Review

General Washington's Christmas Farewell: A Mount Vernon Homecoming, 1783

by Stanley Weintraub



During this holiday season, replete with the comfort of "snow and
mistletoe and presents under the tree," it's difficult to conceive
of a time when things weren't so easy, when life was a struggle for
survival and America, as a social and political entity, was just
developing.

Holiday movies remind us of Christmases past in a nostalgic haze,
but one of the most important of all Noels took place over 200
years ago, bestowing the greatest of presents: the gifts of
freedom. It was under such circumstances that George Washington,
his battles won and his military work done, began his well-deserved
trip home in time for the holidays.

Stanley Weintraub, author of several books on military history,
renders a most moving portrait in GENERAL WASHINGTON'S CHRISTMAS
FAREWELL. Indeed, it does move, taking the reader from the
battlefields of the east to the "greatest man's" home and family in
Mount Vernon, Virginia. Having led his troops in victory over the
British forces, the future president was the object of high
approbation, bordering on worship. There were those among the
founding fathers who would have made Washington king of the new
nation, but he declined, declaring that the new nation would have
no monarchy. (A pale modern-day comparison might be a sports figure
legend like Cal Ripken, Jr., bidding goodbye to fans in each
stadium during his final season.)

Weintraub follows the slow, emotional journey made by Washington
and his entourage, through New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania,
on their way to Philadelphia, the seat of the colonial Congress at
the time. It was there, in settings most formal, that the general
relinquished his commission.

The author often compares Washington to the Roman general
Cincinnatus, who, like his latter-day counterpart, looked forward
to laying down his sword and returning to his lands. Washington's
patriotism had come at great personal sacrifice, including
financial "inconvenience," although he steadfastly refused any
payment other than "expenses."

What sets GENERAL WASHINGTON'S CHRISTMAS FAREWELL apart from
similar books about the father of our country is its depth of
emotion. The affection and admiration in which Washington was held
by his officers, soldiers and the general citizenry were
unparalleled. Weintraub writes of tears shed unabashedly as
Washington delivered his famous farewell address, and of the great
man's similar difficulties in maintaining composure.

The author has done his homework well, as befits an Evan Pugh
Professor Emeritus of Arts and Humanities from Penn State
University. In addition to items of importance, he includes bits of
the seemingly trivial --- such as the costs of room and board ---
which help put the times in perspective as well as add a note of
levity.

With modern America's penchant for taking many of its gifts for
granted, Weintraub has done well to remind readers of the early
price of their current overall social and political
well-being.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (RonKaplanNJ@comcast.net) on January 22, 2011

General Washington's Christmas Farewell: A Mount Vernon Homecoming, 1783
by Stanley Weintraub

  • Publication Date: October 26, 2004
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Plume
  • ISBN-10: 0452285321
  • ISBN-13: 9780452285323