George Washington's Final Battle

cover art
400 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781626167841 (1626167842)

February 2021
LC: 2019032707


Table of Contents

George Washington's Final Battle
The Epic Struggle to Build a Capital City and a Nation
Robert P. Watson
Despite America's newly won independence, a bitter dispute over whether to have a capital and where to locate it almost tore the young nation apart. Few have written about the key role George Washington played in settling this question.

George Washington's Final Battle recounts Washington's exceptional political skill and involvement in the placement of America's capital, moving it from New York to Philadelphia to the city that ultimately bore his name. Washington oversaw the surveying, negotiated land deals, raised funds, selected the architect, chose the final design, and altered the plans as the city took shape. He quietly worked behind the scenes to push for the Potomac River location. Washington visited various construction sites even after his presidency, making the federal city his last great contribution to public life.

Robert P. Watson's book will fascinate not only historians but also a broad readership interested in the founding period, American presidency, and history of Washington, DC. This highly readable book relays a little-known tale of founding intrigue and an underappreciated side of Washington's political acumen and leadership. Though he died less than a year before President Adams moved into the White House, Washington's vision, influence, and talent for political compromise united a contentious country around a capital and a sense of nationhood.
Robert P. Watson is a Distinguished Professor of American History at Lynn University and the author or editor of more than forty books, including The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn: An Untold Story of the American Revolution, The Nazi Titanic: The Incredible Untold Story of a Doomed Ship in World War II, and America's First Crisis: The War of 1812. He is a frequent media commentator and activist who has founded three nonprofit think tanks dedicated to civic education, political reform, and fact-checking political campaigns.
"A fine and full account of the much-contested founding of Washington, DC. Watson demonstrates clearly and convincingly why the first president deserved to have the nation's capital bear his name."—Gordon S. Wood, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, National Humanities Medal recipient, and Alva O. Way University Professor, Brown University

"Watson brings to life the very human father of our country. He takes George Washington down from his pedestal and invites us to judge his triumphs and setbacks from the earthen battlefields of the American frontier to the political salons of our nascent republic. Washington combines his lifetime love for the Potomac with his determination to build a glorious capital along its shores against the determined opposition of many of his contemporaries. This astute politician gives a little here and takes a little more there to earn the victory that many of us now take for granted, but was far from inevitable."—Alan S. Frumin, former parliamentarian of the United States Senate

"Unbeknownst to the millions of tourists who visit our nation's capital is the story of the contentious struggle to build a permanent seat of government, which Robert Watson so eloquently depicts in George Washington's Final Battle. Watson regales readers with an extraordinarily detailed account of the debates that overshadowed all the other issues the fledgling nation faced as it came to realize Washington's passion for creating a 'great city,' one which would unify the country and inspire all Americans. This is a must read for those interested in the founding era!"—Richard M. Yon, United States Military Academy at West Point

"In 1791, the commissioners of the Federal District named the nascent capital city in honor of President George Washington, but as historian Robert Watson demonstrates, he went on to earn that honor during the course of his presidency. Washington's vision for a national capital was central to its planning, design, and location, but it was his administrative skills, political gravitas, and attention to detail that brought this vision to life. Watson masterfully weaves together how Washington's many life experiences shaped his ideas on self-government, nationhood, and the power of perception; truly, Washington's trials and tribulations prepared him for one of his most overlooked accomplishments—the building of the nation's capital."—Matthew Costello , PhD, assistant director of the David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History at the White House Historical Association

"In clear prose, both accessible and insightful, Watson portrays George Washington as a great yet flawed hero, the leader whose character and vision helped to win the Revolutionary War and initiate the building of a new city from which the new nation could be governed. Washington understood that this country needed a national identity, and that a new capital city was an essential building block for such an identity. Watson considers this phase of Washington's career his 'final battle' and amply demonstrates his characterization of it as an 'epic struggle'."—David Haberstich, curator and archivist, Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Table of Contents




Introduction: The "Other" Founding Debates


1. Surveying a Future

2. Western Adventures

3. The Dispensations of Providence

4. Potomac Fever

5. Cincinnatus


6. Swords in their Hands

7. Mutiny!

8. The Day the War Ended

9. A Singular Destiny

10. Fixing the Seat of Government

11. Political Architecture


12. Convention

13. Ten Miles Square

14. An Inauguration

15. New York City

16. The Great Debate

17. The (Second) Most Famous Dinner in History


18. The Grand Compromise

19. Philadelphia

20. The Residence Act of 1790

21. The City of Washington

22. Financing the Capital


23. The Architect

24. Intrigues and Injuries

25. A Design Contest

26. Building the President's House

27. A House Divided


28. Washington (Never) Slept Here

29. A Pedestal Waiting for a Monument

30. Temple of Liberty

31. The Father of His Country

32. 'Tis Well

Epilogue: The Building Is in a State to Be Habitable

Appendix A. Chronological List of Temporary Capitals

Appendix B. List of Possible Locations for the Capital



About the Author