April 8, 2018

"BY BIRTH OR CHOICE":

Washington's Farewell By John Avlon  (Reviewed by James A. Percoco, April 8, 2018, Washington Independent Book Review)

Both sides loved the United States but had different agendas for its future. The squabbles over how to interpret the Constitution, which nations to support abroad, and whose interests to address spilled over into Washington's cabinet, in which Jefferson, as head of the Republicans, served as secretary of state, and Hamilton, as head of the Federalists, served as secretary of the treasury.

Washington was caught in the middle of the sibling rivalry, and it did not sit well with him. Ironically, his tenure as president would outlast that of both Jefferson and Hamilton in their respective positions. As early as 1792, as the national rupture was becoming more apparent, Washington looked to retire, but Jefferson argued, "There will be a nation to hang on to if that nation can hang on you."

Convinced, Washington served a second term that proved to be more fractious than the first. During his second term, he was viciously assaulted in the Republican press by writers hired by Jefferson, and came to learn of a letter written by Jefferson to his friend Philip Mazzei in which Jefferson, without mentioning Washington by name, wrote, "Men who were once Sampsons in the field and Solomons in the councils have had their heads shorn by the harlot of England." Martha Washington never forgave Jefferson for his transgression.

Much of the rupture came to a head as the United States tried to steer a course of neutrality between England and France and their constant state of war. The Jeffersonians argued the U.S. was bound by its 1778 treaty with the French, who helped secure American independence, even though the French Revolution had devolved into the "reign of terror." The Hamiltonians, meanwhile, supported England, the nation's most important trading partner.

Washington, to the delight of the Federalists, supported a Neutrality Act, earning him the wrath of Republicans. Known for his temper, Washington exploded during a cabinet meeting when the secretary of war, Henry Knox, brought in a newspaper with a cartoon depicting Washington as a victim of the guillotine.

By 1796, he'd had enough, but before departing the public stage, Washington wanted to remind Americans of what was most important: unity among "citizens by birth or choice"; religious pluralism in all spheres of life; an educated citizenry; and a foreign policy rooted in independence.

Posted by at April 8, 2018 7:26 AM

  

« "HARD TO BE MORE CYNICAL": | Main | ALL THAT JAZZ #51 »