Strategic Mourning: America's Journey After the Death of George Washington
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This thesis examines the eulogies delivered after the death of George Washington in 1799, identifying themes in the texts and motivations of the authors. The death of the first president occurred during a series of national and international events that challenged the procedures and foundational beliefs of the new American republic. As citizens and leaders faced these challenges, they realized they had differing ideas about the role of a national government and its relationship with the citizenry. Additionally, they disagreed about how to solve problems facing the new country. The first American political parties had formed in response to these differences, with Federalists promoting a strong central government and Democratic Republicans favoring more power for the citizenry, and each party disagreeing about what it meant to be an American. When Washington died unexpectedly, Americans had to quickly manufacture practices surrounding the mourning of their presidents. Losing the man who had led them for many years—and against a backdrop of numerous national arguments—inspired eulogists to paint a heroic portrait of the popular general and president to promote calm and unity among citizens. I argue that in the process of encouraging unity and formulating Washington’s image as a perfect hero, eulogists were manufacturing not only a national identity, but also the motivation for Americans to continue the republic after the death of their first leader.