Should Washington Attend the Constitutional Convention?
Digital History ID 183
Even during his lifetime, George Washington was considered as much a monument as a man. To Americans of the Revolutionary and early national periods, he personified republican virtue. A superb horseman, dignified in appearance, standing well over six feet tall, Washington looked like a military hero. But it was his character that elicited particular admiration, especially his decision at the end of the Revolution in December 1783 to surrender his sword to Congress and return to his plantation at Mount Vernon in Virginia. This decision, wrote the painter John Trumbull (1756-1843) in London in 1784, "excites the astonishment and admiration of this part of the world."
Acutely aware of his reputation for republican virtue, Washington was extremely careful about how he behaved in public. The Constitutional Convention posed genuine quandaries for Washington. He very much hoped for a stronger federal government than the Articles of Confederation could provide, but he also feared that the public might question his motives for participating in the proposed convention. In the end, Washington agreed to serve as president of the Constitutional Convention and his popularity and prestige helped to secure its ratification.
My first wish is, to do for the best, and to act with propriety; and you know me too well, to believe that reserve or concealment of any circumstance or opinion, would be at all pleasing to me. The legality of this Constitution I do not mean to discuss, nor how problematical the issue of it may be. That powers are wanting, none can deny.[...] That which takes the strongest course to obtain them, will, in my opinion, under present circumstances, be found best. Otherwise, like a house on fire, whilst the most regular mode of extinguishing it is contending for, the building is reduced to ashes. My opinion of the energetic wants of the federal government are well known; publickly & privately, I have declared it.…
Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute
Additional information: George Washington to Henry Knox
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