of law that had produced England's unwritten constitution over many centuries. Thanks to Washington's genius, that spirit was successfully transferred to the new American nation. Subsequent revolutions, in France in the 1790s, and in Latin America during the following quarter century, were marred by tragedies of violence and ambition that led to lasting instability, in which the rule of law could not take root. This pattern was repeated, all too often, in the revolutions of the twentieth century, whereby the peoples of Asia and Africa became independent. Throughout this whole period, however, the United States clung to the principles for which Washington fought, and followed during his administrations. They enabled it to survive a near-fatal civil war, to become the world's largest economy, to take in the poor of the planet and turn them into the richest people in history, and finally, at the end of the twentieth century, to emerge as the sole superpower. At the beginning of the twenty- first century, the United States seems set to play the leading part in making the earth secure and democratic. In this immense process, then, Washington played, and still plays, a unique role, both as founding father and exemplar of moderation and wisdom.

What sort of man was Washington, and how did he achieve so much? There ought to be no difficulty in answering this question if documentation alone could supply an answer. For more than a third of his life he worked in the service of his country, and all that he did officially is recorded in the National Archives on a scale no European state could then equal. The American nation-state was born, in public, as it were, and minutely recorded. In addition, from the age of about fourteen,Washington deliberately preserved every scrap of paper belonging to him, including diaries, letters sent and received, accounts, and other day-to-day transactions. As he grew older, he arranged these papers in chronological order, and by name and subject. He seems to have known from an early stage in his career that he would be a figure in history, and he therefore wanted the record to be preserved accurately with the particular object of demonstrating that the offices he held were undertaken from duty, not pride. His overwhelming ambition was to be thought unambitious. His obsession with his papers was thus a strange combination of modesty and self-awareness. He took his archive with him when he went to war, and his personal guard was under strict instructions to protect it with their lives and hustle it to a secret place of safety if the headquarters came under threat. After the war it went to his house, Mount Vernon, and was later hugely augmented by his papers as a president, preserved and sorted by a private secretary and archivist. When Washington died, his assistant Jared Sparks took the entire archive to Boston whence, in 1832, it was delivered to the Library of Congress, which had bought it from the heirs. Mounted, one document per page, hinged at left, and bound in leather, the papers occupy 163 linear feet of shelving, and are sold on 124 reels of microfilm, now on disc.Taken together, they constitute the most complete record of a life in the entire eighteenth century, exceeding by far the vast quantities of memorabilia left behind by James Boswell, for instance, or Horace Walpole.

Despite this, and despite the innumerable accounts of him by contemporaries, and the mountainous literature compiled by historians, so vast that probably no one person can read and digest it, Washington remains a remote and mysterious figure. He puzzled those who knew and worked with him, and who often disagreed violently about his merits and abilities. He puzzles us.No man's mind is so hard to enter and dwell within. Everyone agreed, and agrees, he was a paragon. But a rich or an empty one? A titan of flesh and blood or a clockwork figure programmed to do wisely? Let us inquire.

The first important fact is that Washington was of impeccable English ancestry and came from the class he admired the most: the independent gentry who owned land. All his life he aspired to behave like a gentleman and to own as much land as he could farm. These gentlemen farmers came from Northampton in the heart of England and were hugely loyal to the monarchy, though Northampton the city, a haunt of shoemakers, is also notorious for producing rebels. In 1657 John Washington, second officer on the ketch Sea Horse, of London, sailing to Virginia to pick up a cargo of tobacco, was wrecked on a Potomac shoal, near where Washington the city stands. He decided to settle in Westmoreland County, married Anne Pope, daughter of a substantial man serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and so acquired seven hundred acres at Bridges Creek, plus the capital to begin farming. He became vestryman, burgess, magistrate, and militia colonel, helped to suppress Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, and died owning more than eight thousand acres, including an estate at Hunting Creek, higher up the Potomac, said to be twenty-five hundred acres ...

George Washington
The Founding Father
. Copyright © by Paul Johnson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A bit short but still an excellent book.

    The only fault I found with this book was that the author could of added more details of Washington's life. An increase of 50 pages plus over the current 125 would be nice. Other than that small criticism I thought Mr. Johnson's book on George Washington was excellent. The author covered Washington's career, from the early time when he was a surveyer, his service in the French and Indian War, and then he moved into Washington's command of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and then Washington's stewardship during the constitutional convention and finally he covered the time that Washington was President of the United States. If you want a quick understanding, plus an education into one of the great patriots during the founding of the USA then I highly recommend this book. If you just want to find some new facts about Washingtion (this was my case) then this may be you book. Either way, I think you will be pleased by the author's approach into the life of George Washington.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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