His Excellency George Washington His Excellency George Washington, written by Joseph J. Ellis, provides us a look at one of the most influential men in American history. However, instead of looking at the monumental titan as most did, Ellis wrote about the man behind the monument; his successes, failures and desires that few if any have written about before.
While not as formal sounding to the reader with many questions and out of the way comments by the author based on opinion instead of fact, like on page 194 where in moment about Washington saying formal etiquette of the levees combined with Washington’s natural dignity (or was it his aloofness? ) to create…. ‘ with the content in the parentheses being his own. This statement of his was neither followed up by any fact nor further discussion entirely which is necessary in these situations. Or is it?
Ellis spent his book not focusing on the monolith but on the man, dating back to before the French and Indian war where Washington started to receive recognition for his services, to his death in 1799. Ellis looked past all the brass and silver of his success in the public and thoroughly explored his private and personal life. Ellis painted Washington as a man who focused intently on his bottom line, as seen on page 165 where Ellis describes that the main reason for Washington wanting to get rid of his slaves was not for moral reasons but for economic reasons, as the slaves were no longer worth the investment.
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Ellis harped on the fact that only 3 letters of correspondence survived between George and Martha Washington (page 42), which was one of the few times e released his emotions considering his natural stone exterior. Ellis also put considerable effort in to focusing on his home in Mount Vernon which was a centerpiece in Washington’s life. His life was changed forever by his wife Martha who, even though they originally married for economic reasons, became a ‘mutually affectionate bond’ (Ellis, 42). From the beginning Washington was concerned about his future in the aristocratic- like planter class of Virginia.
Being the 2nd son in the family George was not slated to receive his father’s fortune, so he would need to find another career where he could aka one. He got his first Job as a surveyor sent to check on land in the Shenandoah Valley (Ellis, 10). It is presumed by Ellis that this is the point at which Washington saw the expansive and untouched land to the west, a driving force behind his ambitions both at the start of the revolution (Ellis, 57) and during his presidency. During his youth, America was a land where most identified themselves as British, Virginian ‘army and worked alongside the British intently during the French and Indian war.
However many of the colonists believed they fought the French and Indian war to be allowed to expand west. This thought was extinguished when the proclamation of 1763 was released, forbidding colonist expansion westward. This was one of the starting points where colonists began to feel some resentment to the British Crown, and only snowballed with every act thereafter. As more taxes and acts were being placed on colonists more and more anger about a lack or representation in parliament began to seep into American politics.
Many of the more radical members who wanted full separation/retaliation became to be known as the Whig arty (Ellis, 62). These Whig were inspired by the Country Party (Ellis, 62-63) of England and wanted to establish a republican like government that better represented the colonists in the Americas. As time went on and the revolution ended, while the framing of the constitution took place and there on after, 2 political parties in the United States began to take route. The first major group was the Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton which Washington was a supporter of.
The Federalists are precursors to modern day republicans. On the other hand a large group of people in the south didn’t like the centralist ideas of the Federalists, fearing that the Federalists would destroy their agriculturally based economies (Ellis, 204-205). These men went on to form the Republican Party, or Anti-Federalists, which is the modern precursor to the Democratic Party. While a member of it Washington hated and despised these 2 parties as he feared it would lead to a deadlock (which we can see today). Many decisions that would affect Americas social future were decided in Washington’s era.
A large one, the legality of slaves was one that was with him from the time of the revolution where he considered offering freedom for those who fought for him, until he finally passed away (Ellis, 263). While personally against slavery from a moral stand point later in his life at the beginning he took advantage of slave labor to help create his massive estates that were pivotal to his position in Virginia society. He did have 1 condition however that most slave owners didn’t have; he would never sell members of a slave family, only the whole family together (Ellis, 258).
Joseph J. Ellis created a biography that changed some perspective of Washington. No longer an immovable figure of greatness, he was portrayed as a man who went through hardships, strife, and success, while still keeping his goals and ideals alive. He was a man with a deep capacity for emotion who had learned self-control and was always looking towards the future. He saw George as a man who would do what it took to get the Job done, and extend his legacy forever. Most importantly, Ellis shed new light on the man and not the monolith of His Excellency George Washington.
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