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This illustration, showing visitors to Washington’s home Mount Vernon in the late 1950’s, is from the Ladybird Book of Travel Adventure “Flight Three U.S.A.” and is typical of the romantic uncritical approach towards the framers and first Presidents.

Sterile perhaps, childless certainly, but Washington was not without family.  Washington had nine brothers and sisters as his father had married twice and both families had children.  His father Augustine’s first marriage resulted in three half brothers and one half sister, and the second marriage to Washington’s mother produced a further five full brothers and two full sisters.

Washington had quite a rough upbringing.  His father died when he was quite young and he never seemed to have got on with his mother.  She was very difficult and demanding, it is fair to say they were never close, and the lack of affection received at this time in his life led him to be aloof and reticent in adulthood.

But that of course was not the limit of his family.  His wife, the first “First Lady”, Martha Custis, had been married previously and had children by her first husband.  These step children of Washington were much intermarried into the elite landed families and political classes of the early United States.  Those same families that of course had chosen Washington, as one of their own, to be that first President.  Their interconnections echo down the years even to today.

His half-brother Lawrence married Ann Fairfax and this, combined with his ability, made Lawrence’s rise in the House of Burgesses a certainty.  However, he was struck by TB and in an effort to restore his health, sailed to Barbados in 1751 with his brother George.  There George Washington caught the smallpox that was in all likelihood responsible for his sterility and aided the ruin of his teeth.

George Washington First President of the First Republic of the United States (1732 – 1799 and President 1789 -1797) was the uncle of Bushrod Washington of the US Supreme Court, and uncle by marriage of Burwell Bassett with whom I shall deal with when I get to the President William Henry Harrison tree.  He was also granduncle of George Corbin Washington the US Representation from Maryland.  His further connections include Madison, and the whole grouping is actually recognised as being a Virginia Dynasty.  What is not widely recognised is that far from disappearing with the arrival of Jackson it simply became quieter and regrouped.

The diagram shows a few of the connections in a simplified tree.  Those with numbers below their names are Presidents – regnal numbers if you will.  They run from 1 through to 12.  And in future posts I will join others to this core tree.

The first post-constitution government was a geographically balanced affair, the cabinet carefully blending the northern mercantile New York oligarchy with the Middle States and the rural planter Southern oligarchy.  All were men who had taken part in the revolution.  Washington’s vice President was John Adams who became the second President.

This America that Washington was to rule was no simple Republic content to manage its affairs within the bounds of the thirteen states.  Even in it’s origins in the days of the Founding Fathers, there was the notion that America, the United States, was an empire.  Not that they thought of empire in the sense of the commercial British Empire from which they had struggled to be free.  They had more the sense of Rome, the great European example of the continental land empire.  Rome too, expanded from a tiny state to embrace a continent.  That the United States was expansionist from inception is not an idea of the early twentieth century it is there – in the draft Articles of Confederation of 1776.  There was never the need for Monroe’s doctrine.  Right at the beginning there had been discussion on the placing of the western boundaries of the states.  This was dismissed, and the boundaries were simply left as open.  Washington was to refer to the States as a “nascent empire” or an “infant empire”.  Jefferson told Madison he was “persuaded that no constitution was ever before as well calculated as ours for extending empire and self-government”.  Hamilton also referred to the United States as “the most interesting empire in the world”.  Roman in mindset, how much was the idea of her first officers self consciously to resemble Consuls?  Consuls were, wherever possible, drawn from the oligarchy.

Consuls who, in their turn, might become emperors.

Copyright David Macadam 2010