The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father
David O. Stewart
Dutton, New York, 2021, 576 pages
Book Review published on: September 23, 2022
Defense attorney turned author David O. Stewart provides a detailed account of the setbacks and successes that formed the personality and politics of our Nation’s Founding Father, George Washington. Stewart’s thoroughly referenced and indexed history provides a balanced approach to our country’s idolized, and often idealized, first president.
George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father, begins in 1757 with the future president at perhaps his lowest point, alone, riding home from the Indian frontier, without leave from his commander, defeated, afflicted by the “bloody flux,” and questioning both his abilities and his worth. After both sides of the Atlantic celebrated him as a military hero at the age of twenty-two, his mercuric rise met with an equally rapid descent at the hands of the French and Native Americans in Western Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Stewart’s expressive writing keeps the attention of anyone with even a moderate interest in Washington’s past, providing the reader a view of the president’s life from his formative years through his short-lived retirement at Mount Vernon. Each episode in his life provides a better understanding of how Washington’s detailed focus allowed him to study political approaches without committing himself, while learning the military and business trade through trial and error.
While Stewart continues with the refrain of Washington as a reluctant military and political leader, one must consider how and why he always seemed to be at the right places at the right times, with the appropriate set of friends. Thinking on Washington’s well-known love of the theater, I am left considering that this pastime may have provided him with the knowledge necessary to play a part for the national crowd, using the right lines, motions, and emotions at precisely the right moments.
Washington was a “Man of Business and Master of Slaves,” and Stewart explores the personal, economic, and social aspects of Washington’s ownership and willful use of enslaved Africans. This facet of the president’s life is neither glossed over nor written off as a vestige of time but laid bare for the reader to digest. The president’s journals provide that he ordered euphemistic “corrections” toward his slaves, while at the same time recognizing their humanity: “civility is no more than what all men are entitled to.” Yet one is faced with the fact that, even with this recognition of slave laborers and servants as fellow men, Washington did little to engender emancipation of “his people” until just before his passing, leaving a sinful stain on his legacy.
At times, Stewart stretches the historical context of Washington’s political setbacks through supposition of how Washington might have embraced these occurrences. This is most evident when he discusses Washington’s failure to achieve prominent positions during the Continental Congress. Even with these missteps in mind, the book’s overall description of Washington’s life far outweighs these minor discrepancies.
Ultimately, Stewart fulfills his stated purpose for researching and writing George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father. By exploring the realities of the president’s life, Stewart provides the reader with a nuanced, personal understanding of our nation’s first political leader—"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Aric J. Raus, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas