George Washington’s corpse was scarcely a month in its grave when an enterprising minister from Maryland named Mason Locke Weems made a pitch to a Philadelphia publisher. “I’ve got something to whisper in your lug,” Weems wrote in January 1800. “Washington, you know is gone! Millions are gaping to read something about him. . . . My plan! I give his history, sufficiently minute” and “go on to show that his unparalleled rise & elevation were due to his Great Virtues.” Weems was on to something. His sentimental and often fictional biography became a best seller, the first in a seemingly endless stream of studies of the man who led the Continental Army to victory in the American War for Independence and who as the first president of the United States did more than anyone else to establish the legitimacy of a national government merely outlined in the Constitution of 1787. Today, books about Washington continue to appear at such an astonishing rate that the publication of Ron Chernow’s prompts the inevitable question: Why another one?
more from Andrew Cayton at the NYT here.