This short book deals with a brief period of time at the end of 1783 starting when the fledgling United States was awaiting the official treaty from England, signifying an end to hostilities and the start of its independence, and concluding with Washington’s Mt. Vernon Christmas homecoming.
It is a particular focus on a very short period of time. Evidently, the events of this interval were once more widely known than today. In particular, many were celebrated at their centennial.
The Christmas Farewell begins with the peaceful transition of New York from British occupation to American governance. There are some brief anecdotes surrounding the British departure, such as when they took down their flag, they cut the halliards and greased the flagpole!
Once New York was safely under American jurisdiction, Washington bid adieu to many of his staff and commenced his farewell tour down through Philadelphia and Annapolis, where he formally resigned his commission before Congress. He turned in his actual commission (the physical document which he was promised back as a memento, but never received). Weintraub highlights the fact that men like Washington had a clear sense of their place in history and were sensitive to it. Anybody who has visited Washington D.C. can see the Founders’ fascination with Roman and Greek parallels in history reflected in the statuary and architecture.
There are some telling quotes about Washington from his contemporaries about his determination to exit public service – when he could easily have been made king. Famously, King George himself was astounded at his actions.
If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.
Washington was commonly referred to as his time’s Cincinnatus.
In spite of its brevity, Weintraub’s book contains quite a bit of information about the man designated the Father of his country. For instance, while Washington refused remuneration for his service, he did insist on being compensated for his expenses, which amounted to more than $60,000. He refused continental dollars (they were worthless). Notably, his expenses included a large chunk of money spent on espionage, but also included entertainment and travel expenses for Martha Washington. Washington was meticulous in his record keeping, but scrupulously honest, even if a notoriously sharp businessman.
As for the book itself, General Washington’s Christmas Farewell is beautifully bound and extremely pleasant to handle and read. The slim volume is composed of high quality paper and printed with a beautiful typeface, giving it the aspect of a coffee table book, only smaller. You want to read this when you pick it up. It was interesting and short enough not to be boring, even for those who may not normally read this genre.