The return of George Washington, 1787

David Hackett Fischer’s extraordinary Washington’s Crossing tells the story of how George Washington turned a rag-tag group of untrained guerrilla fighters into the Continental Army and then led it to the defeat of the strongest army in the world, establishing American independence.

Edward J. Larson’s The Return of George Washington tells the story of the next chapter of Washington’s life in the founding of America. Between two great events of history Washington became “the greatest man in the world,” as said by King George III, when he resigned as commander in chief in December, 1783 and returned to the home he loved at Mount Vernon to repair and grow his estate.

All previous revolutions on earth had culminated in autocratic dictatorial rule, and the world expected the same would be the case after the American Revolution. Washington kept his word and stepped down as commander in chief after the war was finished, getting the attention of the world. America was going to be different. America was exceptional.

The American experiment soon floundered under the Articles of Confederation, however. Thus, a reluctant Washington rode to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 to preside over the Constitutional Convention. His leadership played such a vital role it is no exaggeration to say that Washington saved the new country for the second time.

The video below is a 20-minute interview by James Rosen of Edward J. Larson. At the end of the interview Rosen ask Larson to define in a single word the essence of Washington’s leadership, what made him so influential among the men and institutions of his own time – and beyond – Larson’s answer: “Character.”

In the present time that is the quality America needs the most and longs for dearly.