Review: The Man Who Could Be King by John Ripin Miller
George Washington, Victor of the Battle of Trenton, the Battle of Yorktown, Revolutionary War. George Washington, crossing the Delaware. George Washington, "Father of Our Country."
But also: George Washington, life-long slave owner, less educated than Jefferson and other "elite" Revolutionary leaders, who as President still owned and rented out his real estate holdings, even petitioning a government agency he had created for help finding foreigners as tenants. By the time of President "Tippecanoe" Tyler, his virtue was already being examined for flaws.
In Miller's novel, Josiah Stockbridge, one-time aide to General George Washington, writes his recollection of the great man to inform his own great-grandchildren of the truth. By way of arriving at that truth, his memoir spans a good part of the War for Independence, and focuses specifically on an event after Cornwallis had surrendered, but before Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson had completed the treaty that gave us our independence.
Benjamin Franklin pointed out in a letter to a British friend, a copy of which he sent to the General, “An American planter was chosen by us to command our troops and continued during the whole war. This man sent home to you, one after another, five of your best generals, baffled, their heads bare of laurels, disgraced even in the opinion of their employers.” He could have added that those five generals commanded troops that were more numerous and better trained, armed, and clothed than the General’s.
Diverging often to set the stage and give us glimpses of Washington's virtuous behavior throughout the war, Stockbridge's account deals primarily with a mutiny in the army that threatened the new nation's elected Congress with a coup over Army pay and pensions, and details how "The General" dealt with it. Wide-spread grumbling by ordinary soldiers was encouraged by an officer corps looking to oust General Washington—or perhaps to recruit him to lead the coup!
Miller lets Stockbridge show us the reasons behind Washington's options, in the proposed mutiny as well as during the rest of the war, illuminated throughout with quotes from Joseph Addison's 1713 play Cato. This play (known to be a favorite of Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington), which opposes Cato the Younger's republican virtue vs. the soon-to-be dictator perpetuo, Julius Caesar, makes a fitting encapsulation of the choice before the General.
We already know the final decision he made. It is his internal debate, to the extent Stockbridge could discern it, and the sublime way the General maneuvers the army to concur with it, that reveals the depth of Washington's virtue.
It is often written that, during his presidency, the General was not a politician. Of course, he was a great politician in large part because he was not perceived as a politician.