7/31/2019

The Towering Statesmanship of George Washington

"The evidence of Marshall’s lifelong attachment to Washington is how hard he worked to express it over so many years. Following Washington’s death in December 1799, Marshall was given access, for purposes of writing a biography, to the first president’s papers, which he had bequeathed to his nephew, Justice Bushrod Washington. No doubt Marshall’s subsequent appointment to the Supreme Court in 1801 impeded his progress in writing The Life of George Washington, yet he still produced a five-volume work (with a slender sixth volume of accompanying maps), which was published from 1804 to 1807.

Marshall was not satisfied with the work. He labored to produce corrected printings of the first three volumes while still writing the final ones. The first volume, in which Washington did not even appear, he later republished separately as a history of the colonies. And with much trimming and revision of the remaining four volumes, he produced a two-volume second edition in 1832, which was much more successful and went through many printings. Still devoted in his final years to bringing the example of Washington before the eyes of the rising generation, he cut and rewrote yet again, producing a one-volume edition intended to be used in schools—though it was by no means a “children’s version” of his massive work."