Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Papers of George Washington. Retirement Series [Vol.] 1: March-December 1797; [Vol.] 2: January-September 1798; [Vol.] 3: September 1798-April 1799; [Vol.] 4: April-December 1799

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Papers of George Washington. Retirement Series [Vol.] 1: March-December 1797; [Vol.] 2: January-September 1798; [Vol.] 3: September 1798-April 1799; [Vol.] 4: April-December 1799

Article excerpt

The Papers of George Washington. Retirement Series. [Vol.] 1: March-December 1797; [Vol.] 2: January-September 1798; [Vol.] 3: September 1798-April 1799; [Vol.] 4: April-December 1799. Edited by Dorothy Twohig. (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, c. 1998, 1999. Pp. xxvi, 566; xxvi, 646; xxvi, 524; xxviii, 603. Cloth, $55.00 each, ISBN 0-8139-1737-9; ISBN 0-8139-1762-X; ISBN 0-8139-1838-3; ISBN 0-8139-1855-3.)

These four volumes of The Papers of George Washington cover the two years and nine months of Washington's retirement. Soon after leaving the presidency, Washington said that he did not expect ever again to go more than twenty miles from his home at Mount Vernon. His role in the expansion of the army of the United States in 1798 during conflict with France--and in factional struggles within the Federalist party--interrupted his search for "rest, & composure" (Vol. 4, p. 276). Washington's sudden death on December 14, 1799, cut short the "Agricultural and rural pursuits" to which he had intended to devote himself (Vol. 1, p. 142). The fourth volume closes with two accounts of Washington's last illness and death written by his secretary Tobias Lear. It is characteristic of his lifetime of self-control that Washington's last action was to take his own pulse (Vol. 4, p. 545).

Washington was not a man of great wealth, as he is sometimes portrayed. Worries about money and about the deterioration of his house at Mount Vernon preoccupied him. He and his wife owned more slaves than they could put to work farming, as many as 317 (Vol. 4, p. 494, note 2). His extensive landholdings did not yield much in sales or rents, and for years he tried to convert them into cash in order to derive an income from interest. …

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