In this remarkable new portrait, award-winning historian David O. Stewart unveils the political education that made Washington a master politician--and America's most essential leader. From Virginia's House of Burgesses, where Washington learned the craft and timing of a practicing politician, to his management of local government as a justice of the Fairfax County Court to his eventual role in the Second Continental Congress and his grueling generalship in the American Revolution, Washington perfected the art of governing and service, earned trust, and built bridges. The lessons in leadership he absorbed along the way would be invaluable during the early years of the republic as he fought to unify the new nation.
I was prepared to dislike the book. What I suspected was that Mr. Stewart would present Washington as a canny careerist who failed upward—that is, who escaped accountability for his mistakes and rose to the top of Revolution-era political life by means of charm and guile. Again I was wrong. The book is nothing like that. Mr. Stewart has written an outstanding biography that both avoids hagiography and acknowledges the greatness of Washington’s character, all while paying close attention to his rarely voiced but no less fierce political ambitions. He does not flinch from the cruelty of American slavery and Washington’s part in it, but situates him in the time and place of his origins rather than in ours. Mr. Stewart’s writing is clear, often superlative, his judgments are nuanced, and the whole has a narrative drive such a life deserves.
In a masterfully drawn chapter, 'Biting the Hand,' Stewart details the drama (and theatrics) of that critical relationship [between Washington and his patron Gov. Robert Dinwiddie]. His extensive coverage of Washington’s early professional experience is fitting, given the many documented lessons amassed from colonial-era relationships ... Following recent scholarship, the author underscores Washington’s complete acceptance of the institution of slavery ... The author straddles a line, uneasily granting a reprieve to one who made emancipation plans part of his final will ... Stewart’s recapitulation of the War for Independence and debates over the Constitution is unremarkable, and some of his speculations should raise eyebrows ... Is this book a corrective, remedying other scholars’ mistakes? No. Was this book necessary? No. Yet it is well-informed, intricate and straightforwardly told. While he gets carried away in places, Stewart uses an impressive range of sources, showing breadth and scholarly heft.
... examines in detail and with excellent analysis how Washington developed the political skills that would serve him during both war and peace ... What is particularly intriguing about this book is the attention the author pays to that crucial period of Washington’s life between 1759 and 1774 ... truly fresh look at one of the most chronicled figures in American history. Washington literally spent his entire life learning about politics and public service and his journey to becoming the irreplaceable man in America’s founding shows just how savvy he became in the often rough and tumble world of colonial politics. But in everything he did, he was always conscious of his duty to his fellow citizens and the greater public good, making him the eternal President to which all other presidents will inevitably be compared.