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9781416567899

General Washington's Christmas Farewell: A Mount Vernon Homecoming, 1783

Weintraub, Stanley Author

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One of America's greatest Christmas stories and also one of its very first -- from the period between the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution -- was a creation of none other than George Washington. The story isn't just about Washington coming home for Christmas for the first time since the war began, but about the character of our most important Founding Father and about the precedent he set for democratic leadership. It is the story of a loving husband, a beloved military leader, and above all, a humble and great man.

In late November 1783 when Washington finally received formal notice of the signing of a peace treaty with England he had little more than a month to accept the transfer of power from British troops in New York; to bid farewell to his troops; and to resign his commission to Congress if he hoped to make it to Mount Vernon for Christmas. He could have remained in charge of the army and become a virtual king to the Americans who loved him. Control of the newly forming government was his to take -- yet he chose to resign. It was that decision, coupled with his later decision to step down from the presidency after two terms, that rendered him "the greatest character of the age" (according to none other than King George III).

Washington's homeward journey is one of the most moving and inspiring stories from his great and eventful life. When he bade farewell to his troops at Fraunces Tavern in New York City there were no dry eyes. When he reached Congress and gave a retirement speech, it cemented his greatness more fully than had his victory over the British. When he made it to Mount Vernon, finally, on Christmas Eve, it could not have been a happier homecoming.

General Washington's Christmas Farewell is a deeply moving Christmas story as well as a great American story.

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About the Author:

Stanley Weintraub is Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Arts and Humanities at Penn State University and the author of notable histories and biographies including 11 Days in December, Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, MacArthur's War, Long Day's Journey into War, and A Stillness Heard Round the World: The End of the Great War. He lives in Newark, Delaware.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1: BEGINNING THE END

After more than eight years of war, General George Washington was impatient to return home. The unpretentious and unfinished country house, its wood panels shaped and covered with a sandy white paint to resemble stone, was still without a completed cupola and weather vane. Eight square wooden pillars already fronted the portico overlooking the broad waters of what was then known as the Potowmack. Mount Vernon and the postwar improvements he wanted to make to it had rarely been out of Washington's thoughts since the shooting had stopped. He had lived on the property, purchased by his father as Little Hunting Creek Plantation in 1735, since he was three years old. At nineteen, in 1751, he had inherited it from his half-brother Lawrence.

Since May 4, 1775, Washington had been back only once, for a few days in October 1781, during the culminating Yorktown campaign. Nearly fifty-two, his once reddish hair was graying above a Roman profile weather-beaten by early exposure as a surveyor, planter, and frontier soldier and etched by smallpox at nineteen. He felt physically and emotionally drained. In the limbo between war and peace, his weight, on a solid six-foot-four frame, had burgeoned to 209 pounds. To his worshipers, military and civilian, to whom he symbolized the new United States, Washington embodied rocklike perseverance. He appeared even more majestic and larger than life late in 1783 than in his lean and anxious earlier years directing what seemed an unwinnable war.

Even then Washington had been a commanding figure. "You had prepared me to entertain a favorable opinion of him," Abigail Adams wrote to her husband early in the rebellion, "but I thought the one half was not told me." And she quoted to John Adams "those lines of Dryden,"

Mark his Majestik fabrick! He's a temple

Sacred by birth, and built by hands divine....

Late in 1783 the letters of the Abbé Robin, a chaplain with Count de Rochambeau's army at Yorktown, had been published, with much the same view of Washington's "tall and noble stature," that "perhaps the exterior of no man was ever better calculated to gratify these expectations [of greatness]...."

Since the shot heard 'round the world at Lexington had drawn him into the revolution, Washington had seen little of his plantation. Just before Yorktown, while preparing the siege of Lord Cornwallis's troops and hoping that the French forces he expected would not be outmaneuvered by a British fleet sailing from New York, he learned disquieting news. Fearing that British ships anchored in the Potomac below Mount Vernon were planning to burn the house, his distant cousin, Lund Washington, the resident manager of the home farm, went on board the enemy flagship to plead for the estate's safety. Assured that no harm would come to it, presumably as a result of a suitable ransom to which he agreed, he returned to Mount Vernon and arranged "as a present" to the British, he explained after the fact in a letter to the General, a consignment of sheep, hogs, and an abundant "supply of articles" including twenty slaves, flour from Washington's mill, and hams from his smokehouse. News of the shocking bribe also arrived through a courier from the Marquis de Lafayette, who was moving troops southward toward Yorktown.

It would have been "a less painful circumstance to me," Washington fumed to his cousin, "to have heard that in cause of your non-compliance with their request, they had burnt my house, and left my plantation in ruins. You should have behaved yourself as my representative, and reflected on the bad example of communicating with the Enemy." A "conflagration," he claimed, would have been better. Still, Mount Vernon had survived the embarrassing bargain, and -- with Christmas approaching -- Washington was now more anxious than ever to return.

On September 3, 1783, British negotiators in Paris had finally approved the treaty conceding American independence. News carried across the Atlantic by sail arrived frustratingly slowly. Nearly two months later, chafing in his dormant and depopulated headquarters, a two-story frame house at Rocky Hill, four miles from Princeton (formerly Princetown), New Jersey, Washington received confirmation that the "definitive" text of the treaty would be coming. The news was long expected, and long delayed, draining the event of any sense of elation. As early as March 25, word had come that the "preliminaries" to peace had been signed, but the back-and-forth of mutually acceptable language had to cross, and recross, both the Channel and an ocean.

In the interim, Sir Guy Carleton, British commander in New York and Long Island, the last major enclaves of enemy troops in the former colonies and home to resident and refugee royalists from Maine (then part of Massachusetts) to Georgia, had been slowly evacuating the area. The preliminary treaty articles had used the words "with all convenient speed" for the departures, but New York City and Long Island were being kept to guarantee an acceptable peace. Supplied from bases in Canada, the British also clung to seven isolated stockades on the American side of the Great Lakes, including Fort Niagara, Oswego, Presque Isle, Mackinaw, and the stockade at Detroit, intending to hold on to them until debts to be paid according to the treaty were duly settled. (The colonies were reluctant to make good, and it would be the mid-1790s before that happened.)

Fearing violence from returning patriots, some New York Tories had fled as early as April, mostly to Nova Scotia. While flotillas from England, Canada, and the Caribbean were assembling to evacuate further thousands of unhappy British soldiers and sympathizers, Congress began authorizing the discharge of Continental troops anxious to return home before the onset of winter. Delegates were eager to comply. The former colonies preferred having no standing army to paying for one.

Congress had overseen the war, and now the peace, almost without money and without the authority to coerce it from the states or its citizens. States retained sovereign powers; Congress under the Articles of Confederation, ratified seven months before Yorktown, was little more than a discussion group. Only South Carolina had paid its full 1782 quota to the federal treasury by July 1783 and had furnished that contribution "in kind" rather than in coin -- supplies for the former army in the south, now disbanding at Charleston. Virginia had contributed half its quota; Rhode Island had paid a fourth, Pennsylvania a fifth, Connecticut and New Jersey each a seventh, Massachusetts an eighth, New York and Maryland a twentieth, New Hampshire less than 1 percent. North Carolina, Delaware, and Georgia had paid in nothing at all. Nevertheless, Washington would feel compelled to praise the states for their support of the war for their own independence. He could do little else.

From Newburgh, his New York headquarters on the Hudson during the early summer, he kept messages going to Virginia about readying Mount Vernon for its owner's return, deploring the loss of rents from defecting tenants and ordering supplies "for my Negroes." To his brother, John Augustine Washington, the General confided, "I wait here with much impatience, the arrival of the Definitive Treaty; this event will put a period not only to my Military Service, but also to my public life; as the remainder of my natural one shall be spent in that kind of ease and repose which a man enjoys that is free from the load of public cares, and subject to no other Controul than that of his own judgment, and a proper conduct for the walk of private Life." Yet he worried also about "the Affairs of this Continent" being "conducted by thirteen distinct Sovereignties." As commander in chief of the armed forces of the former colonies and their only unifying symbol, he wanted to see "competent powers for all general purposes" vested "in the Sovereignty of the United States" to prevent "Anarchy and Confusion." Effective with the peace treaty, he hoped that the nation, if it were one, would "set out right," for his "Army in the Field" could no longer unite the states. That army now hardly existed.

The only civilian balance to the Congress was the group of governors of the states, for whom Washington was often the only unifying contact. Few communicated with each other. At one point there had been serious talk of "the necessity of appointing General Washington sole dictator of America" to stop the drift into disintegration. Evading such gossip, the General drafted a circular letter to the governors maintaining that only in real union could America become a great and happy nation: "With our fate," he prophesied, "will the destiny of unborn Millions be involved." He had to keep both the disunited states and the discontented army together as they waited for the formal acknowledgment of definitive peace. Things could fall apart -- even the treaty itself.

At West Point in mid-November, making his intentions to resign public, Washington had added to Congress's instructions for dismissal of most troops his own "Farewell Orders to the Armies of the United States," lauding his men for their endurance of hardship, even "hunger and nakedness." He urged each soldier to recollect "the uncommon scenes in which he has been called to Act no inglorious part, and the astonishing events of which he has been a witness, events which have seldom if ever before taken place on the stage of human action, nor can they probably happen again. For who has before seen a disciplined Army form'd at once from such raw materials?" Closing his "benediction" with the long-anticipated announcement that he was also about "to retire from the service," he wrote in the third person, "The Curtain of seperation will soon be drawn, and the military scene to him will be closed for ever." Rather than covertly promoting himself for some other role, he intended that to mean all public office. In England, when the letter was read, months later, at a crowded London coffeehouse, "every hearer," it was reported, "was full of the writer's pr...

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Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 213 x 137 mm. Language: English Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. One of America s greatest Christmas stories and also one of its very first -- from the period between the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution -- was a creation of none other than George Washington. The story isn t just about Washington coming home for Christmas for the first time since the war began, but about the character of our most important Founding Father and about the precedent he set for democratic leadership. It is the story of a loving husband, a beloved military leader, and above all, a humble and great man.In late November 1783 when Washington finally received formal notice of the signing of a peace treaty with England he had little more than a month to accept the transfer of power from British troops in New York; to bid farewell to his troops; and to resign his commission to Congress if he hoped to make it to Mount Vernon for Christmas. He could have remained in charge of the army and become a virtual king to the Americans who loved him. Control of the newly forming government was his to take -- yet he chose to resign. It was that decision, coupled with his later decision to step down from the presidency after two terms, that rendered him the greatest character of the age (according to none other than King George III).Washington s homeward journey is one of the most moving and inspiring stories from his great and eventful life. When he bade farewell to his troops at Fraunces Tavern in New York City there were no dry eyes. When he reached Congress and gave a retirement speech, it cemented his greatness more fully than had his victory over the British. When he made it to Mount Vernon, finally, on Christmas Eve, it could not have been a happier homecoming.General Washington s Christmas Farewell is a deeply moving Christmas story as well as a great American story. Bookseller Inventory # APC9781416567899

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Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 213 x 137 mm. Language: English Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.One of America s greatest Christmas stories and also one of its very first -- from the period between the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution -- was a creation of none other than George Washington. The story isn t just about Washington coming home for Christmas for the first time since the war began, but about the character of our most important Founding Father and about the precedent he set for democratic leadership. It is the story of a loving husband, a beloved military leader, and above all, a humble and great man.In late November 1783 when Washington finally received formal notice of the signing of a peace treaty with England he had little more than a month to accept the transfer of power from British troops in New York; to bid farewell to his troops; and to resign his commission to Congress if he hoped to make it to Mount Vernon for Christmas. He could have remained in charge of the army and become a virtual king to the Americans who loved him. Control of the newly forming government was his to take -- yet he chose to resign. It was that decision, coupled with his later decision to step down from the presidency after two terms, that rendered him the greatest character of the age (according to none other than King George III).Washington s homeward journey is one of the most moving and inspiring stories from his great and eventful life. When he bade farewell to his troops at Fraunces Tavern in New York City there were no dry eyes. When he reached Congress and gave a retirement speech, it cemented his greatness more fully than had his victory over the British. When he made it to Mount Vernon, finally, on Christmas Eve, it could not have been a happier homecoming.General Washington s Christmas Farewell is a deeply moving Christmas story as well as a great American story. Bookseller Inventory # APC9781416567899

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Book Description Free Press. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Paperback. 224 pages. Dimensions: 8.4in. x 5.4in. x 0.7in.One of Americas greatest Christmas stories and also one of its very first -- from the period between the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution -- was a creation of none other than George Washington. The story isnt just about Washington coming home for Christmas for the first time since the war began, but about the character of our most important Founding Father and about the precedent he set for democratic leadership. It is the story of a loving husband, a beloved military leader, and above all, a humble and great man. In late November 1783 when Washington finally received formal notice of the signing of a peace treaty with England he had little more than a month to accept the transfer of power from British troops in New York; to bid farewell to his troops; and to resign his commission to Congress if he hoped to make it to Mount Vernon for Christmas. He could have remained in charge of the army and become a virtual king to the Americans who loved him. Control of the newly forming government was his to take -- yet he chose to resign. It was that decision, coupled with his later decision to step down from the presidency after two terms, that rendered him the greatest character of the age (according to none other than King George III). Washingtons homeward journey is one of the most moving and inspiring stories from his great and eventful life. When he bade farewell to his troops at Fraunces Tavern in New York City there were no dry eyes. When he reached Congress and gave a retirement speech, it cemented his greatness more fully than had his victory over the British. When he made it to Mount Vernon, finally, on Christmas Eve, it could not have been a happier homecoming. General Washingtons Christmas Farewell is a deeply moving Christmas story as well as a great American story. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Bookseller Inventory # 9781416567899

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