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Chapter Thirty-Three. George Washington, Death and Mourning

Meredith Eliassen

Subject History » Cultural History

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics community, popular belief

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331035.2012.00035.x


Despite the appearance of “brotherly” homogeneity in the young Columbia, the late eighteenth century unfolded periods of social and economic transformation and convulsive insurrection in America. Many families felt the economic destabilization resulting from rapidly deflating paper currency while idleness and dissipation of natural resources threatened the new nation. The century's final decade began with the deaths of Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock. The impressive funeral procession for Hancock featured local, state, federal and international dignitaries, academics, and clergymen. However, the nation seemed unprepared for George Washington's death following a brief but intense illness on December 14, 1799. Washington's passing two weeks prior to a new century seemed significant and ominous. He had embodied American virility, perfection and excellence, and his place in American history could not be replicated ( Ames (1800) 6). Yet his death also provided the United States with a unique opportunity to unite in a synchronized corps, like in a ballet. Specific somber movements of remonstrance for the loss of the beloved leader were repeated to demonstrate to the country and the world that United States had the potential for military force even in a time of peace. Americans had been introduced to a concept of “Columbia,” but soon she would become a living, breathing, and enduring ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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