Posts Tagged ‘George Washington’

Given all the other tomes on my bookshelf, I surprised myself by checking out from the library, The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis (2015), the author of Founding Brothers and American Sphinx, about Thomas Jefferson.

The subtitle, Orchestrating The Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, informs how George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, along with others such as Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris (not related), got the thirteen colonies, who had fought off the British, came to accept another centralized government.

A lot of reviewers noted, and it was my experience as well, that our American history courses in high school presented the narrative of the last quarter of the 18th period woefully incompletely. There was the revolutionary fury of the Declaration of Independence and the war, which was reasonably well laid out. The Articles of Confederation -they failed, but why? – followed. Then the Founders came up with the Constitution – but how? – including the Bill of Rights.

In fighting the American Revolution, the colonists were cohesive in that limited battle against the British. However, the notion that these 13 nation-states would then relinquish their independence to accept the creation of a powerful federal government was no guarantee. Certain visionaries diagnosed that structure created by the Articles of Confederation was doomed to fail. They suggested conventions, purportedly to amend the Articles, but ultimately to throw them out.

As Newsday noted: Ellis’ account of the run-up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the subsequent state-by-state ratification process is so pacey it almost reads like a thriller. New Yorker Hamilton, fearful that anarchy was looming, developed a national vision first; Madison was just a bit behind. Jay, serving as foreign affairs secretary, was trying to fashion coherent foreign policy. But all agreed that if their efforts were to succeed, a reluctant Washington, who had retired to Mount Vernon, had to be on board. Washington’s revolutionary credentials were unassailable.

“In 1780, most Americans, having thrown off the fetters of a faraway central power, would have thought the kind of national government envisioned by Washington and Co. as peculiar in the extreme. Some historians have viewed the Constitution as a betrayal of the American Revolution by a cabal of elites who crushed an emerging democracy. Ellis, however, reminds us that democracy was viewed skeptically in the 18th century; he prefers to see the efforts the quartet as ‘a quite brilliant rescue’ of revolutionary principles.”

I totally agree that, for a topic that could be very dry, I found the book surprisingly engaging. Ellis explains how the Founders, even those opposing slavery such as Hamilton, essentially ducked the question for the cause of federalism, hoping the topic would be addressed down the road, which it was, decades later.

I should mention that I got the large-print version of The Quartet because that happened to be the edition near the checkout. I didn’t NEED it, but I’m not complaining about it either.

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I have found many things that have taken place on the political landscape in the last six months or so worthy of celebration.

There have been protests, many of them local, for banning the bomb, upholding women’s rights, protecting the immigrant and the refugee, saving the environment, and several other causes.

People are becoming actively engaged in the political process, working on special elections, running for office, or at least considering it. They are showing up at town halls when members of Congress come back to town.

The veil is coming off FOX “news”. Yet other news outlets are thriving.

A couple interviews on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah in June 2017, on successive days in June 2017, gave me encouragement. William J. Barber II is shifting the moral conversation about the poor, a group neither major candidate for President talked about last year. Among other things, Rev. Barber is the architect of the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement.

I was also taken by John Avlon. The Daily Beast’s Editor-in-Chief was promoting his new book “Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations.”

George Washington feared, he explained, that political parties would “push a narrow, self-interested agenda that would block the national interest” and “create a deadlocked and dysfunctional democracy” that would leave citizens “so frustrated by the inefficiency and ineffectiveness that it could open the door to a demagogue with authoritarian ambitions.”

And by demagogue, I mean “a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.”

So on this Independence Day, it is important to note the words of another of our Founders, Alexander Hamilton: “Of those men who have overturned the liberty of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by playing an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”

We must always push back against tyranny.


It’s Presidents Day, so I post oddball factoids about the guys that have held the office that I’ve come across in the past a couple months.

But first, a recent Final JEOPARDY! answer: Of the 20 presidents elected to a second term, 2 of the 3 who failed to complete that term. (Question at the end.)

#1- George Washington
He Came
During the American Revolutionary War, George Washington was riding on his horse one day when he passed by a group of soldiers who were busily engaged in raising a beam to the top of some military works. It was a difficult task, and the voice of the corporal in charge of the men could often be heard shouting, “Now you have it!”
“All ready! Pull!”
Unrecognized by the corporal and the other soldiers, Washington asked the corporal why he didn’t help his men.
“Sir,” replied the angered officer “do you not realize that I AM the CORPORAL?!?”
Washington politely raised his hat, saying, “I did not realize it. Beg your pardon… Mr. Corporal.”
Washington dismounted his horse and went to work helping the men until the beam was raised.
Before leaving, he turned to the corporal, and, wiping the perspiration from his face, said, “If ever you need assistance like this again, call upon Washington, your commander-in-chief, and I will come!” * Read the rest of this entry »

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