Wednesday, October 10, 2007 10/10/07-Washington Surrounded

In today's excerpt--in the waning days of his presidency, George Washington's humility and courage avoids a second war with England. Yet the cost is the many concessions by America to England in the highly unpopular Jay treaty, and he is vilified by the American public, with countless demonstrations--including having his house surrounded for days by chanting protesters:

"When the president dined alone with John Adams to enlist his support [for the Jay treaty], his vice president worried, 'I see nothing but a dissolution of government and immediate war.' ... The press denounced Jay, criticized the treaty, derided the Senate, and in a constant drumbeat, reserved some of its most trenchant words for Washington himself. One Virginia editor actually suggested a toast for a 'speedy death to General Washington.' Meanwhile, when the press wasn't sticking its finger in Washington's eye, popular meetings were. Across the country--in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and countless other cities--they screeched until their voices were hoarse for Washington to reject the treaty, while in Manhattan, seven thousand Republicans, stretching from Broad Street to Wall Street, noisily marched against it. And day after day letters poured in condemning the pact as a deal with the British 'Satan.'

"Then the opposition truly got ugly. Jay's treaty, and his effigy, were burned up and down the entire Eastern Seaboard. Rioters in Philadelphia, clogging the avenues, broke windows in the houses of the British ambassador and a Federalist senator. In New York, Alexander Hamilton was pelted with stones. And John Adams was stunned to see the presidential mansion surrounded from morning to evening by protesters repeating the same stinging calls, a deafening refrain chanted over and over again in an ever-escalating crescendo, demanding war with England, cursing Washington (a 'horrid blasphemer'), and calling for the success of the French patriots; marchers even impaled the treaty on a pole and carried it to the home of the French ambassador. The vitriol was unrelenting: A pale and utterly depleted Washington was [even] compared unfavorably to King Louis XVI."

Jay Winik, The Great Upheaval, Harper Collins, Copyright 2007 by Jay Winik, p. 495.

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