George Washington’s Final Battle: The Epic Struggle To Build a Capital City and a Nation

Georgetown Univ. Feb. 2021. 400p. ISBN 9781626167841. $32.95. HIST
After the United States gained its independence, locating a permanent capital became a defining issue. It highlighted the core question of what would be the essence of America’s nationhood: the power of the executive branch, the nation’s future expansion, sectional rivalries, small versus large states, federalist versus anti-federalist, and slavery. Until 1800, when the government moved to Washington, United States governments met temporarily in eight different cities, mostly Philadelphia and New York. Deciding on a permanent seat was such a vexing problem that Congress constantly postponed resolving it. Watson (history, Lynn Univ.; The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn) shows that George Washington was the driving force in founding the capital named for him, as he believed that it would bind the nascent union. He envisioned a grand “metropolis” composed of cultural institutions, public accommodations, and a national university, as well as a meeting place for Congress and a home for the president. Watson shows how Washington oversaw every aspect of the project: site selection, planning, building designs, and political influence.
VERDICT Aside from the idealization of Washington and some prominent historians, this is an informative narrative of the contested founding of the nation’s capital for both general readers and academics.
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