Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés ed. by Robert M. S. McDonald (review)
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George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Marquis de Lafayette, Gouverneur Morris, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Continental Army

Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés. Edited By Robert M. S. McDonald. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013. Pp. 320. Cloth, $35.00.)

In Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés, editor Robert M. S. McDonald, associate professor of history at the United States Military Academy, assembles an impressive collection of essays by noted scholars detailing the various relationships that George Washington maintained with his Revolutionary War subordinates. This volume is an outgrowth of “Sons of the Father,” the first Sons of the American Revolution Annual Conference on the American Revolution.

In a strong introduction, Theodore J. Crackel likens Washington’s relationship with these men to a family. He characterizes Anthony Wayne, James Monroe, and Thomas Jefferson as distant cousins. Washington’s elder sons included Henry Knox and Nathanael Greene, while the middle sons of Crackel’s construct were Alexander Hamilton and [End Page 486] Gouverneur Morris. The Marquis de Lafayette was a young son, and Crackel identifies Daniel Morgan and Robert Kirkwood as Washington’s neighbors—men with whom he was familiar but not close.

Fred Anderson’s essay sets the stage by addressing Washington’s background and his mentors. The author argues that Washington, coming from humble beginnings and wanting to advance in colonial society, needed patronage and well understood the patron–client system in colonial society. Washington acquired this needed patronage largely through Colonel William Fairfax and, later, through Virginia’s colonial governor Robert Dinwiddie. This led to such assignments as official surveyor for Culpeper County and appointment as a militia officer. After his defeat by the French at Fort Necessity, the ambitious Washington attached his fortunes to General Edward Braddock, and his campaign to drive the French from the forks of the Ohio River, by serving as aide-de-camp. Anderson argues that Washington foresaw a successful campaign by Braddock that would gain him both a captain’s commission and election to Virginia’s House of Burgesses.

Following Braddock’s defeat, Washington assumed command of men who protected a 300-mile stretch of the Virginia frontier. Frustrations over the lack of supplies and obligations to care for his regiment led him to offend some of his patrons. Anderson notes, “Washington became a commander, in effect, without first having mastered the art of being a subordinate—thereby failing to learn the most fundamental principle of life in a regular army. His failure to grasp the importance of military subordination precisely paralleled his earlier failure to grasp the lesson of deference that sponsored mobility afforded those would-be gentlemen who rose through the ranks of civil society in a more leisurely, orderly way” (29). Moreover, Anderson contends that these aspects of Washington’s background led him to help subordinates who had the same tendencies during the Revolution.

One particular strength of this volume is what the reader learns about Washington through his interactions with these critical subordinates. He could be prone to temper and quick fits of rage under trying circumstances. The commander-in-chief kept a professional distance not only from his men but also from those to whom he was closest. The degree of intimacy Washington maintained with these subordinates is evidenced in the salutations and closings of letters addressed to them. Those closest to him, such as Lafayette, received “My Dear Sir” and “Affectionately,” [End Page 487] while those more removed, such as Daniel Morgan, were addressed as “Dear Sir.”

Most importantly, however, these essays reveal that Washington was particularly adept at knowing the talents of his subordinates and using them to maximum effect. Stuart Leibiger shows that Lafayette not only proved a competent officer on the battlefield but also helped Washington maintain French support at a critical point in the Revolution. Mary-Jo Kline reveals that Gouverneur Morris became a Washington confidant and was politically useful in obtaining what he needed from Congress. Mark Thompson shows that Henry Knox brought Washington friendship, knowledge of military tactics, and an innovative use of artillery by the Continental Army.

Another theme is Washington’s close relationships...


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