After commanding the Continental Army to victory in the Revolutionary War, General Washington stunned the world: He retired. Four years later, as he rode from Mount Vernon to lead the Constitutional Convention, he was the one American who could united the rapidly disintegrating country. This is the little-known story of the return of George Washington.
In this groundbreaking new look at our first citizen, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Edward J. Larson masterfully chronicles how George Washington saved the United States by coming out of retirement four years after the War of Independence to lead a country on the brink of dissolution and secure its future. Though the period between the Revolution and the Presidency has previously been neglected in studies of Washington's life, Larson's striking reassessment shows that Washington's greatness in fact rests on these years—1783 to 1789—and rightfully elevates our foremost Founding Father's forgotten years to a central place in the American story.
In December 1783, Washington, the most powerful and popular man in America, stepped down as commander in chief and returned to private life as a farmer and landowner. Yet as Washington found happiness in successfully growing his Virginia estate, the fledgling American experiment foundered under the Articles of Confederation. Sectional bickering paralyzed government; debts went unpaid; the economy stagnated; national security was neglected; the union of states was in peril.
When a Constitutional Convention was called to forge a new government, its chances of success were slim. Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and other leaders realized only one American—the retired hero George Washington—could unite the fractious states. After months of anguish, Washington answered the call and left his beloved Mount Vernon in the spring of 1787 to preside over the convention in Philadelphia. Although Washington is overlooked in most accounts, Larson brilliantly uncovers Washington's vital role in shaping the Constitution—and shows, as never before, how it was only with Washington's spirited behind-the-scenes influence that the delegates passed, and the states later ratified, the founding document that has guided our government to this day.
From the moment of General Washington's resignation to his victory in the first federal elections and his triumphant inauguration in New York as our first President, The Return of George Washington is a landmark work that will forever change our understanding and appreciation of America's great founder.
EDWARD J. LARSON is University Professor of history and holds the Hugh & Hazel Darling Chair in Law at Pepperdine University. He received the Pulitzer Prize in History for Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. His other books include A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign. From 2013 to 2014, Larson was an inaugural Library Fellow at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington located on the grounds of Mount Vernon. He lives in Georgia and California.