Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A fantastic and thorough biography. Chernow gives the full picture of Washington-at least as full as one can get in a biography.
Chernow doesn't shy away from the warts, mistakes, and errors of Washington's life, but the core greatest of the man shines through. Washington's biggest mistake, like all to many of his contemporaries, was slavery. One can't help but wonder how history would have been different if Washington was able to overcome this. Of all the founders, he probably had the best chance of pushing for emancipation. Both because of his southern standing but also the widely recognized strength of his moral character, he might have been to pull together a coalition that could have brought an end to slavery. He seems like he got close to trying this at times, but the imagination was lacking or the pressing needs of the present blinded him. Washington clearly understand the contradictions of slavery with the founding principles in the Declaration and Constitution for which he was fighting as first a general and then a president. As well, he seemed to see the weakness of the economic argument for slavery: rather than enriching him and the other southerners, it was bankrupting many of them and more of a drain then an economic gain. And yet, for all his moral wisdom and tactical brilliance, he tragically couldn't imagine a way forward and out of slavery.
It still astounds me that Washington walks away from power. It's now part of the American Mythos but we all know that Washington could have been king, but retires instead. And really, he doesn't even seem tempted. That's all the more amazing. This moral fortitude and his shepherding of the US in its early years certainly makes him as one of history's greats.
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