As the first president of the new republic, Washington was definitely a pioneer, argues Joseph Ellis in His Excellency: George Washington. Even the pomp and circumstance that is so much a part of ceremonial Washington had to be invented.
No one even knew how to address the new leader. When Vice President John Adams suggested titles such as “His Elective Majesty” or “His Mightiness,” the U.S. Senate balked, finally deciding on the simpler “President” (p. 193).
Matters of social etiquette, such as how Washington would interact with the public, had to be determined. Apparently, many memoranda were exchanged. Alexander Hamilton pushed for a “pretty high tone” that stopped short of secluding Washington “like an Eastern Lama.”
The solution – weekly open houses called “levees” – which combined regal bows and courtesies with the drop-in social to appease both republican and more courtly sentiments in the new government.
Apparently, these choreographed affairs were quite scripted with rare impromptu moments. At one such event, Washington bent over to kiss the widow of Nathanael Greene on the cheek ― to the surprise of all.
The reticent Washington seemed to like these formal affairs, since his “gift of silence,” as Adams called it, required everyone around to fill the void with conversation.
Save This Date: September 27 at 7:30 p.m. Center for the Arts -- Fairfax campus of George Mason University. Joseph J. Ellis, author of the 2007 All Fairfax Reads selection, His Excellency: George Washington discusses his biography. Books will be available for sale and signing courtesy of Barnes & Noble - GMU. Free; first come first served; no registration required.
Note: Listen to a podcast interview with author Joseph Ellis posted on the library’s Web site.
Other All Fairfax Reads Events:
September 10 at 7:30 p.m., Sherwood Regional Library. James Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon: George Washington’s Estate & Gardens, discusses his book, George Washington’s Leadership Lessons: What the Father of Our Country Can Teach Us About Effective Leadership and Character.
September 18 at 7 p.m., Kings Park Library. Patricia Brady discusses her book, Martha Washington: An American Life. Books for sale and signing,courtesy of Borders-Tysons Corner.September 20 at 7:30 p.m. Reston Regional Library. Actor Brian Hilton portrays George Washington and describes his life from 1732-1760.