Ranking George Washington

Ranking George Washington (5 = excellent, 1 = poor)

Contribution to the United States Prior to Presidency– How can anyone measure up to George Washington?  He was the Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary War Army, delegate to the Continental Congress, and President of the Constitutional Convention.  George Washington deserves special recognition for his selfless service to the formation of the United States.  No person contributed more to establishing the United States than George Washington.  Points- 5.

Integrity– Washington refused to compromise his value system when making any decision.  His word was his bond and he searched for the good in everyone.  Washington was dismayed by political infighting and he worked to stay above the fray.  He considered the welfare of the nation before his own.  When assessing his own skill level prior to his appointment as the head of the Army or the nation- he was unsure he could fulfill the position.  Points- 5.

Scandals During Administration– The single hint of scandal during Washington’s administration and is attributed to Edmund Randolph.  Although Randolph was not convicted of treason, it is hard not to consider the possibility that he was being bought by the French.  He was judged to be innocent by Washington, initially, but his later defense seems to indicate his guilt.  Points- 4.

Military Service– Washington fought in the French and Indian War, protecting the Virginia border from enemy attacks.  He served as the Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Army and has the distinction of being the only sitting President to take the field as Head of the Army.  The military service Washington provided his country reflects great credit upon who he was as a man, however, he did lose more battles than he fought and his battle plans were more complex than his forces could execute.  He held the Army together by sheer force of will, therefore, his defeat of the British cannot be attributed to his tactical genius.  Points- 4.

Popularity– At the time, there was no popular vote, yet he was unanimously elected by Congress twice.  Points- 5.

Party Leadership– Washington had no use for political parties, however, they began to form organically under his leadership.  The Federalists prevailed on many points that Washington supported.  If Washington had been bound to a political party- I have no doubt he would have been a Federalist.  Points- 4.

Legacy– He served two terms in the Presidency even though initially he intended to spend only a few years in office. Eight years of selfless service, followed by the subsequent peaceful transfer of power demonstrated the viability of a Republican government.  Washington selected the location of the nation’s capital along the Potomac.  His legacy remains the standard by which all future Presidents are judged.  Points- 5.

Foreign Policy– Washington navigated the new country in amongst the French and British conflicts of the late 18th century.  He signed treaties with the British, French and Spanish during his time in office.  As President, Washington desired neutrality because he recognized that the United States could not compete militarily with European powers.  The Jay Treaty with England did keep the country from war with Britain, but was not well received in America.  Points- 4.

Domestic Agenda– As the first chief executive, Washington achieved his primary goal of keeping the states unified.  He did not believe it was the government’s job to disperse entitlements to its citizens.  He did not oppose utilizing military force during the Whiskey Rebellion in Massachusetts to enforce the law.  Points- 4.

Economic Policy– With Hamilton as his Secretary of the Treasury, the government successfully tallied the debt and assumed the debt of the states.  Washington desired a strong manufacturing sector as opposed to complete reliance on an agrarian state.  Washington encouraged the purchase of American goods.  His administration devised a tariff system on imports to raise money for the federal government.  Points- 4.

Respect of the Constitution– Washington respected the Constitution and did not seek to strengthen the executive branch by exploiting implied powers.  The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution during his presidency. As the first President, his actions were the guide for future chief executives in regards to the power of the executive branch.  Points- 4.

Supreme Court Selections– The Supreme Court was the weakest of the branches during Washington’s presidency, but was still in its infancy.  Washington appointed John Jay as a Justice of the Supreme Court.  He did nothing to discourage the establishment of the third branch of government.  Points- 3.

Cabinet Selections– Could the selections of Jefferson, Hamilton and Knox have been any better?  I think not. Despite frequent squabbles between Jefferson and Hamilton, Washington listened patiently to each of them.  His luck was not so good during his second term, however.  Washington could not find men who wanted to serve in his Cabinet due to ferocious attacks in the press.  Due to his inability to appoint leaders such as Patrick Henry, his cabinet was much weaker in his second term.  Points- 4.

Executive ability– He learned on the job, the first of its kind with zero precedent to review.  Washington lived his entire presidency under scrutiny for every action he did or did not take.  He established the executive branch of government and managed it well.  Points- 5.

Overall impression of his Presidency– Taking all things into account, his presidency was a success that stabilized a new nation into what would become the most powerful country in history.  Washington was the one man who could keep the country together in its earliest days.  Reflecting on the differences between the Northern and Southern states, it could have easily been torn apart.  The European countries could have destroyed the new country, but Washington maintained neutrality in their disputes.  Points- 5.

Washington was an outstanding president and that is reflected even 220 years later in almost every published poll.  In many ways, he will be the gold standard by which I judge every other President.  He currently ranks number 1 out of 1 reviewed President.

65 out of 75 points overall


George Washington: Wrap Up

I should have done a quick review of who George Washington was to me, prior to reading my list of biographies.  I felt like I knew more than most on Washington, since I was a history major in college, but now realize I knew very little.  I knew he was born in Virginia, lived at Mount Vernon, and fought in the French and Indian War.  I knew Washington was the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army who won the Revolutionary War.  Later, he was our first President, setting a precedent of only serving two terms prior to a peaceful transition of power.  I have been to the top of the Washington Monument, collected quarters, used a dollar bill, and laughed about his wooden teeth (which were not really made of wood).

Washington was a selfless man, living an active and exciting life that history books do not convey very well.  He participated in bloody battles, had horses shot out from underneath him and consistently exposed himself to enemy fire.  Washington was not a tactical genius as a commander, but held together an army during Valley Forge.  Upon retiring from public life, his sense of duty to his country, led him back into the spotlight during the writing of our Constitution.  When it came time to elect the nation’s first chief executive- only one man was up to the task- George Washington.  He wanted to leave after his first term, but was persuaded to stay for another four years.  The fledgling nation required this man to stay in power or it could easily have died a quick death.  He lived his life for his country- elevating the needs of every American over his own.  The country could have no better friend than George Washington.  The best summation of George Washington was by Congressman Henry Lee, “First in war-first in peace- and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

The first book I read was Washington: A Life (review here) by Ron Chernow.  This book is the most detailed and lengthiest of the biographies I read.  Chernow wrote the most academic book out of the four.  Washington: A Life is the standard for the other presidential biographies that I will read.  Anyone who is willing to invest the time to read about Washington must purchase this book above the others.

His Excellency: George Washington (review here) by Joseph Ellis was second on my list.  Coming on the heels of Washington: A Life– the early part of this book was slow going for me.  Adjusting from Chernow’s writing style to Ellis’ made it difficult.  Ellis does a very nice job of detailing Washington’s life and I do recommend this book.

The third book George Washington: The Wonder of the Age (review here) is the latest release of a biography on Washington.  If a reader desires a book almost solely focused on just Washington, this is a good option.  However- it did rate a distant fourth on my list of books.

I finished my journey with Washington: An Indispensable Man (review here) by James Flexner.  The author has written a four-volume biography of Washington, this being an abridged version.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Any reader who wants a compact 400 page book on Washington can invest in this book without worry.

Thank you to all who have read my previous review and please hit the subscribe button.  Now onto John Adams!

Favorite Book: Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Honorable Mention: Washington: An Indispensable Man

My Future reading: James Flexner’s 4 volume epic and Washington by Douglas Southall Freeman

Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner

The fourth and closing biography I opted for on George Washington is Washington: The Indispensable Man.  I did not have a specific methodology of determining a logical plan to read the books, but discovered the perfect book to complete my journey on Washington.  I could not have been happier with the book and consider it the correct biography to close out a study on the first president.

Washington: The Indispensable Man was written by James Thomas Flexner and published by Little, Brown and Company in 1974.  Flexner was born in New York City and lived from 1908 until his death in 2003.  His Father, Simon Flexner, discovered a cure for spinal meningitis; his mother Helen was an English professor.  Flexner graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 1929 and in 1932 become a full-time writer.

James Flexner, best known for his four-volume biography on George Washington, earned a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize.  The Indispensable Man is a one volume abridgement of his earlier biography, but is uniquely different than his earlier work.  Flexner states that most of the writing in the abridgement is new, making this book more than a shortened version of his masterful earlier volumes.

Flexner concentrated his research primarily on original documents to portray Washington from the perspective of the 18th Century, not the 20th.  The author desired to counter modern criticisms, painting Washington in contrast to his time.  The length of the book is 423 pages spread amongst 52 chapters- in my opinion a solid balance.  Flexner weaves a smooth, flowing story, not overburdened with academic jargon, his knack for story telling compares favorably to Joseph Ellis’ His Excellency (review here).

Washington: The Indispensable Man opens with a brief review of Washington’s ancestors in Virginia.  Like Washington: A Life (review here), Flexner provides enough detail of George’s childhood for the reader to establish a base of knowledge bringing the rest of the book into perspective.  Flexner describes the frustration of Washington, the Colonial leader, coveting an unattainable royal commission.  The book shows the descent of Washington from a British subject, fighting the French and Indian War into the dissatisfied American who desired an independent nation.

Flexner spends roughly 25% of his manuscript on General Washington leading the Continental Army against the British.  One aspect I found very helpful during these chapters was the sketched maps depicting the movements of the opposing armies during battle.  The pictures made the words come alive in a context different than Rhodehamel’s, The Wonder of the Age (review here).  No different than the other biographers I have read, there is no attempt to make Washington into a tactical genius.  Flexner acutely illustrates Washington’s force of will that was his major contribution to the war for independence.  The balanced portrait in the book ensures that the author maintains his credibility.

The portion of The Indispensable Man that stands out is Flexner’s authorship of the presidential years.  He takes on Washington’s presidency event by event making it easy to do an evaluation of his performance.  Flexner is masterful in contriving this section of the book-including a chapter, The Great Schism Opens, that sets the stage for Washington’s difficulties as president.

The achievements of Washington as the first chief executive are simple to discern due to how the biography is contrived.  The reader easily identifies the issue, reads how Washington addressed it and decides if the course of action was the right one.  Washington was an inclusive leader that wanted to hear all opinions prior to deciding.  Flexner’s account of Washington the President is superior to the other biographies I have read.

I found Flexner’s one volume to be a fascinating book.  Once I complete my journey through all of the presidents- I will return to Flexner and read his four-volume epic on Washington as President.  The illustrations, flawless writing, and overall flow of the book make this the second best novel I have read on George Washington.  The only part that keeps Washington: The Indispensable Man slightly behind Washington: A Life is the more detail Chernow provides albeit over twice the number of pages.  I recommend Washington: The Indispensable Man slightly ahead of His Excellency: George Washington for the reader who wants a solid, compact book on this most important founding father.

Overall: 4.5 stars