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Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the…

Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency

by Logan Beirne

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Part hagiography of Washington and part history, it seeks to demonstrate how Washington established the precedent for the role of Commander In Chief via his conduct in the Revolutionary War. Although repetitive in spots, it does a good job of showing the power struggle between Washington and the Continental Congress. Power that would eventually shift to Washington's control. For a lesser man, this would have been dangerous, Washington used such amassed power prudently. He was certainly admirable in that respect, though some of his application of that power in individual cases - torture, executions, etc. were less admirable. Unfortunately, many " originalists" of Scalia mindset and other ideologues in the political area claim to have a monopoly on intent and history while ignoring the special circumstances of the Revolution. Thus, they apply interpretations that fit their narrow world view, justifying human rights abuses and the rights of individual citizens en route. Washington would surely have been appalled. ( )
  VGAHarris | Jan 19, 2015 |
"This book analyzes George Washington's specific actions and beliefs as he forged the very meaning of our Constitution amid the heat of battle for independence" (8). The domestic issues pertaining to fighting foreign-intruding terrorism and facing combat in the United State's current era also existed as consistent themes in its colonial times. "Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency," by Yale Olin Scholar and Juris Doctor Logan Beirne, began with an analogy of the September 11th attacks and post-event scenarios to the emotional, economic, political, and strategic perspectives held during the nascent stages of America.

The book was segmented thematically, in lieu of the traditional time-line style of writing about American history. The author's brave inclusion of paradoxical behaviors that writers typically avoided, actually created greater interest in reading what Bierne wished to convey. During the early years of our country, there was an inability to unite people under a common cause due to fear of replicating when they left behind (in England). There was constant power struggle between Congress and George Washington that eventually quelled enough to provide the unity necessary to forge America's independence.

There was a perpetuating myth that George Washington was infallible; but he was not. He claimed to believe in abolition yet would not free his slaves until his death because of the pure economics of needing slaves to maintain his estate. Even he recognized this paradox: fighting for freedom yet keeping slaves. The author's inclusion of this information alleviated the need for institutionally-driven hero-worship of our country's first president.

George Washington's unusual stature for his generation was measured to be "a muscular six feet and 175 pounds" (2). In that era, most doorways were short in height compared to modern day residential and business structures; so his outlying set of measurements potentially created an automatic atmosphere of respect. He seemed formidable! I found it to be quite interesting that social status was determined by a person's weight, stature, and facial characteristics as well: "from the upper crust of society, the majority of this well-fed contingent were rather overweight, a sign of wealth during this era since it signaled access to plentiful food and minimal manual labor" (37), a qualifier for political eligibility; it was obvious that Washington was built, in every way, to be the powerful first leader of the United States.

It seemed that political status was also associated with one's age, and ages were mentioned often throughout the text. When I asked the author if his research revealed consistent ageism, he playfully responded that he hoped he had not come across as ageist himself; but, back then, yes, age was a factor. They viewed older men as wiser, hence the age restrictions in the Constitution for the array of offices. When men were selected for The Convention, "their ages ranged from [that of] an impetuous 26-year-old veteran named Jonathan Dayton to [that of] the sickly 81-year-old sage, Franklin (36).

Regardless of age, gender issues were prevalent. Men and women married for youth, power and status. Rape occurred often, and sexual orientation could be used to destroy someone: "While Washington was seen as a happily married pillar of Virginian society, the skinny [and] homely Lee was continuously rebuffed by women [for having] displayed 'hints...of homosexuality" (82). I appreciated that the author shared this societal outlook. How sad that homophobia was used as a determinant or evaluating factor of one's political prowess and/or overall desirability…an attitude that managed to remain alive into the current era.

Climbing war debt existed as another concerning factor that survived throughout the centuries. It placed the country's fiscal strength into question, even during the colonial era! "In order to fund the war, America had already spent far beyond her means, racking up $54 million in federal debt and an additional $24 million in state debt (21). One had to wonder how these figures translated into today's dollars and how its totality compared to this country's current national indebtedness.

The nation's Congress and General Washington butted heads on the deployment and utilization of troops. Washington understood the complexities, chaos, confusion, and dangers of having a military with too many masters to serve. He wanted the entire military under his command; Congress eventually acquiesced. Washington was given authority to defend the nation, and Congress governed and collaborated with the states.

This era also placed George Washington in the position of having to develop a protocol for the treatment of POWs. The Geneva Convention rules for handling enemy combatants did not exist in that era. Washington had to figure out how his own soldiers were being treated by the enemy and determine the allowable punishments and/or use of torture for exchangeable versus non-exchangeable prisoners.

I understood Bierne's goals with this book, and he did deliver on his promises; but, I found that my absolute favorite aspect of the book was, on its surface, not part of his commitment to the readers. Pages 115-116 provided an excellent treatment of historical English language dialectology by segmenting the populations and giving the reasons behind the new dialect. The reasons tied into the consistent themes of this book. What a delighter! I found myself to be hopeful that the author would write more about the topic of English language dialectology in the future.

I was impressed by how well the author captured the significance of certain social requirements and behaviors that applied to Washington's era. The first president's specific actions and how they impacted America's history were well-documented. This was not just a history book; it also seemed to be a socio-political and behavioral analysis piece presented in an easy-to-read format. What struck me most was that the patterns of behavior and decision making processes in America's nascent times essentially remained unchanged through the centuries. It did not appear that we made significant changes to who we became in the sum of our collective core(s). It was this unique and refreshing approach to the historical writing of America's infancy that formulated the key driver in my decision to elevate the star rating on this book to equal a total of five stars.

The aforementioned opinions are purely my own and not reflective of author nor publisher bias; but, as mandated by Federal Law/Regulation, per the Federal Trade Commission, of the United States of America, I am required to advise that I received this book, free of charge, through the History Book Club on Goodreads (The GoodReads FirstReads Program). ( )
1 vote StreedsReads | Nov 14, 2013 |
When Independence Day approached this year, I searched my backlog of TBR books and without hesitation selected BLOOD OF TYRANTS. Skeptics may question whether another book about our first president would offer new insight. Logan Bierne has written a dramatic and entertaining history of George Washington pulled from his research. It is a completely enveloping read, with lesser known anecdotes and stories about George Washington to satisfy the curious. For example, Did you know his teeth were made from hippopotamus ivory and human teeth, not from wood?

As our country struggled to emerge as a united collection of states, Congress wanted to micromanage the war through Washington’s leadership. This approach failed miserably. It became clear to Congress that they needed to delegate full control for the armed services to George Washington, their Commander in Chief. With this decision, the American Revolution changed direction with the outcome destined for success in the hands of George Washington. That Congress would grant such absolute power to one individual is surprising. Just imagine how difficult it would be to change the Commander in Chief’s job description today, in the middle of a war. Had Washington faced our current divisive partisan politicians on Capitol Hill what results might the country have suffered?

BLOOD OF TYRANTS shows how the Presidency of the United States and the role of Commander in Chief merged as a result of the American Revolution. When deciding the role of America’s President, the people looked to the brilliant leadership shown by George Washington, a proven success. According to Bierne, some believed Washington had an immortal bullet-proof shield of protection that kept him safe. He was known to be an active inspirational commander, brave and fearless who wanted to protect all Americans, Patriots and Loyalists for the good of the new nation.

Logan Beirne has a deliberate purpose as he presents a focused approach specifically on the role of Commander in Chief in America’s early political theater. BLOOD OF TYRANTS will astound readers with new awareness. Without a doubt it promises to provide much discussion and reflection among readers, both students and historians. One of my best pick reads for 2013.

Wisteria Leigh
July 5, 2013

DISCLOSURE: I obtained a copy of this Kindle edition on Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2013].

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. ( )
  WisteriaLeigh | Jul 12, 2013 |
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"Blood of Tyrants reveals the surprising details of our Founding Fathers' approach to government and this history's impact on today. Delving into the forgotten--and often lurid--facts of the Revolutionary War, Logan Beirne focuses on the nation's first commander in chief, George Washington, as he shaped the very meaning of the United States Constitution in the heat of battle. Key episodes illustrate how the Founders dealt with thorny wartime issues: Who decides war strategy? When should we use military tribunals over civilian trials? Should we inflict harsh treatment on enemy captives if it means saving American lives? How do we protect citizens' lights when the nation is struggling to defend itself? Beirne finds evidence in previously-unexplored documents such as General Washington's letters debating torture, an eyewitness account of the military tribunal that executed a British prisoner, Founders' letters warning against government debt, and communications pointing to a power struggle between Washington and the Continental Congress. Vivid stories from the Revolution frame Washington's pivotal role in the drafting of the Constitution. The Founders saw the first American commander in chief as the template for all future presidents: a leader who would fiercely defend Americans' rights and liberties against all forms of aggression. Blood of Tyrants pulls the reader directly into the scenes, filling the void in our understanding of the presidency and our ingenious Founders' pragmatic approach to issues we still face today."--Publisher's website.… (more)

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