An anonymous letter from 1 March 1792, penned by a concerned Citizen from Georgia, described the United States as “disgraced & unnecessarily impoverished.” Albeit brief, the phrase mirrors the foreboding mood of the following spring and summer. As the end of his first presidential term approached, George Washington navigated an increasingly precarious conflict at home with the Native American nations along the western frontier while simultaneously steering the country through a tempestuous international situation precipitated by the French Revolution. In addition to handling complex political circumstances and issuing the first presidential veto in United States history, he managed personal projects, the foremost being assistance with the creation of a family genealogy and supervising the planning of the new federal capital.
April 1776 marked almost a year since Gen. George Washington took command of the Continental army, a critical time for the relatively untested general. Bookended by GW’s successful capture of Boston and the news of the arrival of British troops in New York, the documents in the fourth volume of the Revolutionary War Series cover topics ranging from outbreaks of smallpox among Continental soldiers to assassination attempts on influential members of the army. Perhaps most importantly, it details GW’s struggles as a man and a leader to guide his troops fairly and firmly to victory in the hard-fought battle for independence.
The weak and inefficient government under the Articles of Confederation tested George Washington’s renowned patience and restraint. As shown in the fourth volume of this series, the still young nation experienced a trying and uncertain time. Unfavorable attitudes toward the government in April 1786 became much harsher over the progressing months. A substantial contributor to the growing public unease was the prolonged rebellion in Massachusetts from August 1786 through February 1787.
The Revolutionary War series opens with George Washington’s Address to the Continental Congress on 16 June in which he declares, “I do not think my self equal to the Command I (am) honored with.” Throughout the documents that cover the three months between 16 June and 15 Sept., the new commanding general grapples with uncertainty. He doubts his own abilities as well as the competence of the forces he now leads.
Documents in the first volume of the Colonial Series tell a coming-of-age story that showcase George Washington’s rapid transformation from 1748 to 1755. GW began his career working as a professional surveyor on the frontier, then the fringe of his society, but in less than five years became one of Virginia’s most distinguished soldiers. What started as quiet adolescence in the country with a comfortable occupation turned into the tale of a young man confronting the dangers of a military career while caught in the middle of a burgeoning conflict and political intrigues.