This week on history blog and podcast we are reading chapters 10-12 of the book Blood of Tyrants. You can read the previous post on Blood of Tyrants here: Intro, Chap 1-3, Chap 4-6, and Chap 7-9. Here is what I thought, post your comments below. Spoilers….
Welcome back to our ongoing series. I’m reading Blood of Tyrants and I would love it if you would join me and add to the comments below. This week I read Chapters 4 – 6. You can check out the schedule here. I’m reading the book with a group of around 40 others on the goodreads group history book club. You can join the conversation there as well.
Its in the title but once again this post will contain spoilers for those of you reading Blood of Tyrants and have not already read through to chapter 3. I’m loving this book already. I can tell that it is going to be difficult to hold my self to the schedule from good reads. Lots of cool stuff in here! Spoilers below!
I never thought to George Washington as a red-brown haired six foot 21 year old, that made mistakes, even good looking: “exuded such masculine power as frightens young women”. As Nathaniel Hawthorne is quoted joking Washington was born “…with his hair on, and his hair powdered…” I always saw Washington as an infallible character in American History after wall he was unanimously voted into office. I’m not the only one feeling this way either as Beirne points out, “History books often portray Washington as semi-omniscient demigod who was so unlike us that he never struggled to find his way.”
And yet, again in the introduction, we see that Washington was “desperate to pacify his shoeless–and shirtless–men, Washington confiscated supplies along the way.” He stole! But is that so bad in a time of war? He has to do what he needs to do to keep his army on their feet right? And we already know the man was a slave-owner, something that at the time was quasi-normal, but by todays standards is abhorrent.
As my fellow readers will probably agree, his alignment with Chief Tanacharison was a mistake, with his splitting open poor Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville (What a name!). I mean the guy was just the messenger with a peaceful message of surrender.
Chapter 1 – The Not-So-United States
What I learned in this chapter: The revolution left America bankrupt. The revolution also sparked uprisings in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Haiti, and Latin America. Many citizens felt greater allegiance to their own region than to the wider nation. “New Jersey is out country!”
Questions: This often happens to me with well written non-fiction. I would love to know more about what uprisings these were that happened in Ireland and the other places. What kept Washington from being one of the poor?
Controversy: “He commanded hundreds of slaves…” Answering my own question from above. I bet the slaves kept Washington out of the poor house. He had hundreds to help him manage his property. But I guess he felt bad about it?
“…’there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted of the abolition’ of slavery.”
Although, he declined to free the slaves until his death where “…he would arrange for their emancipation…”.
Washington was already the king to the people: “Washington’s voluntary surrender of power only further elevated his demigod status among the people”. And “…any attack against the great man was considered unpatriotic.”
Except the portraitist that had to paint Washington Gilbert Stuart. Stuart painted a strange likeness of Washington. Described in detail on page 19. He said of Washington that he “…was possessed of ‘great self-command [that] always made his appear a man of a different cast in the eyes of the world.”
It was this rather gruff representation that all modern Americans are familiar with because “it was this stiff, almost annoyed-looking representation of the dynamic man that would grace the dollar bill and shape countless people’s perception of him.” (My emphasis.) Everyone feel free to take out a buck and throughly examine the picture now.
Chapter 2 – Not as Happy in Peace as They Had Been Glorious in War
In our finances our fledgling company was very similar to Britain. Like Britain we were poor from war. We were poor from the revolution, Britain was poor from the 7 years war, which we learned was all Washington’s fault, “Washington’s scandalous “Jumonville Affair” has sparked the global Seven Years’ War.” This lead Britain to heavily tax the new colonies which lead to the revolution in the first place. So I guess you could say that the revolution was all Washington’s fault?
America was in huge debt. 45 million in federal debt and $24 million in additional state debt. We owed mostly to the French.
Washington felt “Public Debt is a Public curse.” so what to do about it? The states would not help.
I never knew the national currency was called the Continental. Always thought it was a tire brand. This is were we get the saying “not worth a Continental”, because the value of the money was so horrible. The currency was such a “laughingstock that barber-shops were papered, in jest, with the bills; and sailors…had suits of clothes made of it.”
Washington’s popularity: An aside to this chapter most about America’s debt is the cool story of the many, many visitors that Washington received at his home. “In search of some respite, he resorted to posting inadequate signage to his estate, causing many prospective visitors to get lost on the snaking paths through the dark woods that hid Mount Vernon.”
Chapter 3 – The Shadow Government
This is the Daniel Shays chapter. This is where we the readers will see the country go a bit nuts! First every one was in debt. The soldiers from the revolution still had not received any pay for the their duty, pay which they had been promised. We know from the previous chapter that this is because the government simply didn’t have any money to give them. To make matters worse “…any debt above a mere five dollars was cause for imprisonment.” Kind strict huh? Can’t imagine that kind of law would work now.
Shays plight registered with his fellow man. Like everyone else he was a poor soldier never paid by the government and nation that he had helped free. He lost some of his farm to creditors and had watched his hard working neighbors hauled off to jail for owing five bucks. The rally cry of the Shays’ rebellion was
“True Liberty and Justice may require resistance to law”.
Pretty powerful stuff. His message got across and many joined his cause. The United States might look a lot different if James Bowdoin had not stepped forward. Many disagreed with his tactics but he was able to put down the rebellion, with some of his own financing. Bowdoin’s forces were so well equipped that the farmers , with inferior weapons were soon defeated, “men were scattered before the Massachusetts militia’s firestorm.”
Extra Credit: I had to look this one up from chapter 3: Perfidiousness. Props for anyone who knew what that meant without a google search.
Image credit: Mike Schmid
I’m starting a new book today. I won it on a giveaway from the History Book Club. If you would like to read along with me here is the reading schedule I will be following. I’m starting the week one reading a little early today. As with all books, when I start reading I first read the outer cover.
For Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency this means I’m reading reviews from other scholars. All of the are promising. My greatest concern with history books is that they will be dry so when I read the quotes on the back of the book I’m looking for ones like these:
- “…page-turning historical thriller…”, says Amy Chua author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Day of Empire and World on Fire
- “Logan Beirne demonstrates … this fresh and stimulating history of the American Revolution…” James McPherson author of Battle Cry of Freedom and Crossroads of Freedom
- In describing Washington: “…a long dead, white make, slave-owning aristocrat of the 18th century…” William Eskridge Jr. author of A Republic of Statutes and descent of George Eskridge the godfather of George Washington
- “…prepare to be shocked, amazed and educated.” Hon. Michael W. McConnell, Stanford Law professor, director of Stanford constitutional Law Center and former federal judge
Not bad huh? Sounds like good reading. That last one I like a lot. I might have to steal it!
Listen to the Author Introduce the Book
Another great way to be introduced to this book is to let the author doing the talking. In the podcast New Books in History the host interviews authors about their new books. Thats just what happened with Logan Beirne.
Watch Beirne discuss his book with William Eskridge Jr. on C-SPAN’s Book TV.
After I read the front and back cover I move on to the inside cover, since this is a hardcover book, and I see the overview of the book. As I read, how this book will go over just how Washington made the rules of war up as he went along, I wonder if he will discuss Nathan Hale the brave young captain that stepped forward to be America’s first spy. I’m learning a little bit about him while I write the September newsletter. If you are not already subscribed, its free and you can sign up on the top right of this page.
Lastly I take a look at the inside back cover which introduces us to the author and gives us his background. As you would guess Beirne’s background is chalked full of awards and prestigious universities. But I found the last paragraph the most interesting:
Logan’s passion for the Revolution is in his blood-he is the directly descended from Revolutionary War patriots and his family tree includes the “Fathers of the Constitution,” James Madison. Some of Washington’s papers were discovered in a storage chest belonging to one of Logan’s ancestors.