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Reviewed by:
  • The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series 19, 1 October 1775–31 March 1796 ed. by David R. Hoth
  • Robert Middlekauff (bio)
The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series 19, 1 October 1775–31 March 1796
Edited by DAVID R. HOTH
Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016

This volume, the nineteenth in the Presidential Series, finds George Washington hard at work in service of a country that he had done [End Page 758] more to bring into existence than anyone in the world. It reminds us that he had spent a major part of his life striving at the behest of a people he believed had been called into being by Providence. His own sense of himself had held firm over the years, though by 1783 his early commitments to the United States may have settled simply into a quiet resignation to do his best. The passion of the Revolution had, in a sense, faded for him, yet the convictions of the great years of the war had not. Winning independence was one thing; making something of it, another. The nineteenth volume of the series of his presidency takes its place in the attempt to reconstruct his part in an effort that called into being talents fashioned in a lifetime of service.

The Washington Project, located in Charlottesville, Virginia, is now in its second half century. This review is not the place to assess the entire effort, or even to list its chief editors; but a short comment on the various series covering Washington’s correspondence from the beginning of his life to its end surely is appropriate. So far, the project has included his diaries (six volumes), and five additional series: Colonial (ten volumes), Revolutionary (twenty-two volumes), Confederation (six volumes), Presidential (nineteen volumes to date), and Retirement (four volumes). The organization of the project into several categories makes sense, and offers a means of thinking about Washington’s life and his time. Including letters to him adds enormously to one’s ability to understand and use his letters. The best earlier collection edited by John C. Fitzpatrick—thirty-nine volumes published in the years 1931–39—included only a few of the letters written to Washington. The modern collection, including volume 19 of the Presidential Series, provides all the letters written to him, fully annotated. One may be sure that the texts of the letters have been carefully established, and the annotation shows a careful hand throughout. As one who has used several of the Washington series, I can express gratitude and admiration to the several generations of editors who have done a massive amount of work on the Washington Project.

The volume under review includes Washington’s correspondence near the middle of his second term. His first term had been filled with problems of great scope: putting together a new government for the United States, deciding how its debt should be paid, establishing its offices, defining as clearly as possible its relations with other nations, and, among many other things, finding the men to make it work. He also had faced a variety of [End Page 759] other problems lingering from the Revolution—for example, issues with veterans, the army, and the navy. Then there were those matters commonly thought of as personal—his family in Virginia, Mount Vernon, and the business side of his farming.

Washington had every right to feel tired—in fact he was tired—but much still was expected of him in America and abroad. Shortly after taking office, he made several trips in order to gain a close-up look at the American people, and to give them an opportunity to scrutinize him, and, perhaps, to celebrate his leadership in the Revolution. For much of his life he had assumed leadership.

Examination of his correspondence in the years following the great demands of his first term as president reveals that, though he was tired, his fatigue did not rob him of determination to give his best to his country. Doing so did not mean that he confronted nothing but crises everyday. His correspondence reveals something quite different—the first presidency was made up of small as well as large...


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