This city I take for granted

I work in Lower Manhattan. I have a job that happens to be located down there, so there I go. Whenever one goes to the same place every day, the trip is done by rote – it’s automatic.  A while back it began to dawn on me how fortunate I was to be working in an area filled with history significant to people around the world – indeed, tourists are abound, taking snapshots of these historic locations, trying to create enduring memories of their trip to New York City.

Spending a lifetime living in New York City has a way of desensitizing one to the vast quantity of famous places all around us. Much conversation has taken place among native New Yorkers about how irritating it can be with all of “these tourists” overflowing “our” streets, wont to stop on a dime to take a picture of  some building or statue.

To name just a few of the world-famous locations I see on a daily basis, I pass the World Trade Center, the Trump Building, the “Charging Bull”, Federal Hall (location of the first inauguration of George Washington (along with the statue of him outside the building),  Trinity Church (which includes the grave of Alexander Hamilton), the New York Stock Exchange, and so many more.

I might be in the minority here, but sometimes I wish I were there when Wall Street had a wall, when Canal Street had a canal, and when Beaver Street had, errr, beavers? Whenever I am lost in such reverie, I try to remind myself that indoor plumbing, brushing teeth, regular bathing, garbage collection, and sewers weren’t standard in many of these times.

As usual, I digress. It’s often so easy to get used to things that we see all the time. I imagine it’s a natural progression. We may not look up at the tall buildings, towering well above our grasp. We may not look down at the ground where battles were fought and rights were won. The familiar loses its majesty.

Sometimes it’s important to break from your routine, and open your eyes to the history and beauty around us.

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Today, on April 30, 1789 it was a beautiful spring day…

The day started with a thirteen gun salute before dawn.

Throngs of people had gathered in Lower Manhattan.

People were screaming and cheering from every window and roof in the area.

General George Washington was brought to the inauguration in a four-horse coach.

Chancellor Robert Livingston swore him in.

Washington kissed the Bible, and said “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, after which he spontaneously said “So help me God”, starting a tradition kept ever since.

Livingston proclaimed aloud “Long live President George Washington!”.

What a site it must have been to watch the first president of our nation being sworn in. I can visit the site, a mere two blocks from my office, but will never be able to witness the grandeur of that day.

File this under YES PLEASE! American Revolution Document Auction!

Haym Salomon Bill of Exchange

Haym Salomon Bill of Exchange

This site gives you a breakdown of what’s for sale, including some highlights. From the site:

The first sale of items from the James S. Copley Library will be held on Wednesday, 14 April at Sotheby’s New York, and this is probably going to be the Americana sale to watch this year. The entire catalog is highlights, so I’ll preview just a few of them here.

I’m not going to paste the whole article because it’s fairly long, but I will say that I wish I could get my hands on some of these items! Letters from and signed by Washington, Jefferson, Adams (actually 4 of them: John, Abigail, Samuel & John Quincy), Hancock, Madison, Monroe, Paine, Revere, Putnam, Burgoyne, Morris, and so many more! There are also a number of items from Lincoln.

If you want to spend lots of money on me, please don’t hesitate to spend it here.

Here‘s a link to the 389 page PDF with all the information in it. Enjoy perusing.

Please note the photo I selected as a Jewish guy. 🙂

Today George Washington resigned as commander-in-chief, and showed us his character

General George Washington Resigning His Commission by John Trumbull, 1824

General George Washington Resigning His Commission by John Trumbull, 1824

In reality, the big emotional scene took place nineteen days earlier in Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan when General Washington met with his officers to say goodbye. Apparently, this was one of the few times as an adult that Washington was ever seen crying. It must have been a really powerful scene, watching the hero, the bringer of Freedom, THE Founding Father, breaking down as he wished the people he trusted his life with farewell.

On December 23, 1783, Washington appeared before the Congress meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, and surrendered his commission as general and commander in chief. This was one of the times when he earned the title of a modern-day Cincinnatus. As he also did when he stepped down after his second term as President, Washington did something that many of us would not.

He said goodbye. He was the hero and the toast of the country. While not as popular as he used to be by the end of his second term as President, when the war had just ended there was nobody on his level. Similarly, as in 1797, he could have parlayed his unparalleled fame into something more, perhaps even into a King. At this point, the war is over. He appears to really have treated his role as general and commander-in-chief as just that – the leader during the war. Now that the war was over, he was more than happy to step down and go back to Mount Vernon and spend time on his property. Throughout the war and his Presidency, Washington had frequent correspondence back home, micromanaging the farming and renovations to his home, down to the types of curtains he wanted.

There are historians who really believe that he didn’t want to be President at all, let alone for a second term. However, some questions arise as to whether he was just being humble when he had to “be convinced” by close friends, like Knox, Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson.

Would I have had the willpower and patriotism to do what was best for the country? Would I have stepped down and went home to my farm when I could have become a monarch, or something similar? Would you?

Who was Washington’s favorite?

George Washington was “the man”. He was uncommonly tall for his time, broad shouldered, stoic, and unflappable. He remains the only President that was elected unanimously. Just about everybody adored this man, despite the fact that even his closest friends referred to him as General Washington, or similarly cold and formal titles. He could be quite charming, and was a great dancer and equestrian, but behind closed doors he was known at points to have a violent temper. Even his skills as a Commander were questioned, and at different points he lost many supporters of his post.

Interestingly enough, there seem to have been a few of his closest military aides/Generals that were all considered his “favorite”, at least by historians.

Terry Golway’s 2004 book on the life of General Nathanael Greene is actually called “Washington’s General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution”.  Washington showed tremendous confidence in Greene’s ability to lead, especially later in the war when Washington entrusted him with the entire Southern army, which at the time was pretty close to folding altogether after the slaughter at Camden. To quote from Publisher’s Weekly, “Golway shows him as one of Washington’s most trusted subordinates, with a mixed record as a field commander and a good one as a very reluctant quartermaster-general (a job that made making bricks without straw look simple). In the war’s darkest days, in late 1780, Greene was appointed commander in the Southern theater, where the British had nearly swept all before them. Without ever winning a major battle, Greene, Golway shows, kept his army in the field, supported Patriot militias and suppressed Tory ones, undercut British logistics, eventually forced Cornwallis north to Yorktown and besieged Charleston.” Quoting the wiki on the Battle of Camden. “Gates lost control of the southern army due to his cowardice. General Nathanael Greene, standing next to George Washington as the most able and trusted Colonial officer of the Revolution, was given Gates’s command of the southern army and started recruiting additional troops.”

The Marquis de Lafayette is another person that had an extremely close bond to the Commander-in-Chief. After paying for his own journey from France to America at the age of twenty, he impressed everybody right away with his looks and easy manner, and also offered to serve as Major General without pay. In early 2008, a book was released by David A. Clary, entitled “Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution”. To quote from Publisher’s Weekly’s review, “…Clary…argues that although each man was a hero of the American Revolution, it was their partnership that secured American victory. Both men were orphans, and their devotion to each other was motivated by a deep psychological bond. As the title suggests, Washington was something of a father figure to the younger Frenchman, and Lafayette gave the general “unwavering loyalty, truly filial devotion.” But the mentoring was not wholly one-sided: Lafayette was committed to the abolition of slavery, and Clary suggests that it was because of Lafayette’s influence that Washington chose to free his slaves on his wife’s death. The chapters on Lafayette’s role in the French Revolution and Washington’s anguish over Lafayette’s imprisonment make this book far broader than the usual 1776 account…”

I just finished Mark Puls’s February 2008 “Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution”. It’s really astounding the number of times Washington wrote glowingly of Knox to Congress and its delegates espousing his gifts for military command. Numerous times during the war Washington took Knox’s advice even if a majority of his Generals disagreed. After Gates abandoned the Southern army, General Greene, speaking to Washington about who his replacement should be, fully advocated Knox as the best person for the position. Washington agreed, and said that because of how great of a military man he was, he couldn’t afford to not have Knox by his side. At the beginning of the war, when Knox was merely 25 or 26, Washington had such confidence in him that he appointed Knox to build and lead the army’s artillery corps, which he did with astounding success until the war’s end.

Another person who was remarkably close to Washington was Alexander Hamilton. Reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, released in 2004, you would think that everybody else on the Patriot side took a backseat to the relationship between between these two men. Despite Hamilton’s unrelenting desire for military glory, Washington kept him close by as an aide for years, unable to spare Alexander’s oratory and writing gifts. Numerous sources have stated that they two of them worked so well together that Hamilton was able to write what Washington wanted to say without even consulting the General.

In His Excellency: George Washington, Joseph J. Ellis shows that earlier in the war Washington writes personal notes to and confides in Joseph Reed, while later in the war he often writes extremely warmly to John Laurens, as though he’s adopted both of these younger men as adopted sons.

Perhaps people wanted to as close to him as possible because of who he was:

First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting…Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues…Such was the man for whom our nation mourns.

-Eulogy by Congressman Henry Lee, a Revolutionary War comrade

An excerpt from the Introduction to His Excellency: George Washington, Ellis makes a very telling statement: “It seems to me that Benjamin Franklin was wiser than Washington; Alexander Hamilton was more brilliant; John Adams was better read; James Madison was more politically astute. Yet each and all of these prominent figures acknowledged that Washington was their unquestioned superior.”

One can also point out things done to honor him, including the name of our Capital, another state, the quarter and one-dollar bill, a monument in his name, his face on Mount Rushmore, along with countless counties, streets, bridges, etc. scattered across the country. One can find few Americans to be more proudly, or more closely associated with, than George Washington.