Sunday, October 22, 2023

a sense of history............................

       Driven, singularly willed, quietly but fiercely ambitious, hot-blooded and bold, and uncommonly charismatic, he cherished the military, but he also cherished something even far greater: a sense of history.  And virtue.  Thus, when a movement among the troops mounted at the end of the war to make him king of America, he rebuked them; it had given him, he said, "painful sensations."  Thus, when he learned of the pending mutiny among unpaid and disaffected officers of his army, Washington personally rebuked them, saying an insurrection would only "open the floodgates of civil discord" and threaten the very liberties for which they had fought.  Thus, when he informed Congress after Evacuation Day that he was relinquishing military power and turning it over to them ("I retire from the great theatre of action"), he was self-consciously imitating the legendary Roman republican leader Cincinnatus, who returned power back to the Senate and retired to his farm.  This single action, more than any other, was a virtuoso performance: His refusal to seize power that a Caesar, or a Cromwell, or a William of Orange would have eagerly grasped, and, moreover, his refusal to even entertain the notion of accepting power others would have gladly handed over to  him, earned him an international prestige and a domestic power that no American, before or after, has surpassed.  The old French generals saw him as a great captain because he did not let a superior force destroy his army; the world recognized him as a great man  because he did not let his victorious army turn loyalty to him into a military dictatorship of the United States.

-Jay Winik, The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800

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