Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

George Washington, Nationalist

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

George Washington, Nationalist

Article excerpt

George Washington, Nationalist. By Edward J. Larson. Gay Hart Gaines Distinguished Lectures. (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2016. Pp. xii, 139. $19.95, ISBN 978-0-8139-3898-1.)

In this concise treatment, Edward J. Larson examines George Washington's efforts to promote and preserve the new nation from his resignation as commander in chief on December 23,1783, to his retirement from the presidency on March 4, 1797. Larson argues that "Washington was the leading nationalist of the late Revolutionary era" because the period was one of "political action more than philosophical reflection" (p. ix). Washington suited the moment well--he was a man of "inspired action," not a political philosopher (p. ix). Larson explores numerous instances that depict Washington's dedication to the nationalist cause, including his quashing of the Newburgh Conspiracy in March 1783, his supervision of the Mount Vernon conference in March 1785, his attendance at the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787, and his inauguration as president on April 30, 1789, among others. Larson also demonstrates Washington's symbolic value at each stage. He points to one example in September 1787, when the delegates submitted the final Constitution and a cover letter to the states for ratification. As president of the convention, Washington signed the cover letter. Larson suggests that Washington's signature ensured the states would give the document priority and conveyed to the American people that Washington had approved the Constitution.

George Washington, Nationalist fuses two bodies of literature on Washington: studies that emphasize how military experience fostered Washington's nationalism, such as Stephen Brumwell's George Washington: Gentleman Warrior (New York, 2012), and works on Washington's business ventures and retirement years, including Edward G. …

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