Saturday, September 10, 2011

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

  • "George Washington was always a man who monitored his every move." - 18
  • "The proper degree of familiarity between governors and the governed would be an absorbing preoccupation throughout his career." - 25
  • "he was able to corroborate the prevalent suspicion in Williamsburg that the French planned to encircle the British by uniting their Louisiana territory with Canada and the Great Lakes." - 33-4
  • "Destiny had now conferred upon Washington a pivotal place in colonial, and even global, affairs, for the Jumonville incident was recognized as the opening shot that precipitated the French and Indian War, known in Europe as the Seven Years' War. In the words of Sir Horace Walpole in London, 'The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.'" - 45
  • "The Fort Necessity debacle pointed up Washington's inexperience. Historians have rightly faulted him for advancing when he should have retreated; for fighting without awaiting sufficient reinforcements; for picking an indefensible spot; for the slapdash construction of the fort; for alienating his Indian allies; and for shocking hubris in thinking that he could defeat an imposing French force." - 49
  • "Washington made a point of hanging people in public to deter others. His frontier experience only darkened his view of human nature, and he saw people as motivated more by force than by kindness." - 65
  • "This young careerist brooded interminably over the discrimination leveled against colonial officers and betrayed a heightened sense of personal injustice -- feelings that would assume a more impressive and impersonal ideological form during the American Revolution." - 69
  • "Human affairs are always checkered and vicissitudes in this life are rather to be expected than wondered at." - George Washington, 91
  • "He practiced a minimalist art in politics, learning how to exert maximum leverage with the least force." - 99
  • "That the slaves at Mount Vernon could move about without supervision runs counter to the common view of slavery as a system enforced only by the daily terror of whips and shackles....the only way to control a captive population was to convince them that runaways would be severely punished." - 116
  • "Preoccupied with time pieces throughout his life, Washington aspired to stand at the center of an orderly, clockwork universe." - 119
  • "Washington exemplified the self-invented American, forever struggling to better himself and rise above his origins." - 123
  • "What has mystified posterity and puzzled some of his contemporaries was that Washington's church attendance was irregular; that he recited prayers standing instead of kneeling; that, unlike Martha, he never took communion; and that he almost never referred to Jesus Christ, preferring such vague locutions as 'Providence,' 'Destiny,' the 'Author of our Being,' or simply 'Heaven.' Outwardly at least, his Christianity seemed rational, shorn of mysteries and miracles, and nowhere did he directly affirm the divinity of Jesus Christ." - 131
  • "On Friday, August 5, 1774, George Washington's life changed forever when he was elected one of seven Virginia delegates to the general congress that would meet in Philadelphia, to be known as the First Continental Congress." - 171
  • "I shall constantly bear in mind that, as the sword was the last resort for the preservation of our liberties, so it ought to be the first thing laid aside when those liberties are firmly established." - George Washington, 278
  • "With a mind neither quick nor nimble, Washington lacked the gift of spontaneity and found it difficult to improvise on the spot." - 305
  • "A leitmotif of his wartime letters was that the shortsighted states would come to ruin without an effective central government. Increasingly Washington took a scathing view of lax congressional leadership." - 328
  • "For Washington, the French alliance never flowed smoothly. The bulk of France's fleet remained based in the Caribbean, which hindered joint operations, and the alliance with a mighty power placed Washington in an uncomfortably subservient position." - 349
  • "Ever since Valley Forge, Washington had lamented the profiteering that deprived his men of critically needed supplies, and he remained contemptuous of those who rigged and monopolized markets, branding them 'the pests of society and the greatest enemies we have to the happiness of America'" - 352
  • "To compel a people to remain in a state of desperation and keep them at enmity with playing the whole game against us." - George Washington, 360
  • "Washington viewed the restoration of American credit as the country's foremost political need, and he supported loans and heavy taxation to attain it." - 369
  • "The foundation of our empire was not laid in the gloomy age of ignorance and superstition, but at an epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined than at any former period." - George Washington, 443
  • "For all of Washington's professions of modesty, the though of his high destined niche in history was never far from his mind. Few historical figures have so lovingly tended their image." - 471
  • "Less than a year after laying down his commission at Annapolis, the American Cincinnatus, badly strapped for cash, was reduced to a bill collector." - 479
  • "In addition to his better-known title of father of his country, Washington is also revered in certain circles as the Father of the American Mule." - 484
  • "Deafness can be an isolating experience, especially for a president. People would naturally have waited for him to respond to statements before proceeding with the conversation; to conceal his deafness, a self-conscious Washington may well have feigned hearing what they said and sat there in silence." - 581
  • "Unlike Washington, Jefferson regarded the French Revolution as the proud and inevitable sequel to the American Revolution." - 600
  • "'When he entered a room where we were all mirth and in high conversation, all were instantly mute.' When this happened, Washington would 'retire, quite provoked and disappointed.' It is a powerful commentary on the way in which fame estranged Washington from the casual pleasures of everyday life, making it hard for him to get the social solace he needed." - 616
  • Hamilton "considered speculation to be an inescapable, if unsavory, aspect of functioning financial markets." - 621
  • Jefferson "believed that Hamilton, to consolidate federal power and promote a northern financial cabal, wanted to make the federal debt so gigantic that it would never be extinguished." - 631
  • "Washington and Hamilton had the thankless task of implementing the first tax systems in a country with a deeply ingrained suspicion of all taxes." - 636
  • "Unlike his fellow planters, who tended to regard banks and stock exchanges as sinister devices, Washington grasped the need for these instruments of modern finance...With this stroke, he endorsed an expansive view of the presidency and made the Constitution a living, open-ended document. The importance of his decision is hard to overstate, for had Washington rigidly adhered to the letter of the Constitution, the federal government might have been stillborn." - 650
  • "America's fervent attachment to France arose from gratitude for its indispensable help during the Revolutionary War, and no country saluted its revolution with more fraternal warmth. In a variety of ways, the French Revolution had been spawned by its American predecessor, which had bred dreams of liberty among French aristocrats who fought in the war, then tried to enshrine its principles at home." - 658
  • "The entire project gratified Washington's vanity on another level: people assumed that the new city would be named either Washington or Washingtonople. In September Washington learned that the commissioners had indeed decided, without fanfare, to call the city Washington and the surrounding district Columbia, giving birth to Washington, D.C." - 663
  • "The Hamiltonian party called itself Federalists, implying that it alone supported the Constitution and national unity. It took a robust view of federal power and a strong executive branch, and it favored banks and manufacturing as well as agriculture. Elitist in its politics, it tended to doubt the wisdom of the common people, but it also included a large number of northerners opposed to slavery. The Jeffersonians called themselves Republicans to suggest that they alone could save the Constitution from monarchical encroachments." - 671
  • "Developments in France only aggravated the growing discord in American politics. Regarding the French revolutionaries as kindred spirits, Republicans rejoiced at the downfall of the Bourbon dynasty, while Federalists, dreading popular anarchy, dwelled on the grisly massacres." - 689

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