Founding Brothers

by

Joseph J. Ellis

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George Washington Character Analysis

George Washington, for whom the nation’s capital was named, was a military hero during the Revolution and the first president of the United States. He was born in Virginia to a family of planters and, unlike many of the other Founding Fathers, never traveled to Europe. He was a slaveholder, though he ensured that the slaves he owned were freed and financially supported after his death. At six feet, four inches, Washington towered over most of the people around him and had a robustly healthy, majestic presence. Even before becoming president, he was so revered that there was no question that he would be chosen to be the first leader of the country. Washington’s presidency was defined by an emphasis on national unity and noninterference in international affairs. During Washington’s second term as president, critics began to accuse him of behaving like a monarch; it was partially in response to these accusations that Washington decided to resign after his second term, thereby setting a precedent for future presidents. His Farewell Address is known as one of the most important political documents in American history.

George Washington Quotes in Founding Brothers

The Founding Brothers quotes below are all either spoken by George Washington or refer to George Washington. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Founding Brothers published in 2002.
Chapter 2 Quotes

In fact, Jefferson’s headache coincided with a veritable plague that seemed to descend on the leadership of the Virginia dynasty. Madison was laid up with dysentery, Edmund Randolph remained in Virginia to care for his wife, who had nearly died delivering a stillborn baby, and, most ominously of all, George Washington came down with the flu and developed pulmonary complications that the physicians considered life-threatening. "You cannot conceive the public alarm on this occasion," Jefferson reported to William Short, his former secretary in Paris, adding that Washington's demise would in all probability have meant the abrupt end of the whole national experiment.

Related Characters: Thomas Jefferson (speaker), George Washington, James Madison
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

The very notion of a republican king was a repudiation of the spirit of '76 and a contradiction in terms. Washington’s presidency had become trapped within that contradiction. He was living the great paradox of the early American republic: What was politically essential for the survival of the infant nation was ideologically at odds with what it claimed to stand for.

Related Characters: George Washington
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Unless one believes that ideas are like migratory birds that can fly unchanged from one century to the next, the only way to grasp the authentic meaning of his message is to recover the context out of which it emerged.

Related Characters: George Washington
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

For that city and the name it was destined to carry, symbolized the conspiracy that threatened, so Jefferson and his followers thought, all that Virginia stood for.

Related Characters: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson
Related Symbols: The Capital
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Founding Brothers LitChart as a printable PDF.
Founding Brothers PDF

George Washington Character Timeline in Founding Brothers

The timeline below shows where the character George Washington appears in Founding Brothers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface: The Generation
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...to discuss the future of the republic. Helpfully, it had essentially been decided that George Washington would serve as the “first chief executive.” However, there remained many difficult issues to resolve. (full context)
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...and John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. The book focuses on a series of episodes that illustrate the characteristics of the revolutionary... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Dinner
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In June 1790, Thomas Jefferson ran into Alexander Hamilton by chance outside George Washington’s office. Jefferson wrote that he remembered Hamilton looking “dejected beyond comparison,” and that Hamilton told... (full context)
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...more about assumption than they did the capital’s location. Two years later, Jefferson admitted to Washington that the deal had been “the greatest political mistake of his life.” The fact that... (full context)
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...and rational. He reminded his fellow Virginians that the state’s interests would be defended by Washington, Jefferson, Edmund Randolph, and himself. He was certain that “assumption would never pass.” (full context)
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...Congress, where it would be debated to death. This required handing the decision over to Washington. Jefferson and Madison traveled to Maryland and Virginia, surveying the area and sending a report... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Silence
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...was reduced to only three resolutions, which focused on Congress’ inability to interfere with slavery. Washington expressed his relief, writing to a friend that the slavery issue “has at last [been]... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Farewell
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George Washington was “a legend in his own time,” and was described as “the Father of the... (full context)
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It was not long before Washington’s Farewell Address became legendary, but when it was first published most people focused on the... (full context)
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Washington had expressed his wish to retire since before his initial election as president. He had... (full context)
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Washington’s resignation was a response to these criticisms. His Farewell Address was the final message from... (full context)
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Washington had always been skilled at knowing when to abdicate positions of power, which made him... (full context)
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Washington was one of the few members of the revolutionary generation who had never been to... (full context)
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...the treaty ended up being far more beneficial than anyone at the time could realize. Washington tried to keep the treaty’s term secret but failed, and found himself harassed by detractors... (full context)
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...funding. He hoped that this would block the treaty in a way that didn’t undermine Washington’s power as president. A fierce debate lasted until the spring of 1796. When Jay’s Treaty... (full context)
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...Hamilton’s financial plan). His suspicion of urban financial elites turned into a “full-blooded conspiracy theory.” Washington did not fit the description of the villain that Jefferson had in mind, and Jefferson... (full context)
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A horrified Jefferson now framed Washington as a man too old and senile to do his job properly. Jefferson’s Federalist conspiracy... (full context)
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...vision, which was why he was so staunchly opposed to Jay’s Treaty. While Jefferson assured Washington that he was not behind the Federalist conspiracy rumors, we know that in fact he... (full context)
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...France, promised the French that Jay’s Treaty would not pass. He told them to ignore Washington (who would not be president for much longer) gave them permission to retaliate against American... (full context)
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The writing of the Farewell Address was a joint effort between Madison, Hamilton, and Washington. Madison had previously assisted Washington in writing a valedictory address in 1792, and it was... (full context)
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Washington and Hamilton continued to send drafts back and forth to each other for another month.... (full context)
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Despite the criticisms of Washington’s detractors, it was necessary for the new American republic to have a “republican king” during... (full context)
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Washington failed to mention slavery in the Farewell Address; as we have seen, such silence was... (full context)
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In August 1796, Washington wrote an “Address to the Cherokee Nation” in which he expressed a desire for white... (full context)
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The reaction to the Farewell Address was mostly positive. The majority of people lamented Washington’s departure and expressed support for his message, while his critics continued to loudly voice their... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Collaborators
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...a key role in 1776 and 1789. The four people who stood out were George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson; because Washington had already served and Franklin was... (full context)
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John Adams loyally supported all of Washington’s key initiatives, but was privately perturbed by the fact that he was never consulted about... (full context)
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...claiming to be Adams’ natural “junior.” Adams and Jefferson faced a daunting task in succeeding Washington. It would arguably be one they could only meet only by working closely as a... (full context)
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...not learn of this decision until March 1797, when he and Jefferson had dinner with Washington in Philadelphia. Shortly after, Jefferson was sworn in as vice president—but not as Adam’s partner. (full context)
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The problems John Adams inherited as president—along with the difficulty of filling Washington’s shoes—arguably meant that his presidency was doomed from the start. When Adams came into office,... (full context)