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George Washington

By James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn

Published by Times Books

hardcover
Publication date: 1/1/2004
ISBN: 0805069364

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A Pulitzer Prize-Winning Historian and a Noted Eighteenth-Century Scholar Explore the Remarkable Leadership of Our First President.

Wealthy Virginia planter, revolutionary general, and founding president, George Washington was the most illustrious public man of his time, a man whose image today still reflects his own careful shaping of his persona.

As president, Washington built almost unimpeded power into the executive branch, not only occupying the office but virtually conquering it. And yet his was by no means a one-man presidency. James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn demonstrate that Washington built a collective leadership never to be surpassed in American history. He succeeded brilliantly in creating a strong sense of national unity while failing markedly in trying to foster political unity, believing that it was possible to dissolve political differences and banish opposition. His moral legacy would also be mixed, for he feared that discussions of slavery would threaten the survival of the young republic. But in the end the presidency itself would be his ultimate achievement; it would undergird every future president who would seek to offer strong and determined leadership.

As a public figure Washington could be difficult to decipher. At key moments in his life he seemed to want to shun the spotlight, disquieted by the responsibilities of power. He dreaded his inauguration, announcing that he felt like "a culprit going to the place of his execution." And yet he always happened to be in the right place at the right time. Burns and Dunn probe behind his virtuoso performance of self-effacement and discover a supremely ambitious man determined to be at the center of events.

In this thoughtful and incisive biography, Burns and Dunn dissect the strengths and weaknesses of Washington's presidential leadership, from his lasting foreign and economic policies to his polarizing denunciation of political parties and his public silence about slavery. The result is a surprising portrait of the multidimensional man behind the myth he so assiduously crafted.


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