I’ve started a new personal reading project: I plan to read a major biography about each of the US Presidents.
Obviously, the first is George Washington.
Washington: A Life written by Ron Chernow is a 930-page volume that thoroughly covers Washington’s life. There were a few things that surprised me a bit—they aren’t part of the typical “Founding Father” narrative in general history books or popular knowledge.
One realization was the extent that Washington’s administration ended up leaning toward the Federalist side. He started out trying to limit executive power and stay within the bounds and intent of the Constitution as written, leaving as much power as possible to the states, but eventually realized the need for a stronger Federal government and took more control.
The author previously wrote a major biography on Alexander Hamilton (who was the definition of Federalist), so perhaps he interpreted some of Washington’s actions from that viewpoint, but Washington was heavily influenced by Hamilton.
Throughout his first term, the majority of the country practically adored their hero. During his second term, however, the press—especially Phillip Freneau (the National Gazette) and Benjamin Franklin Bache (the Aurora)—fiercely criticized him, even questioning his integrity, motivation for power, and military reputation. At least in my experience of popular history, this has largely been forgotten.
I highly recommend this book as both a good historical biography and as providing insight into Washington’s character and personality.