Title: The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon
Author: John Ferling
Publisher: Bloomsbury Press
Release Date: 2009
About the Book: Bestselling historian John Ferling draws on his unsurpassed knowledge of the Founding Fathers to provide a fresh and provocative new portrait of the greatest of them all, George Washington.
Even compared to his fellow founders, George Washington stands tall. Our first president has long been considered a stoic hero, holding himself above the rough-and-tumble politics of his day. Now John Ferling peers behind that image, carefully burnished by Washington himself, to show us a leader who was not only not above politics, but a canny infighter—a master of persuasion, manipulation, and deniability.
In the War of Independence, Washington used his skills to steer the Continental Army through crises that would have broken less determined men; he squeezed out rival generals and defused dissent from those below him. Ending the war as a national hero, Washington “allowed” himself to be pressed into the presidency, guiding the nation with the same brilliantly maintained pose of selfless public interest. In short, Washington deftly screened a burning ambition behind his image of republican virtue—but that image, maintained not without cost, made him just the leader the overmatched army, and then the shaky young nation, desperately needed.
Ferling argues that not only was Washington one of America’s most adroit politicians—the proof of his genius is that he is no longer thought of as a politician at all.
WC's Review: John Ferling does not have much good to say about the father of our country. From his early bungling at Fort Necessity in 1754 during the French and Indians War, through his wavering and inept leadership during our fight for independence during the New York campaign, and three years of military inactivity after 1778, and the largely French inspired victory over the British at Yorktown in 1781, and his misguided monarchial approach to his eight-year reign as President of the newly-formed United States of America, Washington became an icon of American history solely through his physical stature. He was worshipped, even by disparaging Jefferson and Franklin and Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry, simply because he was there.
Washington was not averse to accepting praise. Indeed, he became adept at seeking it. Although not a splendid or even adequate orator, he possessed the innate ability to listen and win adversaries to his opinions through quiet and dispassionate conversation. That, perhaps, was his genius.
It is incongruous that Washington gratefully took full credit for Yorktown, ostensibly the victory that led the British to capitulate, even though most of the acclaim has to be given to Rochambeau and Admiral De Grasse of the French navy. Ironically, traitor Benedict Arnold, a fine soldier who needed to be distinguished for his efforts at Saratoga, got none, the credit going to Washington's nemesis, Horatio Gates, who fiercely sought the command of the Continental army, such as it was.
Much of the book focuses on the clever young lad from St Croix, Alexander Hamilton, who through his intellect became Washington's alter-ego with his Federalist views of a strong central government and national bank.
As in all well-researched and excellent histories, it helps to know something more about Washington other than that he was the father of his country and was married to Martha, who probably did more to inspire the troops during the winter months than her iconic husband.
About the Author: John E. Ferling is a professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia. A leading authority on American Revolutionary history, he is the author of several books, including "A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic", "Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence", and his most recent work, "The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon". He has appeared in television documentaries on PBS, the History Channel, C-SPAN Book TV, and the Learning Channel.