Thursday, December 14, 2017

George Washington died on this day in 1799, bringing an end to a unique period in early American history.  While other founders lived on, Washington was the embodiment of the Revolutionary era.  

His death sparked widespread grief and his apotheosis quickly began.  The nation was plunged into national mourning.  Here is a small funeral medal, admittedly heavily worn, which was made very shortly after his death; the reverse side depicts a funeral urn.  My copy has its suspension hole broken, but the opening was probably used for wear at memorial parades and events.

By happenstance, I received in the mail today a miniature book that I purchased about Washington.  This twenty-five page gem, which is about two inches by two inches, has a gilt leather cover and contains a different Washington farewell, his famous Farewell Address, which was delivered shortly before his departure from the presidency and his return to Mount Vernon.  It was published in 1976. (As an aside:  Miniature books are great for bibliophiles who run out of storage space!)

On his death, Washington’s colleague Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee said of the Virginian who set several crucial precedents for the military and the presidency, “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”  Viewed from today, we see some of Washington’s flaws, but one of his many biographers was correct in calling him “the indispensable man” for the new nation.

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