First in Peace: How George Washington Set the Course for America

First in Peace: How George Washington Set the Course for America

Language: English

Pages: 184

ISBN: 0306816199

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Just before he died after a long and distinguished international career as a politician, commentator, and author, Conor Cruise O’Brien completed a study of George Washington’s presidency. Cruise O’Brien has been described as “a man who so persistently asks the right questions” (The Economist), and in this, his last book, he explores the question of how early America’s future was determined.

First in Peace considers the dissension between Washington and Jefferson during the first U.S. presidency, and reveals Washington’s clear-sighted political wisdom while exposing Jefferson’s dangerous ideology. Cruise O’Brien makes the case that Washington, not Jefferson, was the true democrat, and commends his clarity of vision in restoring good relations with Britain, his preference for order and pragmatism, and his aversion to French political extremism.

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misery since news of the events of August 1792 had reached America, toward the end of the same year. Ternant had served in the American Revolution, under Steuben, and on his appointment as minister plenipotentiary (August 1791) had been recommended to Washington by Lafayette. Washington had regarded him as “an old friend.” But a year later to be known as a friend of Lafayette was to be in deep disgrace with the authorities in Paris. Among the Girondins, Fayettiste was the worst possible term of

but one has only to be capable of reading a bit between the lines to see that Washington was not impressed by Jefferson’s overture. Washington knew that Jefferson had actuated and still inspired the Republican press that had been attacking Washington obliquely while Jefferson was still Washington’s secretary of state and had been harassing Washington openly and recklessly (mainly over the Jay Treaty) since Jefferson’s “retirement.” In the circumstances, Washington’s comment on the “extravagant

example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting.1 During the revolutionary war, Henry Lee had been an exceptionally brilliant cavalry commander who came to be known as “Light-horse Harry.” When Washington first became president, Henry Lee initially shared the reservations of many Virginians about him, seeing him rightly as a person who did not see himself as a Virginian first, and only secondarily an American. But as soon as Washington’s presidency began to

active opposition. To these, the licentiousness of the People on one hand and sanguinary punishment on the other will alarm the best disposed friends to the measure and contribute not a little to the overthrow of their object. Great temperance, firmness and foresight are necessary in the movements of that Body. To forbear running from one extreme to another is no easy matter, and should this be the case, rocks and shoals not visible at present may rack the vessel.2 This is a very remarkable

covering his tracks—which he did regularly—but now, under pressure, for a moment he loses his grip. What if Washington and Adams had compared notes of what Jefferson had told each of them separately? Washington had good reasons of his own for not risking a public break with Jefferson. And, as would shortly appear, Jefferson too had good reasons of his own for not risking a public break with Washington. The third and plainest example of the reasons for Washington’s lack of confidence in his

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