A Great and Good Man: George Washington in the Eyes of His Contemporaries

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A Great and Good Man presents a lively collection of contemporary letters, poems, addresses, and newspaper reports that demonstrate the remarkable esteem in which Washington was held. Washington would become, after his death, a true symbol of the American republic. This selection of materials, many reprinted for the first time since the eighteenth century, shows that in his life Washington had already become the Father of his country and was acclaimed for his sense of honor, his heroism, and his wisdom.

Dating from his farewell orders to the Continental Army in 1783 to his retirement from the executive office of the United States of America, the selections in this book illuminate the role that Washington played in the public imagination. His willing relinquishment of military authority in 1783 shocked the world, and set him on a path toward greater political glory as he presided over the Constitutional Convention and then became the first President of the country. Here we see Washington as he stood before and was addressed by the nation―praised by politicians, advised by foreigners, and lionized by citizens. In Washington's own letters and addresses we also glimpse the canny side of Washington, a man who was careful with his public image and was a shrewd gamesman in the political arena. By the time he took presidential office in 1789 few questioned his political acumen and national leaders were dependent on his leadership.

The editors of A Great and Good Man have set the context for their carefully selected documents with insightful introductions; and their thorough index greatly enhances the accessibility of the material presented.

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About the Author:

John P. Kaminski is the director of The Center for the Study of the American Constitution at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has written and spoken widely on the Constitution and is past president of The Association for Documentary Editing. Kaminski is the editor of many works, including The Quotable Jefferson, Citizen Paine, and The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. He lives in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Jill Adair McCaughan received her B.A. in history and English from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and her Ph.D. in communications from Ohio State University. She teaches communication and English courses and lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Review:

An impressive collection. . . . [It] makes an important contribution to the study of Washington's life and times. (The New York Times)

These documents demonstrate Washington and his colleagues' shrewd use of his image in the move to revamp the central government. . . . Washington's election, inauguration, and presidential tours, Federalist writers believed, had overcome the dangerously divisive spirit of party and united all hearts in support of the new government. . . . Some of their effusions seem incredibly overblown today. . . . But in fact many Americans did adore their hero as the embodiment of their fledgling nation and of their hopes and ideals. . . . These documents have been carefully researched and edited. The commentary is neither critical nor analytical. Readers will have to evaluate the significance of the materials themselves, but taken together they are fascinating even to the historian familiar with them. (Journal of Southern History)

The editors have discovered contemporary poetry and published commentary that have never been reprinted. The adulation of Washington may stun some readers. . . . Kaminski and McCaughan have produced an appealing and thought provoking work which demonstrates that by 1787 most free Americans truly loved George Washington. (New York History)

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